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Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

A few weeks ago, my sister and I attended the 40th anniversary of our parish priests Father Joe and Father John. Both had been priests for 40 years and the community wanted celebrate this significant event with a special dinner. That night we watched a slide show that had been prepared of both priests throughout the years. It was actually quite touching to see how much a part of our lives they both were, especially on momentous occasions like baptisms, first communions, weddings etc. After the slide show, a number of people were asked to speak in honour of each of the priests. One of them was an elderly gentleman. This gentleman had actually been in the hospital for a few weeks but was given special permission to leave the hospital for three hours that day and he chose to spend it at this dinner.

The gentleman walked slowly to the podium and started talking about each of them. He talked about how Father John had come here many years ago from Vietnam, was fluent in French and had been offered a number of times to be promoted and move to head other parishes but he stayed put because he loved being part of this community. Father Joe on the other hand was an avid collector of anything and everything and had a weakness for auctions. He also loved gardening and was instrumental in ensuring that priests, when retired, were taken cared of.

It made me realize that there was very little I knew of both of them.

At the end of his speech, this gentleman asked us to reflect on the fact that whilst both priests had devoted their lives to serving the church and the community, no one was really there to take care of them. Might we, he asked, consider inviting them for tea one day?

I immediately put a note on my calendar to invite them over for dinner one day.

The thing is, prior to that speech, I had been seeing Father Joe every morning at the park where I walked my dog. Our interactions had always been limited to me waving to him and saying “Good morning Father!” and him giving me a friendly nod as he walked past me.

One day, I passed Father Joe as he was stretching before his walk, and, as I had done for a number of years, said “Hi Father Joe!” He gave me a friendly wave and I went on my way. A few steps later I decided to turn back. Why not invite Father Joe for dinner this weekend? I said to myself.

So I turned around and ran back to him. “Father, would you like to have dinner at my house?” I asked.

He looked at me, and his eyes widened in surprise. “Me?” he asked.

“Yes Father!” I said. “Maybe this weekend?”

“Me?” he repeated.

“Yes yes!” I insisted. He looked really confused.

And then I looked at him closely… and then I got confused.

“Are you… Father Joe?” I asked.

He looked amused and shook his head. “No, I’m not.”

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry…That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention at mass!” I told him and quickly said good bye.

When I do finally get to invite Father Joe, Kung Pao chicken is the dish I am going to make.

The recipe is from Rasa Malaysia’s Cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes”.  It has quickly become one of our favourite dishes to make.   I’m normally not a fan of chicken breast meat as I find it too dry.  Bee however shares her secret for super tender chicken breast – that is, marinating the chicken in baking soda for a few minutes  then washing it off .  Beware!  This dish is highly addictive – think remarkably tender chicken pieces coated in a spicy, tingly, sweet and sour sauce.   I’m sure that when the REAL Father Joe tastes it, the only comment he’ll have is “Oh… My… God!”  :)

Rasa Malaysia’s Kung Pao Chicken

For the Kung Pao Chicken

  • 250 grams skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (we used a mandolin)
  • 10 to 15 dried red chillies
  • 3 heaping tablespoons peanuts or cashew nuts
  • 1 green onion, trimmed and cut into small rounds

For the sauce

  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chinese black vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 dashes of white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or potato flour

For the peppercorn oil

  • 1/4 cup sichuan peppercorns
  • 125 ml oil
  1. Make the sichuan peppercorn oil by heating the oil until very hot and the oil becomes shiny. Turn off the heat and add the sichuan peppercorns, mixing with chopsticks to release their aroma. Allow to cool and let the peppercorns infuse their flavour into the oil for around 2 hours. This step can be done ahead of time.
  2. To roast the peanuts or cashew, pre-heat the oven to 160c and place the nuts into an over proof bowl. Roast the nuts for around 25 minutes until golden brown. Set aside. This step can also be made ahead of time.
  3. Tenderize the chicken breasts by placing the chicken in a container and mixing the baking soda into the meat, making sure the chicken is evenly coated. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Once done, rinse the chicken very well in cold running water. Drain the chicken breasts and pat dry.
  4. Marinate the chicken in the rice wine and cornstarch (or potato flour) for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the sauce together.
  6. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat and stir fry the chicken until opaque and half cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  7. Add the peppercorn oil and stir fry the ginger and the garlic for a few seconds then add the dried red chillies for around 30 seconds or until their aroma is released. Add back the chicken and give it a good stir.
  8. Add the sauce which will thicken and coat the chicken nicely. Finally, add the peanuts and the green onions. Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.

