A constellation of choices, the Chinese might say Essay

To celebrate Chinese New Year (the Year of the Ox begins on February
20) or any other revelrous gathering, consider this Szechwan-style
appetizer dinner party. It stars a cluster of tasty dishes–a
constellation of choices, the Chinese might say. We’ve adapted
some traditional dishes from the province of Szechwan, in western China.
The emphasis is not on quantity, but variety, which gives this party its
versatility.



Each dish serves four to six. If you pick at least one dish from
each of the four principal categories in the chart on page
91–tables–plus at least two condiments, you have an informal sit-down
dinner such as the one shown at left. At the small-scale party, you eat
your fill of a few dishes.

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To double the size of the party and make a buffet dinner for 8 to
12, add another four dishes from each of the four groups on the chart,
as well as more condiments.



For the lavish spread for 16 to 24 pictured at right, prepare all
the recipes given here and those on page 172. From the grand buffet,
you sample tidbits in the Chinese fashion. To save time, you can
substitute a purchased alternative in some cases.



As you multiply the choices, you also increase your time
commitment. Because many steps and/or dishes can be completed several
days ahead, you can pace your efforts and do almost everything well
before your party. The warm noddles and the stir-fried napa cabbage
salad are the only dishes that are best cooked just before serving.


For dessert, offer crisp Asian pears and fresh mandarin oranges or
kumquats (symbols of good luck), or candied ginger and perhaps dried
candied pineapple or papaya. Chilled dry white wine, imported Chinese
beer, and hot tea are appropriate beverages. Meatballs with Ginger
Glaze 1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped 1 cup
chopped green onion 2 pounds ground lean pork 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2
eggs 3/4 cups fine dry bread crumbs Ginger glaze (recipe follows)



In a bowl, using fork or your hands, thoroughly mix water
chestnuts, green onion, pork, soy sauce, eggs, and bread crumbs. Shape
the mixture into 3/4-inch meatballs and arrange them in a single layer
on an ungreased 10- by 15-inch rimmed baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a
500[deg.] oven until meatballs are well browned, about 15 minutes.



If made ahead, let cool, cover, and chill up to 3 days. Reheat,
uncovered, in baking pans in a 400 [deg.] oven for about 10 minutes.



Mix meatballs and glaze; keep hot while serving (in heatproof dish
over a candle or on an electric warming tray). Makes 4 to 6 servings.



Ginger glaze. In a 2- to 3-quart pan, smoothly blend 1/2 cup water
into 1/4 cup cornstarch. Add 1 cup each unsweetened pineapple juice and
regular-strength beef broth, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1
tablespoon soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger.



Stir over high heat until the sauce boils vigorously.



If made ahead, cover sauce and chill up to 3 days, then stir over
medium heat until boiling. Use hot. Stuffed and Steamed Egg Rolls 5
eggs Salad oil 2 teaspoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon cornstarch 1/2 pound
ground lean pork 1 teaspoon sugar



In a bowl, beat 2 of the eggs just to blend. Set a 10- to 12-inch
frying pan with non-stick finish over medium-low heat; brush lightly
with oil. Pour in beaten egg; tilt pan to coat bottom with egg;
continue to rotate and tilt pan slowly until egg is firm and looks dry
on top, 1 to 2 minutes. Slide egg wrapper out onto a flat surface.
Using 2 more eggs, repeat these steps to make another egg wrapper.



In the same bowl, stir soy sauce into cornstarch. Add ground pork,
sugar, and remaining egg; mix well. Divide meat in half and shape each
half into a log the width of a wrapper. Lay a portion of meat on each
wrapper and roll to enclose.



Set filled rolls, seam down, on a flat perforated rack over about 1
inch of water in a 4- to 5-quart pan. Cover and bring water to boiling
over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently until meat is firm and just
slightly pink in center (cut to test), about 20 minutes. Let rolls cool
and serve at room temperature (if made ahead, cover and chill up to 3
days).


