ONE HOLIDAY, A HOST
OF CHINESE-AMERICAN DISHES
A series on an inspiring Chinese-American meal that takes the stress out of the holidays with recipes that you can begin days ahead.
Part 1: Roast Turkey, Lotus Wrapped 8 Treasure Rice and Spicy Cranberry Compote.
Part 2: Vegetarian Dry-Fried Green Beans, and Brussels Sprouts with Satay Sauce.*
Part 3: Double Coconut and Ginger Pumpkin Pie, and Triple Coconut Sorbet.
* Story includes links to fava bean pâté, radish pickles, fried sesame rolls and roasted sweet potatoes.
Turkey has wiggled its way only marginally into Chinese cuisine so far, and is probably the only poultry variety that is still not part of any of the country’s local food traditions. The turkey is, after all, a distinctly American bird with a unique flavor. But just as non-indigenous foods like tomatoes, corn, potatoes and especially chilies have come to be beloved in many parts of China, the turkey may someday make the grand leap across the Pacific in a more significant fashion.
In the meantime, turkey is already the cornerstone of many Chinese-American holiday meals in the U.S., especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, which come with traditional menus attached. But the recipe playbooks of Chinese-Americans tend not to be the same as those of their Midwest counterparts. Ethnic Chinese are more likely to tweak customary American preparations with Asian sensibilities, turning the meal into one that is both American and Chinese.
The start of an 11-recipe holiday tour de force
This is the first installment in a series on how to make a delicious Chinese-American Christmas dinner. I’ll be including 11 recipes in all: turkey with a risotto wrapped in lotus leaves, spicy cranberry compote (recipes below), fava bean pâté, radish pickles, dry-fried green beans, Brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, fried sesame rolls, cranberry sauce and, for dessert, coconut sorbet and coconut ginger pumpkin pie. While the menu may look tame on the surface, the delight is in the details. You will be able to start much of the meal up to a week ahead of time, meaning you can prepare your dishes in increments, so that Christmas Day will be relatively stress-free, at least in the kitchen.
Revamping the stuffing
One of the first parts to get revamped in the Chinese-American approach is the stuffing, as it is simply not part of the Chinese repertoire. (A small bowl of stuffing may be prepared at Chinese-American celebrations, of course, to satisfy the tastes of the less traditionally minded.) Even though bread stuffing is unheard of in China, poultry filled with flavored rice has been a favorite banquet dish throughout many areas of the country for centuries.
The Chinese counterpart, though, is usually sticky rice seasoned with savory bits like sweet sausage, chestnuts and black mushrooms. This subtle and soothing concoction absorbs the essence of the duck, chicken or goose. The turkey, too, can be given a shellacking of soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, garlic and sesame oil which, when mixed with the juices of the roasted bird, take on an extraordinary depth of flavor and aroma. A variation on a classic dish called youfan, or oily rice, the raw grains are sautéed with buttery ingredients before the liquid is added. The rice is thus transformed into a luscious Chinese risotto.
Chinese dried chestnuts lend a delicious smokiness to the rice, and three kinds of southern Chinese charcuterie add shimmers of sweet and salt. Soft black mushrooms provide deep counterpoints to the risotto, while bits of fresh ginger and green onions set off little fireworks on the palate. This is called “eight treasure rice” not because there are always eight savory components, but to indicate there is a nice variety in the mix. Plus 8 is a lucky number.
The trick to choosing lotus leaves
This Cantonese version of rice is given an exotic fillip — it is steamed in large, dried lotus leaves, which not only make the dish visually impressive, but permeate the rice with a subtle fragrance. All of these ingredients can be found in well-stocked Cantonese-style grocery stores. The charcuterie I recommend most highly is produced in the U.S. and comes vacuumed packed in plastic bags. Lotus leaves are sold in stacks of about two dozen, but they are not expensive. Check the package to ensure that the leaves are relatively unbroken, green rather than brown, and bug-free; little cocoons and droppings are signs of infestation. If you can’t find lotus leaves in your area, simply steam the rice in a buttered covered casserole. Chinese black mushrooms can be fresh or dried. See the directions here for how to select and prepare dried Chinese mushrooms.
Taking advantage of the pan drippings
One unconventional thing that I like to do when the rice is about to be served is to pour some of the degreased pan drippings from the turkey into the lotus-wrapped mound; this lends a final savory note to the dish and connects it to the bird. It is not essential, but highly recommended.
Let’s get started!
Roast Turkey With Soy and Wine Glaze
Taking cues from the “The Gourmet Today Cookbook” for roasted turkey, and employing Michael Ruhlman’s suggestion in “Ruhlman’s Twenty” to place whole onions in birds as a way to help keep the breast meat moist, this recipe incorporates the flavors of East China, thus transporting this dish from traditional American cuisine into more Asian sensibilities. Make gravy from the pan juices, if you like, or serve the turkey au jus for a more Chinese presentation.
Serves 8 to 12 easily with leftovers
- Start the turkey about 4½ to 5 hours before you wish to serve it. Heat oven to 425 F and spray a 3-quart roasting ban and rack with oil. Rinse the turkey, remove giblets and extra fat, and pat dry. Loosen the skin over both sides of the breast by carefully running your fingers under it, both from the top and the bottom of the breasts. Bend the wings underneath the body, if you wish, so that they lie flatter.
