Home cooked Chinese Food and Hot Pot Dining on Cold Blustery Days

 

January is a month for nesting. The weather tends to be so cold and blustery, with the odd rain or snow shower, that I like to hibernate, wear thick wooly jumpers and keep warm. It’s the perfect time to cook hearty food, bake and make those chutneys, marmalades and pickles (I made a batch of my carrot and daikon pickle) that you’ve been meaning to do. I did venture out earlier this week however to try my first hot pot at a restaurant that opened last year by the same name. They have over 150 restaurants in Asia but this is their first foray on British shores. It’s at the gate of China town, near Soho, so is very easy to find. Hot pots are in many respects the Chinese version of fondu, although with fondu of course there is no broth to eat with your meat or cheese. They are a great social way to dine with family and friends as a great big pot of steaming broth is the centrepiece of the whole table. I guess they would also be a great date idea, as it’s a fun way to eat and there would always be something to talk about! From a health perspective, broths are a perfect way to strengthen your immune system, which often tends to be quite low at this time of year.

We were welcomed by friendly staff who were on hand to talk us through the menu. Now the menu can be a little daunting at first glance folks, but do not be phased by this hurdle. First you need to decide on which broth you want to go for. You can chose one or  two, the latter coming in one giant bowl with a clever partition in the middle (see photo below). We obviously went for the two option. There are 8 choices and they all sounded delicious.

They ranged from the non-spicy to the kickass spicy. We decided to opt for two non-spicy ones – the vegan “longevity mushroom broth” – made up of a host of mushrooms and cordyceps flowers. It has a high content of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin D. Our other choice was the “herbal drunken chicken”. With a name like that how could we resist? It’s made from British free-range chicken that has been cooked in a broth for 4.5 hours with a range of herbs and tonics.

Next you need to choose what to put into the broth. There are a number of platter options, as well as individual plate options, which come in half plate or full plate sizes. We chose everything in half plate, which was more than enough for two people. We went for the sea bass fillets, the spicy marinaded pork, some king prawns, winter melon, Chinese cabbage, emerald spinach noodles and some fried tofu puffs. Whilst our order was being prepared we went over the self serving sauce station (now say that quickly 4 times ;o) where you can get as creative as you wish. The floors over in this section of the restaurant where rather instragramable don’t you think?

There were so many choices that we took a couple of little plates back to the table: soy sauce, chilli sauce, peanut sauce, garlic, spring onions, chillies, sesame seeds to name a few.

This was my favourite that I ‘created’ (see photo above). The waiting staff will turn on your hob on the table and then let the stock bubble away gently for a few minutes. You then start by adding your vegetables and some of your noodles and leaving them for a very short while before fishing them out and placing them in a small bowl to then dunk in your sauce and eat. Delicious. If you order the winter melon, don’t leave them in there for too long or they will begin to disintegrate, a mistake we made.  You can take a little broth as you go to slurp away, it really does warm you to your inner core. The longer the broth cooked, the more the flavours intensified. We then added the sea bass and prawns for a couple of minutes max before dunking in the pork  (which in fact didn’t taste spicy) for around 4-5 minutes cooking.

Both broths tasted really good and distinct from one another. I would happily choose both again. If I had to choose one over the other I think the herbal drunken chicken had the edge, but it really was a hard call. We ordered the right amount and couldn’t quite finish all of the broth. My dining companion lived in Hong Kong for many years and is in fact half Chinese and she was pleasantly surprised by how delicious both broths were. A real accolade if ever there was one.  The restaurant is over two floors (and sits up to 150 apparently), although only the downstairs tends to be open in the day time, largely owing the the footfall. The clientele ranged from families, couples, friends and Chinese business man, so I think it would appeal to anyone of any age. There is also a number of Thai food options as well as the hotpots, if someone in your party would rather eat Thai. I think my children would love it and perhaps it would make an ideal lunch spot after a morning at the British Museum.

Hot Pot Restaurant, 17 Wardour Street, London W1D 6PJ 

Tel: 020 7287 8881 (open facility from noon-12.30am)

http://www.hotpotrestaurants.co.uk / @hotpotlondon_

Thank you to Hot Pot Restaurant for my complimentary lunch. All opinions are my own and I would happily return again.

Back at home I have been working on my Chinese braised oxtails, which I cooked over Christmas for the whole family and wanted to improve upon. Now don’t get put off by the word “oxtails” folks. Ok, perhaps if you are vegan or vegetarian you can stop reading from now on, but for everyone else, they taste really good but there are a few tricks you need to know about when cooking them. The secret is to cook/braise them for a long time in a low oven – 5h30 mins at 150 degrees centigrade. You need to have it so that the meat is literally falling off the bone.

 

I served it with some brown rice, cavolo nero/pea/garlic medley and some roasted butternut squash, which I had coated with some freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. It’s a complete crowd pleaser with all the family really enjoying it. I am sure it would work equally well in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one so cooked it in the oven in my trusted Le Creuset pot.

