Cookoff Gang do Chinese New Year Cookoff

With Chinese New Year starting tomorrow (yay – it’s my year, the year of the monkey), I thought I’d share the cookoff gang’s Chinese New Year cookoff from last year.

For those who haven’t read my posting about the cookoff gang doing vegetarian cookoff, I’m very fortunate to have a group of friends who are keen cooks and we meet every few months to have a cookoff based on a theme.

Although we normally have a starter, main and dessert, the number 8 is meant to signify good luck and prosperity in Chinese culture and so we aimed at an 8 course menu. We always aim high at cookoffs!

The first course was steamed edamame beans. Although mainly served at Japanese restaurants, their Asian roots meant that they were allowed. Easy to cook, it’s easy to jazz them up by sprinkling them with interesting salts and flavourings

The second and third courses by Andrew and Sharon were contrasting dumplings, both filled with pork and given the Asian twist with ginger and spring onion. One was pan-fried gyoza style, resulting in a thicker, crispy skin. The other was steamed, making a more delicate thin-skinned dumpling. I love the little buckets that the dipping sauce was served in. These dumplings work best with a sour vinegar dipping sauce.

Next up for the fourth course was ‘yee sang’ (prosperity salad – yup, we Chinese are obsessed with money!), a traditional Teochew-style dish only served at Chinese New Year. It is made up of, yes you guessed it, 8 ingredients based around fresh salmon sashimi, topped with salad, dressing and crispy crackers. It’s traditional for the dish to be served with all the components divided into separate piles on the serving dish and for the guests to all use the chopsticks to toss the ingredients and mix them together after shouting “Lo hei” (“mix it up”).

Emma and I cooked the fifth and sixth courses – Peking duck served the traditional way in 2 courses. First off, the skin is sliced off in thin slivers to go into pancakes with the trimmings that you’d expect with crispy duck in restaurants. Then, the meat is carved off and cooked – I fried mine off with vegetables and a dash of oyster sauce, soya sauce and sesame seed oil and presented it with lettuce leaves to wrap up the mix (sorry – forgot to take a photo). The key to Peking duck is to create nice crispy skin, which involves drying out the honey-painted-skinned duck in the fridge for at least 24 hours. I missed out the traditional step of using a bicycle pump to inflate air between the skin and underlying fat layer to create an even crispier skin.

I have a confession in that I forgot to bring along the duck pancakes I had bought in Chinatown. As it was cookoff, it was no problem. We just made our own! Some flour, water and oil created the batter and we just dry fried them.

The seventh and eighth courses were traditional Chinese desserts by Pam and Max but both homemade. There were fortune cookies and Chinese egg tarts – their flaky pastry differentiates them from their English egg custard tarts and Portugese pastel de nata cousins.

You may have noticed the drinks with satsuma segments on them. Satsumas are another symbol of prosperity you’ll see in Chinese New Year meals due to their golden colour.

In the next photo, you’ll see Max, who’s the bar manager at Babylon and pairs our cookoff meal food with bespoke cocktails and wine. I don’t drink alcohol as I don’t like the taste and Max always makes sure I have my own bespoke non alcoholic drinks too and the best virgin mojito I’ve ever had was at a cookoff.

So, there’s only one last thing left for me to do and that’s to raise a toast to you all and wish you kong hee fatt choy!

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