You don’t deserve this one. It’s not that you are a person of dubious virtue. It’s not that you have done any specific thing to offend me and it’s nothing to do with your personal hygiene. This little recipe is just too good to share. It fits the ‘easy oriental’ description like a prawn fits its shell. It looks pretty awesome and it tastes spectacularly good.
If you’ve come this far with me in this little series, you may as well go the whole way. No, this one can’t be done with your usual supermarket ingredients. You are going to have to make a trip to the Asian supermarket. But, before you throw your hands in the air and mutter something that demeans your spirit, take my word for it, the journey will be worth it. This is probably the most famous dish from the Szechuan region, a provence famed for it’s fiery food. The bad news is that it is very, very (extremely very) hot. The good news is that it is really easy to prepare. The bonus is hot or not, it is delicious.
Do you guys think I’m doing this for my own amusement? I have to tell you I am not impressed. I spend the early part of the week cogitating “What would they like to see?” “What would be good enough to share with them?” “I’ll need to buy another couple of plates, they are probably bored with these ones…” The thought process goes on. The angst builds until I finally settle on cooking something that I am convinced will win you over. The latter part of the week is spent ensuring I have the best and the freshest ingredients. Saturday, I check my camera gear. Tension in the household mounts. On Saturday evening or possibly Sunday, I take control of the kitchen and cook and photograph for you. Then I process the pictures and try to think of something to say.
The earliest records of the Chinese cookingPeking Duck go back to the 14th century. They say that in more recent times, Henry Kissinger enjoyed the Peking Duck so much that he went to China a second time. On that trip he set up the historic visit by President Richard Nixon and the rest as they say, is history. Tricky Dickey subsequently suffered severe reputational damage when he tried to suppress the reporting of goings on in the Watergate Building. His good name, like the origins of Peking Duck is now ancient history. My worry is with more recent and personal concerns – my own culinary reputation.
I need to be careful how I phrase this. There are two old steamers in the kitchen. They have been there for years and they have even been a big influence on the lives of my children. I think it’s time they came out of the closet.
For over 30 years, The Great Wall takeaway in Blackrock has been a small but constant part of south Dublin nightlife. Generations of us have stumbled in their aluminium and reinforced glass front door to order our post-pints feed. The after-pub crowd would generally be well-behaved if not a bit disrespectful towards the long-suffering Orientals behind the counter.
Once, I asked our server the meaning of the Chinese writing on a wall painting beside the lengthy menu. As he handed us our bags of deep-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken, he told me, with a grin; “You come in, you laugh at us. You leave with the food, we laugh at you.” We all guffawed but something stuck with me and has stayed since.
Not my usual way to start a post but circumstance has forced my hand. My two grown-up (in age only) daughters were having a conversation in the way that only the female of the species can. L (the elder) looks up from typing on her computer and says “It’s great that Laura and Paddy are coming to dinner on Sunday.” Without lifting her head from deep study of Facebook, S (the younger) replies; “Who the hell is Lord Paddington?” Now, just over a week hence, my nurse niece Laura and her fireman boyfriend Paddy have become forever the single entity “Lord Paddington”.
My love of Oriental cooking came from a period in my working life when I ate in Chinese restaurants at least once a week. I have spent over 30 years in advertising and during the late 80s and early 90s, I would dine out, often in excellent Chinese restaurants including the Orchid Szechuan on Dublin’s Pembroke Road or in the Imperial on Wicklow Street (great for Dim Sum). In those days, it was perfectly normal enjoy a three course meal with wine (often lots of wine) for lunch on an almost daily basis. Those habits have been diminished by time, social convention and economic change but my love of oriental fare and cooking have not been eroded.