WOKing Around the Christmas Tree

WOKing Around the Christmas Tree

“Cha…Cha…Changes!”

It’s hard to believe that 4 years ago I was traveling to Cornwall for a mini break with outlaws, my first holiday in more than a dozen years; 3 years ago I was planning a two night trip to the north west of England to meet family; 2 years ago I found myself making a day trip to Malaga (long story but see http://thelatestsupper.uk/la-cuesta-por-favor-parte-dos/); and a year ago, just as we were hearing about this awful virus affecting China, enjoying a fortnight of winter sun in Spain, recharging my solar battery, before Christmas and as the carol describes – “the bleak midwinter”. 

My life has changed immeasurably in the last few years, if only calculated in ‘Air Miles’. With the pandemic, lockdowns, recoveries, second waves, further lockdowns, and local tiers, and not forgetting work from home, my culinary skills too have widened. This year alone my expertise in baking covered everything from making yeast alternative breads and artisan or ethnic varieties, to supporting the local community, frontline workers, and the local food bank, with cakes and sweet treats, through to the ultimate (I suppose) presenting my bride and guests with my own (ok she assisted – lost without her) wedding cake!

Homemade pizzas, Welsh paella, Burry Port sausages … and the list goes on. Themed nights from Tapas to Meze, from falafels to wontons;  as the more diverse tastes crept into my kitchen such as the Beef stifado (http://thelatestsupper.uk/its-still-all-greek-to-me/) – my palate, horizons, and experience has flourished.

I am not the type of person who seeks reward for his efforts, however, one’s ego is sufficient to be inflated when gratitude and praise is forthcoming; not withstanding, the empty plate.

2020 over and above this hateful virus, has been a year when some who panic bought had to dust off their family ‘hand-me-down’ recipe books and make what was just a click away before.

“The Chinese Way (living it up)”

Most home kitchens have a frying pan, more than likely a wok too, and although the big supermarkets make offers (this stir fry mixed veg pack + these noodles + this sauce), a Chinese stir fry kit is within the reach of most. I, on the other hand, will try something new, following a recipe & then amending to suit what’s in the larder and my diners tastes.

Before we fill ourselves of turkey and ‘pigs in blankets’ I present very personalised, yet popular Chinese meals. After all, Chinese still remains the most popular takeaway and is the oldest ‘fast food’ in the world.

Sweet ‘n’ Sour Pork

A classic takeaway and one of the easiest dishes to turn out. Most kitchens will have hidden in a cupboard a jar of readymade cook-in sauce, but homemade isn’t a chore and doesn’t use an armful of expensive ingredients which you’ll only use once! To make any Chinese sauce begin with stock cubes. I prefer vegetable as these don’t have a specific meat taste such as beef or chicken. Next ingredient is oil so I favour sesame seed oil. Vinegar preferably Rice Wine but White wine vinegar will do, and to be honest so will white wine, red wine, sherry and so on. Then comes the more secular sauces, such as soy, hoisin, plum & oyster sauces. The last two sauce ingredients are sugar and cornflour. 

Sauce

For a basic sweet & sour sauce take 1tbs of cornflour, 3tbs of warm water or veg stock, 120ml of wine or even cider vinegar, 120g (or less to taste) of sugar,  3tbs of tomato ketchup and 1 tbs soy sauce.

Add the water/stock to a pan over a medium heat and add all the ingredients except the cornflour, combining until the sauce simmers. Add the cornflour and increase the heat whilst stirring vigorously (no lumps please – else use a strainer). Once reduced into a thick sauce remove from the heat and set aside. If the sauce us too sweet its a drop of vinegar and vice versa if too sour a little more sugar. This is why I love home cooking; I am making something that I or my diners like, not accept as a fait accompli, what another chef has formulated and huge mechanized process has churned out.

The Pork

Depending on the amount of diners I use leg steaks with the fat trimmed off. I portion one steak per person. Slice the meat into strips around 2.5cm long and 1cm wide and add to a hot pan/wok that’s has a had a thin covering of sesame oil. Fry the meat. Moving it around the wok so does not brown too much or burn! 

The Vegetables

I think the stereotypical veg for Sweet ‘n’ Sour include red bell peppers and pineapple. That’s ok if you like those. In my latest version I used red and green coarsely chopped peppers, and instead of pineapple I used slices of celery to give a texture as well as releasing a little flavour.

As the meat cooks turning pink to white, add the vegetables stir until the peppers begin to soften. Now reduce the heat to a medium-to-low and add the reserved sauce. Combine, and let the sauce warm through. 

Decant to a serving dish and replace the empty pan/wok to the highest heat. Add a drizzle of sesame oil and flash fry bean sprouts for 3-4 minutes.

Serve the pork on a bed of bean sprouts.

Garlic Chicken with Cashews in a Ginger sauce.

If you think Sweet & Sour is easy, this crowd-pleaser is even simpler and though can be found on any good restaurants or takeaways menu; you wont easily find it in the readymade aisle, so it is one to impress with.

The Chicken

I bought two large fresh garlic marinated breasts from a local butcher which I butterflied and cut into cubes approximately 2cms.

The Vegetables

Carrots thinly sliced (I used a veg peeler and make long thin strips), 1/2 each red and green peppers coarsely chopped. I found a large head of broccoli in the chiller so I used a few florets.

The Sauce

250ml vegetable stock made from 2 cubes, 125ml White wine, 2tbs Oyster sauce, 3tbs Soy, 1tbs Ginger (I used dry spice, you use lazy or fresh or even Chinese 5 spice), 1tbs brown sugar, 1tbs Sesame oil and 1 tbs Cornflour.

The Method

Start with a drizzle of oil and heat up the wok. Add the chicken and cook until visibly white and not pink. Add the veg and stir keeping everything moving. As the peppers wilt add the sauce ingredients (keep back the flour) and combine, as the liquid starts to simmer reduced the heat and add the flour (no lumps please) and mix thoroughly. Reduce the heat to a low, you are in the ‘keep warm’ arena now.

Cheat with a packet of micro rice and enjoy.

Conclusion

Each of these dishes took less than the time a takeout delivery or an online/phone order. Although they include flour, sugar, salt, and other carbs, you are now in control of how much you add, or not, and no MSG insight.

At a time when we are normally too busy to cook and want something that is tasty and different, why not try a homemade ‘stay-in’ with Chinese style.

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