As I write this piece, I’m just starting to feel that little Christmas tingle.
I was getting worried I wouldn’t feel it this year, but a combination of a couple of things really started the mood, and I think I’m now ready to get festive.
Sometimes it happens early, and sometimes it comes on worryingly late, like only days before, but this seems like a good time to get in giddy mood.
Yesterday we decorated the house (well, Tracy decorated the house and I watched the very important football) and in the evening I had a glass or two of sherry, a personal bellwether of mine – a glass of sherry in front of the fire means I’m definitely Christmassy!
And today, as I gaze out over the Colne Valley it’s a sight to behold; there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the valley is gleaming white with icy snow. The air’s so clear, too, as if the snow cleansed the atmosphere as it fell, and the sheep in the little nursery field next door are breathing steam in delightful little puffs as they chew their (presumably nicely crisp) early morning grass. Breathtaking. At times like this I wish I was a painter.
Anyway, as I’m feeling festive, it seems appropriate to present this dish, which is a little bit different.
Open a paper, or flick through the TV channels and you’re bombarded with so many Christmas recipes and tips it’s exhausting.
The Two Fat Ladies square up against the Hairy Bikers as to the best way of doing the turkey, and Rick, Tom, Jamie, Delia and Nigella all implore us to try this twist on the original.
Well, if you’re like me, your Christmas lunch recipe is pretty much set in stone – never-changing and planned to the minute to avoid any potential snags.
The time for experimentation is not the biggest meal of the year, is it?
So here, I’m offering a different dish that’s fun to put together, and definitely not seasonal, but which does have a festive ingredient that makes all the difference.
It’s a good one for the fallow days between Christmas and New Year when you fancy something a bit more flavourful than turkey leftovers.
You’ll have heard of the Chinese dish lemon chicken, no doubt, and perhaps even the lesser-spotted orange chicken, so I wanted to keep that style of recipe, but using that most fragrant of seasonal fruits, the perfumed clementine. And it worked really well, adding that unmistakeable Christmassy tone to a wonderfully rich and savoury dish.
With it, I’ve made up a quick egg-fried rice, using homemade char siu pork, which is easy to prepare and essential for a good EFR.
Making your own char siu is not necessary, but it is super-easy and delicious, and you’ll find you use it often in all sorts of oriental dishes.
The chicken, once deep-fried, will cool and refrigerate for a couple of days, and comes back to golden crunchiness in a hot oven most satisfactorily, so this is a dish you can pretty much prep most of well in advance. Don’t let the vast ingredients list put you off – this is what pretty much all Chinese recipes look like.
Just get your ducks (or chickens) in a row, and you’ll have enormous fun with this seasonal twist on an absolute classic.
For the Char Siu Pork:
500g piece of pork loin
1.5 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sunflower oil
Few drops of red food colouring (optional)
For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
70g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp unrefined golden caster sugar
Approx. 140ml water
1 tsp sesame oil
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
The grated zest and juice of 10 satsumas or clementines
110g caster sugar
A little sunflower oil
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 small bunch spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
120ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cornflour
For the rice:
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 large spring onions, finely shredded
750g long-grain rice, cooked and cooled
A handful of frozen peas
225g char siu pork, diced
3 free-range eggs, beaten
A little sesame oil
First, make the char siu pork; put all the ingredients into a Ziploc-type bag and squish them around to make sure everything’s well-mixed. Leave in the fridge overnight, then allow to come up to room temperature. Heat the oven to 200ºC.
Take the pork from the marinade (reserving the liquid) and place in a lightly-oiled baking dish. Roast the pork for 15 minutes, basting frequently with the leftover marinade, then lower the temperature to 180ºC and cook, undisturbed for 15-20 minutes, until the pork is completely cooked though, and nicely sticky. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Now for the clementine sauce; combine the soy sauce, the clementine juice and zest and the caster sugar in a bowl. Set aside. Heat a little sunflower oil in a wok or frying pan, and sizzle the ginger, garlic, chili and spring onions for a few seconds, until nicely fragrant. Add the rice wine and the clementine/soy mixture and bring to a boil. Slake the cornflour in the stock, and tip into the pan. Whisk until smooth and thickened, and reduce the heat, Simmer for a few minutes, adjust the thickness and/or seasoning, then set aside until you’re ready to serve.
To prepare the chicken, sift the dry ingredients into a wide bowl. Mix the water and sesame oil and whisk into the flour, bringing it to a smooth thick batter. Add a little more flour/cornflour if necessary. Heat a pan of oil to 180ºC. In small batches, dip the chicken pieces into the batter, then straight into the hot oil. Sizzle for 4-5 minutes, until golden and cooked through, then drain and set on kitchen paper as you cook the remaining chicken.
To cook fully, tip the chicken back into the pan and cook until deep golden and crispy, or alternatively bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes and keep warm. Now for the rice; heat the sunflower oil in a wok or large frying pan.
Sizzle the spring onions until fragrant, then add the cubed char siu pork and cook for a few minutes. Tip in the rice and toss over a high heat, coating every grain. Add the peas. Lower the heat a little and make a well in the centre of the rice. Add the egg and stir it gently, allowing it to set. Work the cooking egg into large folds, as for scrambled egg, and stir these out into the rice as you go. Season with a little salt or soy sauce, and serve immediately, with the crisp chicken and the fragrant clementine sauce.