Cut rolls diagonally into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces; arrange on a small
serving plate. Serves 4 to 6. Sweet Sliced Pork 1 boned center-cut pork
loin (about 3 lb.) 1/4 cup hoisin sauce 4 large cloves garlic, minced or
pressed Water 1/3 cup chopped green onion 3 tablespoons sugar 2
tablespoons dry sherry 1 tablespoon slivered fresh ginger 1 whole star
anise or 1/4 teaspoon anise seed 1 cinnamon stick, 2 to 3 inches 1
teaspoon grated orange peel 2 or 3 green onions with tops Ice



Put pork into a plastic bag with hoisin sauce and garlic. Press
out air and twist bag shut. Turn over several times to coat meat with
sauce; chill overnight.



Place meat and marinade in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan; add 2-1/4
cups water, chopped green onion, sugar, sherry, ginger, anise, cinnamon,
and orange peel. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover, reduce heat,
and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the pan from heat and let meat stand for
1 hour.



Lift out meat and cut into 1/4-inch slices; discard cinnamon. Boil
juices, uncovered, over high heat until reduced to 2/3 cup; stir often.
Return pork to pan; gently mix meat with juice.



If made ahead, cover and chill as long as 5 days. To reheat,
arrange slices in a 10- by 15-inch rimmed baking pan; spoon juices over
meat. Bake, covered, in a 400[deg.] oven for 20 minutes.



To cut whole green onions for garnish, trim white and green ends
and slash into thin slices lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch of center
intact; immerse in ice water for several minutes to curl the cut ends.



Arrange pork slices with sauce on a platter. Shake onions dry and
use to garnish meat. Serve meat hot at room temperature. Makes 4 to 6
servings. Stir-fried Chicken Wings 12 chicken wings 5 tablespoons salad
oil 2 tablespoons each soy sauce and minced fresh ginger 4 teaspoons
cornstarch 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 cup regular-strength chicken or beef
broth 2 tablespoons each oyster sauce and dry sherry 1/3 cup sliced
green onion (optional)



Rinse chicken wings; cut off and discard tips. Cut wing sections
apart at the joint. In a bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of the oil,
soy sauce, ginger, 2 teaspoons of the cornstarch, sugar, and chicken
pieces.



Pour remaining oil into a wok or 12- to 14-inch frying pan; place
on high heat. Add chicken and sauce and cook uncovered, stirring
occasionally, until chicken browns, about 5 minutes. Stir in half of
broth, then cover and cook over medium heat until chicken is tender
enough to pull off bone easily, 15 to 20 minutes.



Stir together remaining broth and cornstarch, oyster sauce, and
sherry. Add to chicken wings. Cook, stirring, until sauce boils and
thickens. Serve hot or at room temperature. (If made ahed, let cool,
cover, and chill up to 3 days.) Arrange wings on a dish. If desired,
sprinkle with sliced onion. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Lettuce-braised
Curried Duck 1 duck (4 to 5 lb.) 8 to 10 large romaine lettuce leaves 1
large onion, thickly sliced Curry sauce (directions follow) 1 teaspoon
each cornstarch, sesame oil, and water 8 to 10 medium-size romaine
lettuce leaves



Pull off and discard lumps of fat from duck; rinse duck and pat
dry. Cut off wings, legs, and thighs at the joints. With a heavy knife
or cleaver, cut breast and back portions through bones into 1-1/2- to
2-inch pieces.



In a 4- to 5- quart pan over high heat, cook duck pieces 1/3 at a
time in their own fat until well browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Lift out duck
as cooked and set aside.



When all the duck is browned and pan is empty, remove pan from heat
and ladle out and discard fat. Cover pan bottom with 4 or 5 large
lettuce leaves. Lay duck on top of leaves, top duck with onion slices,
then cover with remaining large leaves. Pour in curry sauce; bring to a
boil on high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat until meat is
tender enough to pull off bones easily, about 1 hour.



With a slotted spoon, lift duck from pan and set aside. Lift out
and discard lettuce and onion. Stir together cornstarch, sesame oil,
and water and add to liquid in pan. Bring to a rolling boil over high
heat, stirring. Mix in duck. Serve hot or at room temperature (if made
ahead, let cool, cover, and chill up to 3 days) mounded in a dish lined
with the medium-size lettuce leaves. Makes 4 to 6 servings.



