Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Family Valentine

Valentine’s Day is a strained holiday for many.  Too many expectations and unspoken wishes can make it a difficult day whether one is attached or not. This year, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day are on the same day and that concurrence opens the door to a bit more creativity and togetherness and a bit less heartache and solitaire.

Chinese New Year provides plenty of red-themed symbolism for the romantic in you and plenty of optimism and good fortune for pragmatist pining for a mid-winter lift.  The lunar New Year is the overture to spring and new beginnings.  Many of the traditions and foods celebrate this theme as well as ones of togetherness, luck, prosperity and long life.  This year, have a Lucky Shared Meal out on the town (Chinatown that, is) or in your own dining room following the easy menu below.

If you live near or in a city with a Chinatown, check out the festivities planned.  You can expect firecracker ceremonies, lion dancing and whirling dragons, lunar New Year parades and restaurants serving lucky foods. Red, considered a lucky color, is everywhere.  Children are handed red envelopes filled with coins to buy candies and fruit portending a sweet year.

Lucky foods earn their status based on the sound of their names or their resemblance to a lucky theme.  For example, the word for lettuce sounds like the phrase for rising fortune in Chinese so lettuce is often included in the meal.  Sweet desserts like sticky rice cakes made with glutinous rice flour and dried fruits also symbolize good fortune and a sweet life.

Whole chicken or fish is symbolic of family togetherness, wholeness and a good start and finish to the year. Long life is symbolized via dishes that encourage diners to see and experience length. Noodle dishes made with uncut or unbroken long noodles and green bean stir fries are typical.  The Chinese long beans measuring from one to three feet are often served.  These beans are also called snake beans or asparagus beans in markets.  They are a bit softer than conventional green beans and the flavor may remind you of asparagus (another long vegetable served at this time of year).

Citrus fruits like tangerines and oranges (in season now) are considered lucky since the words for them in Chinese sound like the word lucky.  If there are any leaves still attached there is an added bonus of connecting to others, especially lucky for couples.

The night’s menu offered here is suitable for friends, family groups or just the two of you.  Red Glazed Whole Roasted Chicken is marinated overnight turning the chicken a ruby red before baking.  Sesame noodles can be spicy or mild as suits your table and can be prepared ahead.  Green bean prices are up this year due to inclement cold in the south so our menu features asparagus finished in the oven while the chicken rests. The whole meal can be eaten with knife and fork or scooped into lettuce cups for a bit of extra New Year luck.

Lucky Shared Meal (serves 4-6)
Red Glazed Whole Roasted Chicken
Roasted Sesame Asparagus
Long Life Peanut-Sesame Noodles
 Dessert: Oranges with almond or sugar cookies make a simple dessert to share

Based on a Cantonese Cha Siu barbeque marinade for spare ribs, Red Glazed Whole Roasted Chicken uses a vinegar-based red marinade that tints the skin with a becoming blush. Like the rib version, the meat is slightly sweet and has hints of orange from the marinade and the orange quarters baked in the cavity.  Instead of artificial red food coloring typically used in the recipe, this pure version employs beets to create the red tinge.  You will not taste the beets in the final result.  Like red cabbage, beets need an acidic environment to retain their ruby color thus the vinegar base.   Heat also affects the tint so the cooked chicken will not be as deeply red as the marinated raw bird.

Love note:  If you have never used a meat thermometer, one is highly recommended for this recipe. The red marinade makes it difficult to go by color for "degree of doneness."  A thermometer will help you roast the perfect chicken to 165˚F every time no matter the weight of the chicken or true temperature of your oven.

While the chicken roasts prep the asparagus and noodle sauce. Invite family togetherness by allowing someone to help with this step.  Prepping these ingredients will make it easy to finish off the meal while the cooked chicken rests.

