Thinking of hosting your first Chinese New Year party this year but afraid of committing a kitchen faux pas? Or are you daunted by all that tradition and worried that you won’t measure up when it comes to the taste test? Never fear, here’s a dummies guide to hosting a stress-free Chinese New Year dinner that will please everyone's palates and have your guests yelling “huat” by the end of the evening. We speak to our inhouse kitchen maestro, Chef Joseph, for four simple tips to get that party started.
Tip 1: Go the Steamboat Route
If it’s your maiden foray into your kitchen, or you just don’t feel confident enough to prepare all kinds of labour-intensive, time-demanding traditional dishes (roasting your own pork is not a walk in a park), go the simple route and do a steamboat instead. You can even spice up the table and turn the heat up a notch by adding a teppanyaki grill, which uses the same ingredients but with a different cooking style.
Tip 2: Pacify the Traditionalists
By including all kinds of 'auspicious' ingredients in the steamboat spread, you can please the fussiest eaters. No idea what kind of ingredients to get? Here are Chef Joseph's top recommendations:
Leeks: Pronounced 'soon', in dialect, which also means to count, it signifies wealth. Chef Joseph's tip is to fry these up in a simple egg omelette side dish.
Fatt Choy: Which means to prosper. Traditionally prepared as a stewed or braised mushroom dish, these work just as well in a steamboat.
Fish or Canned Abalone: To signify 'Nian Nian You Yu', or to have a surplus of everything, every year. Incorporate these into your steamboat in the form of pre-sliced salmon, mackerel, or pomfret for a crowd pleaser.
Prawns: Or 'hae' in dialect, means for your year to be filled with laughter and joy. Again, these cook perfectly in a steamboat and add briny, savoury flavour to the soup.
Tip 3: Luxe it Up
Turn the 'huat' factor up a notch by using more exotic ingredients that will surprise and excite. If you have a bigger budget and are looking for a more highbrow steamboat, here are some other options you might want to consider adding to your steaming pot of stock.
Exotic seafood: Geoduck, bamboo clams, live abalone and sea cucumber add a sheen of prosperity.
Ramp up the base: Instead of just plain old chicken stock, try something special that will have your guests slurping it up.
There’s the very popular chicken 'beauty' stock, available in ready-packed capsules at Japanese supermarkets Meidi-ya. Just add water for a stock that has the gelatinous, creamy taste of slow-boiled chicken collagen. For more visual impact, use a hotpot which will allow for two different stocks to be cooked at the same time to wow your guests! A good option is a plain stock (chicken, vegetable, duck) juxtaposed with a spicy or rich stock (tom yum, mala, kimchi) to keep those palates excited.
Tip 4: Fusion Fun
Put a fun and refreshing spin on traditional yusheng that will get your guests talking with this fusion fruity yusheng recipe!
'Bak Kwa' (Chinese Meat Jerky) and Mandarin Orange Salad with Nuts and 'Yu Sheng' Dressing
Tip 5: Keep Things Saucy
Instead of just plain old soy sauce, why not introduce some exciting and exotic dips for your luxury steamboat spread? Don’t label them to keep your guests guessing what's in your special sauce! Some suggestions include Thai¬style fermented shrimp sauce 'chincalok' which goes perfectly with seafood or a sour-spicy-sweet 'mookata' dipping sauce. If you want to keep it local, try a slightly diluted satay sauce with pureed pineapple for a juicy kick. Creamy Japanese style sesame sauces or mentaiko (cod roe) mayonnaise are also some options you can play around with. With all these ideas handed on a platter to you, there's no reason you can't throw a dinner party to be remembered this Chinese New Year!