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Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Tucked away in the Gateway Building on the corner of Pitt and Alfred Streets is Neptune Palace.  “Neppi’s” is somewhat of an institution in the banking and finance circles. In typical Malaysian/Chinese restaurant fashion, the menu is extensive with at least 140 items to choose from.   Having said that, there are a number of requisite dishes that we always order like the “Rusty Motorbike”, Seafood Sang Choy Bau, Kapitan Chicken and the Duck Pancakes.  These are the reliable dishes that people come back for over and over again in the almost twenty years that this restaurant has been in operation.

Post the roast chicken he made the other day, we decided to try and re-create a few of our favourite dishes from this restaurant.  We liked the way they served their Duck Pancakes.  Whilst most Chinese restaurants will serve mostly the skin and very little meat, Neppi’s is a little different in that there is a generous amount of fried duck meat and of course, a decent amount of crispy skin.  I actually prefer the Mandarin Pancakes this way.  Rather than purchasing a whole duck, it made more sense for us to buy two duck breasts for this recipe.

So we marinated the duck breasts overnight in a teaspoon of five spice powder, two tablespoons of maple syrup and two tablespoons of soy sauce.  Then we sous vide the duck breasts at 57c for an hour and finally pan fried skin side down to get it all nice and extra crispy.  In the meantime, we prepared the Mandarin Pancakes (recipe below).  My husband is proving to be a better cook that I imagined!

To serve, we sliced up some of the duck, whilst the rest, we diced and fried it a little bit more.

The dishes we order at Neppi’s remind me sometimes of the very good friends I have.  There are over 140 dishes in the Neppi’s menu but we keep coming back to the dishes we know we can trust.  Similarly, of all the many friends I have, there are only a handful that I know I can rely on, no matter what.

Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Mandarin Pancakes

Recipe adapted from Neil Perry’s Rockpool

  • 400 grams plain flour
  • 190 ml boiling water
  • pinch salt
  • 65 ml cold water
  • sesame oil for rolling
  1. Place the flour, water and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer and using a dough hook, turn on to medium speed until the dough comes together in a ball.
  2. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead lightly on a lightly oiled surface for around 5 minutes until the ball of dough is smooth and springs back when pressed.
  3. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  4. When the dough has rested, place it back on a lightly oiled surface and cut the dough in half. Keep one covered with a damp cloth and roll the other half into a long sausage. Cut the dough into 10 equal pieces.
  5. Press each piece down with the palm of your hand and then brush each piece with sesame oil. Place one piece of dough on top of the other so that the oiled sides are facing each other and then roll each pair of pancakes out to a diameter of 10 cm. Repeat with the rest of a pieces. Now, do the same with the rest of the dough. Place the rolled pieces of dough on top of each other in a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
  6. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Place the pancake in the pan and dry fry for around 20 to 30 seconds or until you can see faint brown spots start to appear. You will also notice the dough puff up as it cooks.
  7. Flip the pancakes to the other side to cook again, another 15 to 20 seconds.
  8. Remove the pancakes from the heat and carefully pull them apart after a minute or so (allowing the pancakes to cool down a bit).
  9. The pancakes can be stored on a plate covered with a damp cloth before serving. They can also be stored in the freezer and heated in a warm oven before serving.
  10. To assemble, lay a pancake on a plate, spread over with hoisin sauce, sliced of green onions and cucumbers.

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Chinese Roast Pork Belly

Chinese Roast Pork Belly

I once challenged my husband (then boyfriend) to a food contest. We were planning a dinner and I told him that we both should come up with our own menu and get my Mom to judge which was better. He had very simple tastes (then) and I since I would pour over food magazines during my spare time – it was a no brainer who would win. I can’t even remember what his menu was (nor could I remember mine) – but I do remember how excited he seemed and how serious he was taking the challenge. I took one look at his “entry” and in a moment of kindness I decided that I would let him win. I liked that he tried hard and was I excited to see him passionate about food (for once). When he wasn’t looking I snuck to where my Mom was and told her that we were having a competition on who could make a better menu and whatever happened – to please say that he had a better menu.