It literally cooks itself so you can get on with other things whilst it slowly cooks away. Easy cooking, albeit one that takes time.

 

Chinese Braised Oxtails

Serves 6

2 tbsp of oil

2.6 kilos oxtails, cleaned and dried

45g ginger, chopped into thin batons

12 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

10 cloves

5 star anise

4 bay leaves

240ml Shaohsing rice wine (you can pick this up in large supermarkets and small Asian grocers)

6 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp jaggery or brown sugar

700ml water

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
  2. On your hob, add oil to a large ovenproof pot and then add some of the oxtails and brown all sides before removing and placing on a plate whilst you do the next batch.
  3. In the same pan, keeping the heat low, add the ginger, garlic, cloves, bay leaves and star anise and move around the pan for about a minute before adding the soy sauce, Shaohsing, sugar and water. I do not add any salt as I feel that enough comes from the soy sauces.
  4. Add the oxtails to the pan and coat in the sauce. Add a little more water if necessary and transfer to the oven.
  5. Cook for 5hours 30 minutes, by which time the meat will be falling off the bone. Over the course of the five hours move the oxtails around a few times. If it is looking dry simply add a little more water.
  6. Once it has cooked. Allow to cool before removing the oxtails – keep all the juice – and then using your hands allow the meat to fall off the bones. When all the meat has been removed return it to the pan and then rewarm before cooking and serve with brown rice, roasted butternut squash with some ground Sichuan peppercorns and some greens. Warming food for this cold weather.

 

 

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Chicken, Ginger and Spring Onion Gyoza/Jiaozi/Pop Sticker

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Mention the worked ‘gyoza’ in my household and you will hear yelps of delight – and that’s not just from the children. These moreish savoury dumplings are incredibly addictive and are a great little starter or snack, although you can off course have them as a main meal along with some steamed greens with soy and garlic perhaps.

Japan and China both have their version of the dumpling, although these dumplings first originated from China and were then adopted by the Japanese. The Chinese dumplings are known as jiaozi if they are boiled or steamed and guo tie if they are fried, in Japan – gyoza and the US – pot sticker.

The Chinese variety have slightly thicker wrappers and have a far wider combination of fillings than their Japanese counterparts. They are often steamed, whereas the Japanese gyoza are fried for a few minutes and then steamed for a further few minutes. The fillings I typically use for the vegetarian are tofu and shiitake mushrooms, or the meat variety filled with pork, chicken or duck or the seafood version, which tends to be prawn. Whatever takes your fancy these little dainties will be forever cherished by those who sample them.

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Now the question is to lovingly prepare your own wrappers or to buy some from your local Asian grocers or online. Basically it will come down to time on your part. Making your own takes a little time, but its the perfect activity to do with a mate who comes over for coffee – just rope them in they’ll love the experience or even with the kids. Shop bought is pretty cheap, as you can see for the price sticker I left on above, and are likely to be more uniform in thickness, but I’ll leave it to you to decide which suits your lifestyle.

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For those who wish to make their own it is SO simple. Seriously you only need a couple of ingredients and then a bit of kneading.

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Homemade Gyoza Wrappers

Makes around 20

210g plain flour, seived

125ml warm water

 pinch of salt

1. Stir the salt into the warm water until it completely dissolves.

2. Place the sieved flour into a large bowl and add the warm water. Using a wooden spoon mix the flour and water together and then use your hands to create a ball.

3. Kneed the dough on a cold surface for around 10 minutes, when it will be soft and springy to touch. Sprinkle more flour onto the dough if it is getting too sticky.

4. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 mins.

5. Take small balls of the dough – about the size of apricot – and flatten it with your hand. Gently roll the dough into a round shape, turning it after every roll. Using a round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a saucer) cut out a round circle and cover gently with flour and place in a pile.

6. Continue until the dough has been used up. You should make around 20 dough wrappers with the proportions above. Whilst you prepare the filling place a damp cloth over the wrappers so they do not dry out.

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So now you have the wrappers ready to go you need to prepare the filling. Whether you want to use chicken, pork mince, prawn, duck or shiitake mushrooms and tofu the rest of the ingredients remain the same.

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Whilst using Chinese cabbage is the most authentic, use whatever green cabbage you have in your fridge. Place two large leaves in a pan of boiling water for 1 minute and then drain and pat completely dry with kitchen paper. You then want to slice and cut them up as small as you can. You can blitz everything in a blender but I tend to often take the slightly slower version of cutting by hand. Today I used chicken and as I tend to find minced chicken hard to source so I bought boneless chicken thighs and cut up them up into small pieces. I also added spring onions, chopped garlic, finely grated ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper and hey presto you have your filling. You can get creative and add any other ingredient you think might work – how about carrot, fresh chilli, five spice.

