This post isn’t really about the recipes, more about how you can structure a Chinese meal for a group of people with a variety of dishes.However, all of these dishes are taken from or inspired by Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent “Every Grain Of Rice“, apart from the spring rolls.
I wouldn’t call it a banquet, because that is far too grand a term but feast seems like a happy compromise. There is a lot of work involved in cooking any Chinese meal that stretches beyond a simple stir-fry with some noodles or rice. One of the most important aspects is the planning. You need to think about what you are going to cook and get all the preparation done before you even consider actually turning the gas or electric on. Because of the nature of many Chinese dishes, there can be a lot of last minute action on the hob, so it is a good idea to have at least one dish that is a slow cooked affair, ideally one you can pop in the oven to finish cooking, and red-braised pork is perfect for this. It just happens to be one of my favourites, too.Of course, some plain steamed rice is an essential part of any Chinese meal and once cooked it can be left to keep warm while you finish off the last minute dishes.
I cooked chicken with black beans and peppers, which can also keep warm along with the rice while you finish off the really quick dishes. In this case the last minute dishes were Chinese broccoli (kai lan or gai lan) with ginger and a beansprout, pak choi, red and green pepper stir-fry, finished off with Chinese flowering chives and oyster sauce.
One thing that really helps is having two woks on the go. You can manage with just one, but if you have the space on the hob for two at once, it really simplifies things.
Something else you can make in advance and deep fry while you are cooking the main dishes are spring rolls. You can buy the wrappers in Chinese supermarkets and they are easy enough to make, although mine never look as neat as the ones you buy ready-made. Still, it is the flavour and the crispness that counts, surely.
I stuffed mine with a mixture of beansprouts, shredded pak choi, Chinese chives, julienne carrots and finely chopped wood ear fungus, seasoned with ground Sichuan pepper.
Wood ear fungus is a dried fungus that you soak before use. It has a slippery, crunchy texture. It is nice in a salad or a stir-fry as well as in a spring roll filling. In fact, the whole filling I made would also work well as a salad.
I like to serve everything at once, rather than in courses, so that everyone can help themselves to whatever takes their fancy.