I regret doing this now.

He has never let me forget that he won the menu challenge. No matter how many times I tell him it was rigged, he insists that he won.

To this day we have these menu competitions. The last one was about a month ago when we had dinner at Duke’s Bistro in Darlinghurst.  One dish we shared were these slow cooked beef ribs with mustard sauce, daikon and some shiso served with mandarin pancakes – like how you would serve peking duck. We both loved the idea of the pancakes and thought wrapping something other than peking duck was genius.  “Can you come up with something better?”  He asked.

“Challenge accepted.”  I told him.

On pieces of paper we wrote what we thought would go best with the pancakes…

Can you guess whose idea the roast pork belly was?

Chinese Roast Pork Belly

Chinese Roast Pork Belly

Easy Crispy Chinese Roast Pork Belly

This is the first part of two. The dish is served with some Mandarin pancakes, spring onions, and cucumbers. I’ve used sriracha sauce although a spicy Chinese mustard sauce would also work well. The secret to the crispy skin is to make sure it is completely dry before roasting. To ensure the meat is moist, roasting over a pan of water does the trick. I’ll post the Mandarin Pancake recipe next.

  • 600 grams pork belly
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon five spice powder
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar
  1. Score the pork belly lengthways (or ask your butcher to score the skin for you). Place the pork belly skin side up, on a plate and on top of the kitchen sink. Boil around three cups of water and pour this over the pork belly. Pat the pork belly dry and place on a plate in the refrigerator for an hour or two.
  2. In the meantime, prepare the paste by mixing the salt, five spice, garlic and caster sugar – using a mortar and pestle or food processor until the mixture resembles a rich dark brown paste.
  3. Once the pork is ready, place this on a chopping board, skin side down, and cut through the flesh, making sure not to cut through the skin. You will need to rub the spice paste all over the flesh, including the crevices and sides. Make sure not to rub any paste on the skin.
  4. Place the pork belly on a rack and place this back into the refrigerator to allow the skin to dry, at least four hours, or overnight.
  5. To cook the meat, remove the pork belly from the refrigerator. Bring the oven to 220 c (fan forced). Fill a deep baking tray around half way with water and place a wire rack over this. This will keep the pork flesh moist while the skin crisps up. Place the tray and rack in the oven and put the pork belly (skin side up) on top of the rack. Roast the pork for 20 minutes at this temperature and then drop the temperature to 180 c for 30 minutes. Finally, take the temperature up to 230 c for 15 minutes. Remove the pork from the oven and rest for around 10 minutes. Cut into serving pieces and serve with Mandarin pancakes.
Chinese Roast Pork Belly and Mandarin Pancakes

Chinese Roast Pork Belly and Mandarin Pancakes

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Prawn Dumplings with XO Sauce

Prawn Dumplings with XO Sauce

A year ago I attempted to make har gow and failed miserably.  It might have been because I used wheat flour instead of wheat starch and the resulting dough was so sticky that I had to throw the “ball of glue” away.  The experience was enough to turn me away from trying to make them for a very long time.  That is until I had a monumental craving for these dumplings. Cravings so intense that I had har-gau for lunch, FIVE straight days.  I would go to one of the nearby yum cha places and order take-away.  By the third day it was not only getting expensive – it was also getting slightly embarrassing to arrive at the restaurant and have the waiter smile knowingly, and then signal the lady in the dumpling cart to bring the har gow for me.

By the fourth day I felt like an addict trying to hide a bad craving.  My husband called at 11:30 asking whether I wanted to have Japanese for lunch.  My heart being set on the dumplings,  “I can’t, I have an important meeting that I need to prepare for.” I told him.

By the fifth day I had to admit that things were getting out of hand and vowed to try my hand at making them again.

So here’s the result.  If you are thinking of having a go at making these crystal prawn dumplings, this is a great place to start.  This version of har gow is delicious – just like the ones in the yum cha place.

Here’s the thing – after having them for five days straight and then making them on my own on the sixth day, I’ve suddenly gotten over my craving.

My husband however, is a different story.

He can’t get enough of them.

(more…)

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