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Wrapping the dumplings is rather satisfying and you will begin to get into a rhyme with them. Don’t overfill the gyoza, instead putting a teaspoonful in the centre and then, using your finger tip, wet the low half rim of the circle. You then want to fold over the gyoza in half and then begin to pleat from left to right, making sure the filling is securely inside the parcel. It is definitely a case of the more you do the better you become. My 8 year old is a complete natural and can do multiple pleats across the top. You only pleat one side of the gyoza s0 do not turn over and attempt to do more on the other side.

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The above photo shows half of the gyoza pleated. I finished doing this row, but did not turn it over to attempt to do the other side. To pleat you simply use your thumb and forefinger to make small pleats going over the last. Make sure you press the top together so that it is firmly stuck together – you don’t want them opening up in the pan.

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So you can see some are neater than others above. They will still taste delicious even if you haven’t got the perfect symmetrical pleating!

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Dumpling Filling

to fill around 20 dumplings

2 large leaves from a green cabbage/Chinese leaf cabbage

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

20g ginger, peeled and finely grated

3 spring onions, finely sliced into small pieces

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp mirin rice wine

275g boneless chicken thighs/or chicken mince (or duck, pork mince, tofu and shiitake mushrooms)

100 ml water

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Dumpling Dipping Sauce

3 tsp rice vinegar

6 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp chilli oil (optional)

1 tsp sesame seeds

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1. Finely chop all of the ingredients and then bind together using your hands.

2. Place a heaped teaspoon of the ingredients onto one of the wrappers in the centre.

3. Wet the rim of the lower half of the wrapper using your finger.

4. Fold the wrapper in two and then pleat from left to right across the top, making sure to firmly seal the top of the wrappers.

5. Bend the wrapper slightly so that it is in a crescent moon shape and so it can stand up unaided. Place to one side whilst you prepare the rest.

6. Using a large nonstick pan add a tablespoon of sesame oil and when hot add the dumplings so that they are standing up and not sticking to one another. Fry them for 3 minutes, by which time they will have bronzed underneath. If they have not bronzed sufficiently leave them to fry for a little longer.

7. Add 100ml of water to the pan and place a lid on the top. Leave to steam for a further 3-4 minutes so that the water has completely dissolved.

8. Mix the ingredients of the dipping sauce together and then place to one side in a little bowl.

9. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

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San Bei Ji – Three Cup Chicken

If you are looking for a crowd pleaser then look no further as I can guarantee you that plates will be licked clean if you serve up this dish. As well as cooking a pot for grown-ups, I made up a batch for Big A and Little Z (minus the dried chillies) and they absolutely adored it.

The dish originates from the Southern Chinese province of Jiangxi and is a speciality of Ningdu. In addition it has also become a popular dish in Taiwan. I can also guarantee it will become a firm favourite in your repertoire once you’ve tried cooking it once.

San Bei Ji literally translates as three cup chicken – the three cups being sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce. This recipe uses the trio but less liberally and the result is outstanding and quite frankly addictive.

The last part of the cooking is done in a claypot, but should you not have one to hand (or a heatproof casserole dish) simply continue cooking the final part in the pot you have been using all along. Whilst not completely authentic it will still taste equally divine.

San Bei Ji – Three Cup Chicken

Adapted from Leemi Tan’s book Lemongrass and Ginger

Serves 4 (with no leftovers!)

1.2kg boneless chicken thighs, diced into bite sized pieces

1 tsp sunflower oil

3 cm of fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks

8 garlic cloves, whole and slightly crushed *

5 spring onions, cut into 5 cm pieces and thinly sliced lengthways

4 small dried chillies, chopped and seeds discarded (if you prefer it less chilli)

250ml Shaoxing rice wine

6 tbsp light soy sauce

3 tbsp sugar (whatever you have to hand)

4 tbsp sesame oil

1 handful of fresh coriander leaves

1 handful of thai basil leaves

1. Poach the chicken in boiling water for one minute to seal and then drain and keep to one side.

2. In a large pan add the sunflower oil and when it is hot add the ginger and stir fry for one minute before adding the garlic and continuing to cook for a further minute.

* to slightly crush garlic place a knife flat over the top and press down hard, allowing it to split.

3. Add the dried chillies and spring onions and continue to fry for another minute, stirring frequently. Add the chicken, rice wine, soy sauce and sugar and cover the pan and cook until the liquid has dissolved – this will take between 40-50 minutes; continue to stir occasionally.

4. Once the liquid has almost dissolved heat up a claypot/heatproof casserole dish either in an oven or if you are able to directly on the hob. Once the liquid has finally dissolved add the sesame oil and when it begins to bubble add the chicken pieces and fresh thai basil and coriander leaves and stir together for a few seconds.

5. Serve immediately so that it is sizzling hot.

Serve with boiled rice and  as a side I often eat it with steamed pak choi and some edamame beans – not particularly authentic but I find it works well.