Wednesday, February 12, 2014

chinese (charcoal) steamboat

When I was a kid, we would have charcoal steamboats every Chinese New Year (CNY). Since we had a huge family (my Dad is the oldest of 7 children), the dining table would always be really crowded, and the entire family ate in shifts because it was impossible to fit everyone at the table at the same time.

We always had charcoal steamboats, and tons and tons of food.

As a child, it was one of the most amazing times of the year, and I loved everything about steamboats, from the hours of cooking the broth, to the endless chopping and cutting of meat, fish, seafood, poultry vegetables... Next to Qing Ming (清明节), another festival when the entire family got together to feast (which is, of course, another story), CNY reunion dinner was my favourite meal of the year.

As we grew older, due to (mostly) modernisation, and also because many of us now live in apartments where cooking with charcoal is prohibited, charcoal steamboats got replaced by electric ones. Indeed, for many years, my mom would make a steamboat meal for our reunion dinner, and we would always use an electrical steamboat.

Things never did taste quite the same. I am convinced that food cooked in charcoal steamboats taste way better than anything else. Maybe it is the rarity of it - I went to so many shops before I was able to find the old-style steamboats; or maybe it is the fact that cooking with charcoal involves so much more work than pushing a plug into a socket.

This year, I invited some friends and family over to our house for a small steamboat dinner.

And I was determined that my charcoal steamboats were coming out to play.

Besides the steamboats, the next most important part of this dinner had to be the stock. I make my stock from pork bones. Always.

I used to boil my stock for 24 hours - yes, I kid you not - but I have found a much simpler (and less time-consuming way) to make the stock.

To start, I roast pork bones in a really hot oven until they turn brown.

These were placed in a stock pot with galangal, garlic, lemongrass and spring onion.

I simmered this over a low fire for at least 8 hours.

At the end, the everything would have broken down, and the stock would be rich and aromatic.

I sieved the stock, and reserved only the liquid.

For many years, I would serve raw and unseasoned meat and seafood with the steamboat. While I am not a fan of Kylie Kwong, I watched an episode of her cooking show, "Heart and Soul" and I was convinced that since we always eat the meat first and drink the soup only towards the end of the meal, the meat should be flavoured. In this way, the already aromatic (but unseasoned) broth would gradually be seasoned as well as get additional flavour as the meat or seafood was being cooked, and you would end up with a really tasty soup at the end. This makes a much, much more tasty meal.

Hence, from then, I always season the meat and seafood that I serve with the steamboat.

This year, I served sliced pork, chicken, prawns, fish, squid, "herh qiao" (fish dumplings), crab sticks wrapped in fish paste, and fish paste with bean curd skin, as well as an assortment of vegetables and fresh mushrooms. In addition, I also served normal fishballs, foochow fishballs and hard-boiled quail eggs.

Since charcoal steamboat is usually eaten over a long time (people cook whatever they like in the broth), the LAM kept the charcoal burning so he could top up more charcoal as and when needed. Through trial and error, he finally found a way to make the fire last longer. Brilliant!!

We are lucky to have an outdoor area where we could cook our food in a charcoal steamboat, but even if you can't (because you live in a apartment, or for other reasons), I hope you will still make time to make a steamboat dinner, and enjoy it with your family and friends!

Wishing everyone a Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐!

Chinese (Charcoal) Steamboat (Serves 8-10)
Partially adapted from "Heart to Soul" by Kylie Kwong

For the stock:
2-3 kg pork bones, cracked
1 large piece galangal, sliced
15 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with skin left on
3 stalks lemongrass, lightly crushed
3 stalks spring onion

1. Roast pork bones in oven at 220C for about 15-20 minutes, until bones turned golden brown.
2. Place all ingredeints in a stock pot. Simmer on low heat for 8-10 hours.
3. Sieve and reserve stock.

For the Garlic and ginger paste:
10 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup roughly chopped ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

For the Pork:
300 g (10 oz) pork fillet, finely sliced on the diagonal
1/3 of the Ginger and garlic paste
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine
1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar
dash of sesame oil

For the Chicken:
300 g (10 oz) chicken fillet, finely sliced on the diagonal
1/3 of the Ginger and garlic paste
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
dash of sesame oil

For the Beef: - I did not serve beef this time
300 g (10 oz) beef fillet, finely sliced on the diagonal
1/3 of the Ginger and garlic paste
2 tablespoons Chinese BBQ sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine
1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper and salt
dash of sesame oil

For the Squid: (This also works great with scallops)
700 g (1 lb 6 oz) small whole squid
2 large red chillies, halved lengthways, deseeded and roughly sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
11/2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons ginger julienne
1 tablespoon lime juice

For the Fish:
400 g (13 oz) white fish fillets, finely sliced on the diagonal
2 tablespoons finely sliced coriander stalks and roots
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon white sugar

For the Prawns:
12 uncooked king prawns (jumbo shrimp), peeled and deveined but with tails intact
1 tablespoon finely diced lemongrass
1/4 cup finely sliced spring onions (scallions)
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger julienne
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine
1 teaspoon sea salt
dash of sesame oil

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