- Mix together the sesame oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine and the garlic. Rub about half of this marinade under the breast skin and inside the turkey’s cavity. Stuff the onions into the cavity and tie the legs together at the bottom joint.
- Place the turkey on the rack in the pan either breast-side up (which will give you a browner and prettier bird) or upside-down (which will provide you with moister breast meat). Put the turkey in the oven and roast without basting for about 30 minutes. Mix the melted butter with the leftover marinade and the rest of the soy sauce and rice wine.
- Lower the oven heat to 325 F and baste the bird every 15 or so minutes with both the marinade and the pan juices. Baste all over, but pay particular attention to the breast if the turkey is right-side up. The skin will eventually take on a lovely walnut sheen. If it is browning faster than you like, merely place a foil tent over the bird. The turkey is done in about 3½ to 4 hours total cooking time, when the thigh meat is about 180 F on an instant-read meat thermometer or when the thigh juices run clear.
- Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for about 30 or more minutes. If you have to delay dinner longer than that, cover the turkey with some foil and keep in a warm place out of drafts. Drain all the juices into a 4-cup measuring cup and separate the juices from the fat; remove the onions, too. (The fat can be reserved for something else — potatoes roasted with the fat and onions are quite delicious.) Just before serving, heat the juices to a boil and serve alongside the turkey.
Lotus Wrapped 8 Treasure Rice
臘味八寶飯 Lawei babaofan
Serves 8 to 12 as a side dish
- This dish can be made a couple of days ahead of time and refrigerated. If you are using dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl and cover with cool tap water the night before. Early the next day, select a pretty lotus leaf (unbroken, whole and green) from the stack, as well as a smaller one; rinse the leaves carefully and then soak them for a few hours in hot tap water. Rinse the dried chestnuts, place in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water for at least two hours. Rinse the raw rice in a large strainer under running tap water and then let it drip in the sink until you want to cook it.
- Slice the fresh or plumped-up mushrooms into thin slices. Rinse the lotus leaves again and cover with a damp towel. Pick over the plumped-up chestnuts and remove any red skin or damaged areas, discarding any chestnuts that are not white and spongy; chop the chestnuts into ½-inch dice. Wipe the Chinese cured pork belly and sausages with a damp paper towel. Trim the skin off the pork belly and then slice both the larou and sausages into thin pieces.
- Heat the oil in a wok until it begins to shimmer. Toss in the ginger and all of the meat, and stir-fry until the fat in the meat turns translucent. Add the mushrooms and chestnuts, and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes to barely brown the mushrooms. Add the drained raw rice to the wok and continue to stir-fry the rice with all of the savory bits for another couple of minutes so that each rice grain becomes coated with oil. Pour the soy sauce, rice wine and pepper over the rice, toss for a few seconds, and then add the boiling water. Continue to toss the rice as it cooks, adding more boiling water if needed until the rice is barely al dente, that is, slightly chewy but fully cooked. (Note: The rice will not cook while it is being steamed, so be sure it is cooked enough at this point.) Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Remove the wok from the heat and toss in the green onions.
- Drape the largest lotus leaf in a large heatproof bowl with the dark side up and the leaf ridges on the bottom; center the stem end in the bowl and then gently fold the leaf so that it lies flat in the bowl. Spoon the rice into the leaf and smooth out. Cover it with the other leaf and then secure the leaves together with toothpicks. Place the rice in a steamer and steam over high heat for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours, lowering the heat to a slow simmer after the first 30 minutes.
- Just before serving, remove the bowl from the steamer and invert it over a round serving platter. Cut a large hole in the top of the leaf, reserve the cap and pour in the drippings, if you like. Serve with the cap perched jauntily on the edge of the hole so that guests may serve themselves.
Spicy Cranberry Compote
The crunchy texture and lovely contrast of orange against the sour berries is delicious. The fiery hot bean sauce from Sichuan provides a terrific little kick of spice and salt, but feel free to leave it out if your tastes tend to be milder. Other hot sauces can be used if la doubanjiang is not available in your area.
Serves 8 to 12
- This can be prepared up to a week in advance. Rinse the cranberries, drain and pick them over, discarding any that are discolored, shrunken or soft. Place the cranberries in a medium saucepan and add the water.
- Bring the saucepan to a boil over high heat and then lower the heat to medium. Simmer the cranberries until some of the start to pop while others remain whole so that you have a nice textural balance. Add the agave syrup or sugar, hot bean sauce and chopped walnuts. Cook the compote another minute or two to ensure that everything is heated through completely. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remembering that the flavors will be a bit dulled once the compote cools.
- Remove the saucepan from the stove and allow the compote to come to room temperature. It will gel up as it cools. Refrigerate the compote in a covered container and serve it either cold or at room temperature.
Zester Daily contributor Carolyn J. Phillips is a Chinese food wonk and illustrator who has a cookbook to be published by McSweeney’s in 2014. In addition to Zester Daily, you can find her on her blog and as @MadameHuang on Twitter; her food writing can be found in places as disparate as Lucky Peach and Pork Memoirs.
Top photo: Roast turkey with soy and wine glaze.
Slideshow and photo credit: Carolyn J. Phillips