A constellation of choices, the Chinese might say Essay

To celebrate Chinese New Year (the Year of the Ox begins on February20) or any other revelrous gathering, consider this Szechwan-styleappetizer dinner party. It stars a cluster of tasty dishes–aconstellation of choices, the Chinese might say. We’ve adaptedsome traditional dishes from the province of Szechwan, in western China.

The emphasis is not on quantity, but variety, which gives this party itsversatility. Each dish serves four to six. If you pick at least one dish fromeach of the four principal categories in the chart on page91–tables–plus at least two condiments, you have an informal sit-downdinner such as the one shown at left. At the small-scale party, you eatyour fill of a few dishes. To double the size of the party and make a buffet dinner for 8 to12, add another four dishes from each of the four groups on the chart,as well as more condiments.

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For the lavish spread for 16 to 24 pictured at right, prepare allthe recipes given here and those on page 172. From the grand buffet,you sample tidbits in the Chinese fashion. To save time, you cansubstitute a purchased alternative in some cases. As you multiply the choices, you also increase your timecommitment. Because many steps and/or dishes can be completed severaldays ahead, you can pace your efforts and do almost everything wellbefore your party. The warm noddles and the stir-fried napa cabbagesalad are the only dishes that are best cooked just before serving. For dessert, offer crisp Asian pears and fresh mandarin oranges orkumquats (symbols of good luck), or candied ginger and perhaps driedcandied pineapple or papaya. Chilled dry white wine, imported Chinesebeer, and hot tea are appropriate beverages.

Meatballs with GingerGlaze 1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped 1 cupchopped green onion 2 pounds ground lean pork 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2eggs 3/4 cups fine dry bread crumbs Ginger glaze (recipe follows) In a bowl, using fork or your hands, thoroughly mix waterchestnuts, green onion, pork, soy sauce, eggs, and bread crumbs. Shapethe mixture into 3/4-inch meatballs and arrange them in a single layeron an ungreased 10- by 15-inch rimmed baking pan.

Bake, uncovered, in a500[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 dishover 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 waterinto 1/4 cup cornstarch. Add 1 cup each unsweetened pineapple juice andregular-strength beef broth, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1tablespoon 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 overmedium heat until boiling. Use hot. Stuffed and Steamed Egg Rolls 5eggs Salad oil 2 teaspoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon cornstarch 1/2 poundground lean pork 1 teaspoon sugar In a bowl, beat 2 of the eggs just to blend. Set a 10- to 12-inchfrying pan with non-stick finish over medium-low heat; brush lightlywith 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 dryon 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 eachhalf into a log the width of a wrapper. Lay a portion of meat on eachwrapper and roll to enclose. Set filled rolls, seam down, on a flat perforated rack over about 1inch of water in a 4- to 5-quart pan.

Cover and bring water to boilingover high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently until meat is firm and justslightly pink in center (cut to test), about 20 minutes. Let rolls cooland serve at room temperature (if made ahead, cover and chill up to 3days). Cut rolls diagonally into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces; arrange on a smallserving plate.

Serves 4 to 6. Sweet Sliced Pork 1 boned center-cut porkloin (about 3 lb.) 1/4 cup hoisin sauce 4 large cloves garlic, minced orpressed Water 1/3 cup chopped green onion 3 tablespoons sugar 2tablespoons dry sherry 1 tablespoon slivered fresh ginger 1 whole staranise or 1/4 teaspoon anise seed 1 cinnamon stick, 2 to 3 inches 1teaspoon grated orange peel 2 or 3 green onions with tops Ice Put pork into a plastic bag with hoisin sauce and garlic.

Pressout air and twist bag shut. Turn over several times to coat meat withsauce; chill overnight. Place meat and marinade in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan; add 2-1/4cups 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 for1 hour. Lift out meat and cut into 1/4-inch slices; discard cinnamon. Boiljuices, 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 overmeat.

Bake, covered, in a 400[deg.] oven for 20 minutes. To cut whole green onions for garnish, trim white and green endsand slash into thin slices lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch of centerintact; immerse in ice water for several minutes to curl the cut ends. Arrange pork slices with sauce on a platter. Shake onions dry anduse to garnish meat. Serve meat hot at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6servings. Stir-fried Chicken Wings 12 chicken wings 5 tablespoons saladoil 2 tablespoons each soy sauce and minced fresh ginger 4 teaspoonscornstarch 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 cup regular-strength chicken or beefbroth 2 tablespoons each oyster sauce and dry sherry 1/3 cup slicedgreen onion (optional) Rinse chicken wings; cut off and discard tips. Cut wing sectionsapart at the joint. In a bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of the oil,soy sauce, ginger, 2 teaspoons of the cornstarch, sugar, and chickenpieces. Pour remaining oil into a wok or 12- to 14-inch frying pan; placeon high heat.

Add chicken and sauce and cook uncovered, stirringoccasionally, until chicken browns, about 5 minutes. Stir in half ofbroth, then cover and cook over medium heat until chicken is tenderenough to pull off bone easily, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir together remaining broth and cornstarch, oyster sauce, andsherry.