Red Glazed Whole Roasted Chicken
1 small red beet, or the juice from a small can of beets. Citrus—will help fix red color of beet dye
Juice of 1/2 orange, plus orange quarters for roasting stage. 
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup brown sugar;
1 inch of a knob of grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dry sherry
1 4-pound whole chicken

  1. Peel and quarter beet and cover in 1/2 cup water in a small sauce pan.  Simmer for 15 minutes until tender. Uncover and continue to cook on low until liquid is halved—1/4 cup.  Remove the beet quarters and set aside. If using canned beet juice, heat the juice and proceed with step 2.
  2. With heat still on low, add citrus juice and brown sugar.  Stir to completely dissolve sugar.  Turn of heat.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and allow marinade to cool completely. 
  4. Rinse chicken and remove any parts from cavity (neck, liver, giblets). Reserve for soup or other use.  
  5. Place the whole chicken in a re-sealable plastic bag and set in a large plate or bowl to catch any drips.  Pour the cooled marinade over the chicken, squeeze out excess air and seal the bag.  Lay the chicken breast side down in the dish and marinate overnight.  The next morning, turn the chicken and leave until ready to roast.  Marinate at least 6 hours. 
  6. About 1 1/2 hours before dinner, preheat oven to 450˚F and remove chicken from bag.  Wipe away moisture with a paper towel, but do not rinse.  Place chicken on a roasting rack in a roasting pan.  
  7. Place orange quarters inside bird and tie legs together with butcher twine (OK to leave untied).   Spread vegetable oil over skin (about 1/2 tablespoon) and place in oven.  
  8. Roast 15 minutes at 450˚F then lower the heat to 350˚F and roast 15 minutes per pound until a meat thermometer reads 165˚F in the thigh.  Figure about 1 hour for a 4-pound bird, but test for internal temperature after 45 minutes.  Check the bird 2-3 times during cooking and brush will drippings from pan as needed. 
  9. When the internal temperature has reached 165˚K, remove bird from oven and cover lightly with aluminum foil.  Let rest 20 minutes allowing temperature to rise a few more degrees and juices to be reabsorbed into the meat.  This will ensure a moist chicken.  

    Roasted Sesame Asparagus 
    1 pound aspargus
    1 T sesame oil
    1 teaspoon soy sauce
    1 T sesame seeds
    freshly ground black pepper


    1. Leave oven on to roast asparagus while chicken cooks.  
    2. Break off tough stem ends and rinse asparagus.  (If you are following the Chinese New Year tradition of leaving things whole this night, steam them as is and warn diners to avoid the woody stem ends.) 
    3. Place asparagus in a skillet with about an inch of boiling water. Cover and cook until asparagus are just getting tender, 3-5 minutes.  
    4. Drain and toss with sesame oil, soy sauce.
    5. Place asparagus on a baking sheet in a single layer and sprinkle on sesame seeds and freshly ground black pepper.  
    6. Roast at 350˚F for 10-12 minutes until spears are beginning to caramelize. 

    Long Life Peanut-Sesame Noodles
    In a large bowl, suitable for serving, combine:
    3 T dark sesame oil
    3 T soy sauce
    2 T red wine vinegar

    Processed until smooth in a food processor or blender:
    2 cloves garlic, peeled
    Two 1-inch square knobs fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
    1/2 -1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1/3 cup natural peanut butter
    1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
    5 tablespoons soy sauce
    1/4 cup rice wine or sake
    1 1/2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    6 tablespoons chicken broth or water

    3/4 pound long, thin noodles
    Optional: crushed red pepper flakes

    1. In a large pot of well- salted water, cook noodles as directed.  You may use Chinese egg noodles, somen, angel hair, whole wheat spaghetti, anything you like provided noodles are long and unbroken. We often use angel hair for this recipe. 
    2. When noodles are cooked, drain them then toss with the marinade in the serving bowl. This step favors the noodle at a deep level and makes for a more complex taste.  
    3. Stir in the peanut sauce prepared in the food processor ensuring that the noodles are all covered.  The noodles may be served hot or at room temperature.  
    4. Serve with a small bowl of additional crushed red pepper for those with hotter tastes.

      Happy family.

      Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days and concludes with the Lantern Festival (set on the night of the first full moon of the lunar New Year). This gives you plenty of time to make this dinner if you have other plans for Valentine’s Day.