Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kylie Kwong's Chinese Feast

In our house, Friday night is very often Curry Night - it's as though I have a physical need of spicy food to mark the beginning of the weekend; I have no idea why. Often, I cook the curry myself - making curry is incredibly easy - but many curries taste better after sitting for a while or after a spell in some sort of marinade, so ideally I need to be a bit organized and sometimes I frankly am not. Anyway, last week we had an Indian takeaway, trying out a new takeaway that our friends rated very highly - and we were given the wrong curry: a hideously hot chilli masala instead of the medium garlic we had ordered. This week I wanted to cook and decided to make use of my (yes, another) new book, Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking, which had come highly recommended.

I decided to make sung choi bao of pork (basically - spiced-up pork mince in lettuce leaves) to start, then chicken and cashew stir-fry with steamed rice. The pork mince was stir-fried with ginger, garlic, red onion, shao hsing wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and sesame oil, then tossed with julienned carrot and spring onions (I was also meant to use celery and beansprouts but didn't have any of the latter and forgot to include the former).

This was served in iceberg lettuce leaves that had been soaked in cold water, crunchy little boats to hold the spicy filling

I have made various sorts of mince-in-iceberg starters (my favourite being Nigella's Korean beef from Forever Summer) but this one had better texture than previous versions I have tried; the mix of raw and stirfried veg and mince worked really well, and the flavours were good too.

To follow I made a simple chicken and cashew stirfry from the same book - very simple indeed, since it contained only chicken thigh fillet, garlic, shao hsing wine, cashews, cucumber and salt. The chicken was marinaded for 30 minutes in shao hsing wine, cornflour, cold water and sea salt, and then stirfried with the other ingredients, adding chopped spring onion to garnish.

This dish was incredibly disappointing. It wasn't nasty, it was quite nice, but it lacked oomph. I can see why in retrospect: it could have done with some soy or oyster sauce, or some other flavouring as well as the Chinese cooking wine; ginger, for instance, would have helped. It was okay; it just wasn't fantastic, which was a shame after the very tasty pork. I am not going to give up on Kylie, but I think the next dish I try will have more ingredients (beef in oyster sauce looks delicious, as does Mongolian beef and the pork with honey and ginger; the prawn dishes look divine too). Perhaps I should be wary of too-flavoursome starters, that build up expectations in the taste buds of treasures to come, and lead to disappointment when the main course arrives.

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