Add to chicken wings. Cook, stirring, until sauce boils andthickens. 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-braisedCurried Duck 1 duck (4 to 5 lb.) 8 to 10 large romaine lettuce leaves 1large onion, thickly sliced Curry sauce (directions follow) 1 teaspooneach cornstarch, sesame oil, and water 8 to 10 medium-size romainelettuce leaves Pull off and discard lumps of fat from duck; rinse duck and patdry.

Cut off wings, legs, and thighs at the joints. With a heavy knifeor cleaver, cut breast and back portions through bones into 1-1/2- to2-inch pieces. In a 4- to 5- quart pan over high heat, cook duck pieces 1/3 at atime in their own fat until well browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Lift out duckas cooked and set aside. When all the duck is browned and pan is empty, remove pan from heatand ladle out and discard fat. Cover pan bottom with 4 or 5 largelettuce leaves. Lay duck on top of leaves, top duck with onion slices,then cover with remaining large leaves.

Pour in curry sauce; bring to aboil on high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat until meat istender enough to pull off bones easily, about 1 hour. With a slotted spoon, lift duck from pan and set aside. Lift outand discard lettuce and onion. Stir together cornstarch, sesame oil,and water and add to liquid in pan. Bring to a rolling boil over highheat, stirring. Mix in duck. Serve hot or at room temperature (if madeahead, let cool, cover, and chill up to 3 days) mounded in a dish linedwith the medium-size lettuce leaves.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Curry sauce. Combine 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3tablespoons Madras or other curry powder, 2 tablespoons catsup, 1-1/2tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, 1 whole star anise,broken (or 1/4 teaspoon anise seed), and 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried hotred chilies. Mild-spiced Chicken Livers 2 tablespoons salad oil 1/2pound 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 1pound chicken livers, cut crosswise in half Braising liquid (directionsfollow) In a 4- to 5-quart pan, cook oil, shallots, and mushrooms overmedium-high heat, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add livers and braisingliquid. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat, cover, and simmeruntil livers are still highly pink in center (cut to test), 3 to 4minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature in a small dish. (If madeahead, 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 drysherry, soy sauce, and water; 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar; 2 thin slicesfresh ginger; 1 whole star anise, broken (or 1/4 teaspoon anise seed);and 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilies. Boil uncovered untilliquid is reduced by half. Use hot or cold.

Noodles with Spicy PeanutSauce Water 1 package (10 oz.) very thin dry Chinese or egg noodles 2tablespoons sesame oil Spicy peanut sauce (recipe follows) 2 medium-sizecarrots, 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 highheat. Add noodles and remove from heat.

Let noodles stand in water,uncovered, until they are tender to bite, about 3 minutes; stirfrequently with a fork to keep strands separated. Drain water from pan;mix sesame oil with noodles, then add spicy peanut sauce and mix. Pouronto a platter and garnish with carrots and cilantro.

Serve hot or atroom temperature. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Spicy peanut sauce. In a 1- to 2-quart pan, combine 1/2 cup eachcream-style peanut butter and soy sauce, 1/2 cup finely chopped freshcilantro, 5 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, and 1 to 2tablespoons hot chili oil to taste (or use 2 tablespoons of salad oiland 1/4 to 1 teaspoon liquid hot pepper seasoning).

Cook, stirring, overmedium heat just until sauce is blended and hot. Sauce should have amayonnaise-like consistency; if it is too thick, gradually stir in hotwater to thin. Cold Noodle and Chicken Platter Water 1 package (10 oz.)very thin dry Chinese or egg noodles 3 tablespoons each sesame oil andsoy sauce 2 tablespoons slivered fresh ginger 1 green onion, includingtop 2 to 2-1/2 pounds chicken breasts 1/2 teaspoon Szechwan peppercornsCut vegetables (directions follow) Peanut sauce (recipe follows) Freshcilantro leaves In a 4- to 5-quart pan, bring 2 quarts water to a boil over highheat. Add noodles and remove from heat. Let noodles stand, uncovered,until they are tender to bite, 3 to 4 minutes; stir frequently with afork to separate strands. Drain water off noodles and add sesame oiland soy sauce to them; mix and mound onto a platter. Cover and chilluntil cool, or up to 3 days.

In the same pan (no need to wash), combine3 quarts water, ginger, onion, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil overhigh heat. Add chicken, cover, and remove from heat. Let chicken standuntil breast is white in center (cut to test), about 30 minutes.

Drainchicken and let cool. Pull off and discard skin and bones; tear chickeninto shreds. If made ahead, cover and chill up to 3 days.

Arrangechicken and cut vegetables around noodles; garnish with cilantro. Servesauce on individual portions. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Cut vegetables: Cut 1 medium-size cucumber and 1 pound peeledcarrots in thin, diagonal slices. Drain 2 cans (6 oz.

each) miniaturecorn on the cob. Peanut sauce. In a blender, whirl until smooth 6 tablespoons eachpeanut butter and warm water, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons ricevinegar or white wine vinegar, 4 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon sesameoil. Serve, or cover and chill up to 3 days.

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