Cooking for a group of guests doesn’t have to be stressful! My recent Supper Club shows a practical example of how to prepare a Chinese themed dinner party with ease.
Last week, I hosted a Chinese themed dinner party (Supper Club) at The Pavilion, one of the most reputable food venues in Bedford, England. I named this special culinary event “A Bite of China”, inspired by a popular Chinese documentary (舌尖上的中国) featuring the sophisticated food culture of my home country. It was a great experience cooking for a group of supper club members and the positive, warm feedback I received from my guests was very rewarding.
I designed a five-course menu for this Supper Club event offering authentic Chinese food prepared from scratch but presented and served in a Western style. Due to the limitation of the restaurant’s kitchen (professional but not geared up for Chinese cooking), I did lots of preparation ahead of time in my own kitchen. When the evening came, there was only a minimum of work I needed to finish in the restaurant’s kitchen. Thus, the dishes could be served with the minimum of stress, allowing me to enjoy the whole experience and to interact with my guests between courses.
Today, I’d like to share my five dishes and explain exactly how they were prepared (with links to the recipes of some of the dishes on my blog). If you ever have an opportunity to prepare a Chinese themed dinner party, I hope my example can bring you some inspiration on menu planning, cooking procedure and food presentation.
① Mung Bean Jelly Salad
Mung bean jelly (凉粉, Liangfen) is a very common savoury snack / cold dish in China. I made a large block of it (using mung bean starch and water) one day before the event and kept it in the fridge. I also pre-soaked some dried Wood Ear (木耳, a type of black edible fungus) the night before and briefly blanched it in boiling water right before I went to the restaurant’s kitchen.
Mung bean jelly and Wood Ear both have very pleasing texture. The former is soft and slippery. The latter is crisp and crunchy. However they taste rather plain on their own. So I made some Black Bean Sauce (豆豉酱) to give this refreshing dish a bit of a kick. This versatile sauce can be prepared long before you plan to use it. Please refer to my previous post “Spicy black bean sauce – 3 versions” to learn the cooking procedure. For a better presentation, I garnished the dish with fresh coriander and slices of red chilli.
② Slow Poached Chicken Thigh
The second dish also involves a number of different tastes and texture. I slowly poached some chicken thigh (deboned with skin on) with lots of spring onion and ginger. When completely cool, I rolled each piece up and wrapped them individually with cling film. After overnight refrigeration, they were ready to be sliced neatly (similar taste and method to my recipe for “Chinese one-pot chicken rice“).
I introduced two types of Asian mushrooms to my Supper Club guests: King oyster mushroom (杏鲍菇) and Noodle mushroom (金针菇). I briefly cooked them in chicken stock to maintain their lovely earthy flavour. A few days before my Supper Club, I surprisingly found some celtuce (青笋, aka stem lettuce) in a British mainstream supermarket and I quickly decided to add it to my menu. This delightful vegetable can be consume either raw or cooked. For that evening, I simply peeled, sliced and plated it.
③ Pan-fried Vegetarian Dumplings
Here comes the third dish: Pan-fried vegetarian dumplings (素煎饺). They are filled with Chinese chive, Shiitake mushroom, scrambled eggs, mung bean vermicelli noodles and carrot. All these ingredients have different taste and texture, but when combined together with a nice balance, they make those dumplings truly addictive.
To celebrate Spring days, I use spinach juice instead of water to dye part of the dough thus to make the dumplings resemble Chinese jade. This dish is based on a recipe I posted earlier. Please click HERE to read the detailed instructions.
I’ve always included Chinese dumplings (or stuffed buns) on the menus of my Chinese-themed dinner parties. Not only do they always turn out to be a favourite with my guests, but they are also a great choice from the chef’s point of view. Although it does take a bit of time to make dumplings, you can always prepare them in advance. Freeze them immediately after assembly and fry them (without defrosting) for a few minutes before serving. It’s totally stress-free.
Another tip: if you don’t have small plates / bowls for the dipping sauce, why not halve and hollow a tomato for this purpose? The additional colour introduced by the tomato also makes the dish more visually appealing.
④ Beijing Fried Sauce Noodles
The feast continues with one of my favourite noodle dishes. Super refreshing and flavoursome, Beijing fried sauce noodles (Named “Zha Jiang Mian, 炸酱面 in Chinese) consists of three components: fried pork belly cubes (can be replace by Shiitake mushroom for vegetarian version) simmered in a dark, thick and salty sauce, freshly cooked noodles and various vegetables with different colour and texture.
The great thing about this dish is that you can do most of the preparation beforehand without compromising its freshness. Cook the pork belly sauce the night before. Have the vegetables cut (cucumber, radish) or blanched (edamame, bean sprouts) a couple of hours before the dinner party. After your guests arrive, all you need to do is to boil the noodles and assemble the plate. If available, choose fresh noodles as they taste better and are easier to cook than dried ones.
⑤ Snow Pear Stew & Glutinous Rice Balls
After the four courses above, the guests at my Supper Club claimed they were already quite full. But there is always room for dessert, especially something light and refreshing. I served two classic Chinese sweet treats: Snow pear stew and Glutinous rice balls.
I braised snow pear (雪梨, aka Asian pear or Nashi pear) with rock sugar, Chinese dates and goji berries (click HERE for recipe) in advance and served them cool out of the fridge. Bicolour glutinous rice balls (汤圆, Tang Yuan) were filled with homemade black sesame seed paste (click HERE for recipe). As they freeze very well, I made them several days earlier. When serving, I suggested that my guests consume them after sampling the pear stew as the rice balls have a sweeter taste.
Voilà! Cooking for a large group doesn’t have to be stressful if you take time to plan the menu and stay organized during the preparation period. Hope you feel inspired by my example of a Chinese themed dinner party and wish you good luck in your kitchen!