Although I dislike cold weather, I love winter food - game meats, slow-cooked casseroles, braised dishes and rich, warm desserts. These two Chinese dishes are perfect to serve at this time of year.
Chicken with chestnuts (pictured)
This is one of my favourite winter dishes; it's hearty and rib-sticking (because of the chestnuts), and the sauce is delicious with steamed rice. I've tried making this with dried chestnuts, fresh chestnuts that I roasted myself and chestnuts purchased from a roasted chestnut vendor. While all versions were good, the street-bought chestnuts were more convenient, and the way they were cooked (stirred in a wok with charcoal and sugar) adds a pleasant, smoky flavour.
Chestnuts are easiest to peel when they're hot; when they cool, the shell and papery skin stick maddeningly to the flesh. I warm them a few at a time in the microwave - be careful that you don't heat them too much or they'll explode; they need only about 15 seconds. You can also warm them in the oven.
This recipe makes a lot, but the leftovers reheat well. To make less, just halve the ingredients.
3kg chicken wings (drumettes and middle joint only), separated between the joints
50ml soy sauce, or to taste
50ml rice wine, or to taste
About 20 grams granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
4 tsp cornstarch, plus extra if needed for thickening the sauce
About 30 grams fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 3mm-thick pieces
500ml water or home-made unsalted chicken broth
500 grams roasted chestnuts, hard shells and papery skins removed
5 spring onions: 4 cut into 3cm pieces, plus one minced for the garnish
Cooking oil, as needed
Put the chicken wings in a large Chinese sand pot (or an enamelled cast-iron one) and add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, white pepper, four teaspoons of cornstarch and the sliced ginger. Mix, then leave at room temperature for an hour (or cover and refrigerate for up to four hours).
Pour oil into a wok to the depth of about 5cm and heat to 190 degrees Celsius. Mix the ingredients in the sand pot, then remove the chicken and ginger from the pot, leaving behind as much marinade as possible. Fry the chicken and ginger in several batches until medium brown, then drain on paper towels before putting them back into the pot. Add the chestnuts, four spring onions and the water or chicken stock to the pot and stir, then bring to the boil. Lower the flame, cover the pot with the lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. If the liquid evaporates too much, stir in additional water or chicken broth. Taste the seasonings and adjust if needed. The sauce should lightly coat the chicken pieces; if it's too thin, dissolve more cornstarch in cold water and stir it into the ingredients, then simmer until thickened. Garnish with the minced spring onion and serve with steamed white rice.
Braised pork belly with preserved mustard greens
For this dish, choose a piece of pork belly that's evenly thick, and with a good layer of fat. If it's too lean, the finished dish will be dry.
25 grams small (about 2.5cm in diameter) dried Chinese mushrooms
100 grams Chinese preserved mustard greens
15ml cooking oil
500 grams pork belly
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
30ml light soy sauce
5ml dark soy sauce (kecap manis), plus extra for brushing the pork belly
1 tsp sugar
30ml Shaoxing rice wine
2 tsp cornstarch, or more if needed
1 or 2 spring onions, finely minced
Rinse the mushrooms and mustard greens under cool running water (mustard greens are often sandy). Soak the mushrooms in warm water until soft then drain them and squeeze out the excess water. Remove and discard the hard caps. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a sieve then measure it and add enough water to make 250ml. Finely chop the mustard greens.
Brush dark soy sauce over the surface of the pork belly. Heat the oil in a skillet. When it's very hot, place the pork belly skin-side down in the pan and sear the surface until it's a deep brown; take care because the oil will splatter. Turn the pork over and sear the other side. Remove the pork from the pan and when it's cool enough to handle, slice it into 1cm-thick pieces.
Use the skillet (no need to wash it) to cook the garlic over a low flame until soft and lightly browned. Put the garlic and the cooking oil into a medium-size sand pot (or an enamelled cast-iron one) and add the mushrooms and mustard greens. Stir in the light and dark soy sauce, the sugar, water and rice wine. Add the pork belly skin-side up and put the pot over a medium flame. Bring to a boil then lower the heat, cover with the lid and cook at a low simmer for about an hour, or until the pork belly is very tender. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water and drizzle it into the braising liquid. Swirl the pan so the cornstarch is distributed then simmer until the sauce is lightly thickened. Sprinkle with the minced spring onions then serve with steamed white rice.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee