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Chinese for Christmas

Don’t want to cook Christmas dinner? Try takeout


Many Chinese restaurants are popular Christmas Day dining options because they stay open 365 days a year.

And perhaps dining out on Chinese — or getting Chinese takeout or delivery if everybody wants to stay in pajamas all day — is in order if the family cook wants a holiday, too.

“We are open every day,” declared a spokeswoman from China Garden of Middletown.

Juan Zhang, manager of C.J. Chan in Belmont, said her restaurant will open on Christmas even though they’re not expecting a huge crowd.

“We would be busier if Christmas were a Friday,” she said.

And Linda Cheng, manager of Cheng’s in Xenia, said she expects to be a little slow, too. But she can make up party trays for customers, she added. She expects her top sellers that day to be General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour chicken and crab Rangoons.

But there’s no need to relegate Chinese to the restaurants. If you’re looking for something a little different this Christmas — or something a little more affordable than a top-end meat entree — why not try Chinese at home? We’ve provided two potential recipes below.

GENERAL TSO’S CHICKEN

4 boneless chicken thighs (about ¾ pound)

6-10 small dried red chilies

Cooking oil, for deep-frying

2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions

For the marinade/batter:

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

½ teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons potato flour

2 teaspoons cooking oil

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon tomato puree mixed with 1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon potato flour

½ teaspoon dark soy sauce

1½ teaspoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

3 tablespoons chicken stock or water

Unfold the chicken thighs and lay them, skin side down, on a chopping board. (If some parts are very thick, lay your knife flat and slice them across in half, parallel to the board.) Use a sharp knife to make a few shallow criss-cross cuts into the meat; this will help the flavors to penetrate. Then cut each thigh into 1½ to 1¾ inch slices, an uneven 1/8 inch or so in thickness. Place the slices in a bowl.

For the marinade, add the soy sauces and egg yolk to the chicken and mix well. Then stir in the potato flour and lastly the oil. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Use a pair of scissors to snip the chilies into ¾-inch sections, discarding seeds as much as possible.

Heat a wok over a high flame. Pour in the deep-frying oil and heat to 350 to 400 degrees. Add the chicken and fry until crisp and golden. (If you are deep-frying in a wok with relatively small volume of oil, fry the chicken in a couple of batches.) Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour the oil into a heatproof container and clean the wok if necessary.

Return the wok to a high flame. Add 2-3 tablespoons cooking oil and the chilies and stir-fry briefly until they are fragrant and just changing color (do not burn them). Toss in the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds more, until you can smell their aromas. Then add the sauce and stir as it thickens. Return the chicken to the wok and stir vigorously to coat the pieces in sauce. Stir in the sesame oil, then serve, with a scattering of green onions if desired.

Source: “Every Grain of Rice” by Fuchsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton, 2012)

SOUP WITH VEGETABLES AND MEATBALLS

For the meatballs:

1 dried shiitake mushroom

A small piece of ginger

4 ounces ground pork with a little fat

½ egg, beaten

1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onions

½ teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon potato flour

Salt

Ground white pepper

For the soup:

6 1/3 cups chicken stock

1¼ pound winter melon, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes or vegetable of choice

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Soak the dried mushroom for 30 minutes in hot water from the kettle. Crush the ginger, then put it in a glass with cold water to cover.

When the mushroom is soft, chop it finely. Place the pork in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the ginger-soaking water and all the other meatball ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix vigorously, stirring in one direction (this is supposed to give the meat a better texture). You will end up with a nice soft meatball mixture.

Bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Cut your vegetable of choice into 1/8- to 3/8-inch slices. Add vegetable chunks and simmer until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, then add the meatballs. The Chinese way is to take a small handful of paste in your left hand (if you are right-handed), make a fist, then gently squeeze the paste up through the hole made by your thumb and index finger. Use the other hand to scoop off walnut-sized balls of paste, and drop them into the soup. If you prefer, you can use a couple of teaspoons to mold the meatballs.

Simmer gently for about five minutes until the meatballs have risen to the surface and are cooked through. (If using tomatoes or greens that cook quickly, add them at this stage and let them heat through.)

Turn the soup into a warmed serving bowl and scatter with sliced green onions.

Source: “Every Grain of Rice” by Fuchsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton, 2012)


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