Curry sauce. Combine 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3
tablespoons Madras or other curry powder, 2 tablespoons catsup, 1-1/2
tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, 1 whole star anise,
broken (or 1/4 teaspoon anise seed), and 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried hot
red chilies. Mild-spiced Chicken Livers 2 tablespoons salad oil 1/2
pound shallots or onions, peeled (cut large shallots in half lengthwise;
cut onion into 1/2-inch wedges) 1/4 pound small mushrooms, cut in half 1
pound chicken livers, cut crosswise in half Braising liquid (directions
follow)



In a 4- to 5-quart pan, cook oil, shallots, and mushrooms over
medium-high heat, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add livers and braising
liquid. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat, cover, and simmer
until livers are still highly pink in center (cut to test), 3 to 4
minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature in a small dish. (If made
ahead, let cool, cover, and chill up to 2 days.) Makes 4 to 6 servings.



Braising liquid. In a 1- to 2-quart pan, combine 1/4 cup each dry
sherry, soy sauce, and water; 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar; 2 thin slices
fresh ginger; 1 whole star anise, broken (or 1/4 teaspoon anise seed);
and 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilies. Boil uncovered until
liquid is reduced by half. Use hot or cold. Noodles with Spicy Peanut
Sauce Water 1 package (10 oz.) very thin dry Chinese or egg noodles 2
tablespoons sesame oil Spicy peanut sauce (recipe follows) 2 medium-size
carrots, cut into julienne strips or thin shreds Fresh cilantro leaves



In a 4- to 5-quart pan, bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high
heat. Add noodles and remove from heat. Let noodles stand in water,
uncovered, until they are tender to bite, about 3 minutes; stir
frequently with a fork to keep strands separated. Drain water from pan;
mix sesame oil with noodles, then add spicy peanut sauce and mix. Pour
onto a platter and garnish with carrots and cilantro. Serve hot or at
room temperature. Makes 4 to 6 servings.



Spicy peanut sauce. In a 1- to 2-quart pan, combine 1/2 cup each
cream-style peanut butter and soy sauce, 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh
cilantro, 5 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, and 1 to 2
tablespoons hot chili oil to taste (or use 2 tablespoons of salad oil
and 1/4 to 1 teaspoon liquid hot pepper seasoning). Cook, stirring, over
medium heat just until sauce is blended and hot. Sauce should have a
mayonnaise-like consistency; if it is too thick, gradually stir in hot
water to thin. Cold Noodle and Chicken Platter Water 1 package (10 oz.)
very thin dry Chinese or egg noodles 3 tablespoons each sesame oil and
soy sauce 2 tablespoons slivered fresh ginger 1 green onion, including
top 2 to 2-1/2 pounds chicken breasts 1/2 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
Cut vegetables (directions follow) Peanut sauce (recipe follows) Fresh
cilantro leaves



In a 4- to 5-quart pan, bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high
heat. Add noodles and remove from heat. Let noodles stand, uncovered,
until they are tender to bite, 3 to 4 minutes; stir frequently with a
fork to separate strands. Drain water off noodles and add sesame oil
and soy sauce to them; mix and mound onto a platter. Cover and chill
until cool, or up to 3 days. In the same pan (no need to wash), combine
3 quarts water, ginger, onion, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over
high heat. Add chicken, cover, and remove from heat. Let chicken stand
until breast is white in center (cut to test), about 30 minutes. Drain
chicken and let cool. Pull off and discard skin and bones; tear chicken
into shreds. If made ahead, cover and chill up to 3 days. Arrange
chicken and cut vegetables around noodles; garnish with cilantro. Serve
sauce on individual portions. Makes 4 to 6 servings.



Cut vegetables: Cut 1 medium-size cucumber and 1 pound peeled
carrots in thin, diagonal slices. Drain 2 cans (6 oz. each) miniature
corn on the cob.



Peanut sauce. In a blender, whirl until smooth 6 tablespoons each
peanut butter and warm water, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice
vinegar or white wine vinegar, 4 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon sesame
oil. Serve, or cover and chill up to 3 days.

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