Why hello. An invitation to a Chinese New Year dinner is always exciting, but when Veruca Salt told me that a suckling pig was also on the guest list, I could barely keep the grin of anticipation off my face.
Chinese New Year is all about getting together with family and friends. It's a time to cherish loved ones, be thankful for what you have, and to clear the slate for a New Year filled with the promise of good fortune. It's a bit like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one, and a bountiful feast is the best part of celebrations.
A feast at the home of Veruca Salt is never a modest undertaking. The table was overflowing with food, and the generosity of dishes was staggering. I've known Veruca Salt for over 15 years, and to be included as part of their family celebration was humbling. And delicious.
We relished the sweet flesh of the enormous king crab, cooked with tamarind and chilli and hoed into homemade spring rolls and stuffed chicken wings, packed tight with pork mince, black fungus and vermicelli.
Homemade spring rolls and stuffed chicken wings
Steamed silver perch
There are many dishes that feature regularly at Chinese New Year, usually because the names of the dishes sound lucky or auspicious. The word for fish sounds similar to abundance, dried oysters sounds like 'good things' and black hair moss sounds like the phrase 'to prosper, or grow rich'.
So a whole steamed silver perch took pride of place in the centre of the table, the flesh moist and fatty in a ginger, soy and shallot sauce.
Dried oysters with fatt choy black hair moss
Dried oysters were reconstituted, the flavour-intense bivalves cooked up with dried shiitake mushrooms and the treasured delicacy of fatt choy black hair moss, harvested in the Gobi Desert.
Chicken and jellyfish salad
Xoi Vietnamese sticky rice
Chicken and jellyfish salad has always been one of my favourite dishes, fresh with coriander and crunchy from celery and carrot shreds. It provides freshness and balance in-between mouthfuls of deep-fried spring rolls and chicken wings.
There are also three kinds of rice to choose from: fried rice; claypot chicken and Chinese sausage rice; and xoi Vietnamese sticky rice, faintly sweet from coconut milk.
But really, I only had eyes for the suckling pig, picked up from a barbecue shop in Bankstown and waiting patiently in its red cardboard box.
EDIT: The suckling pig was bought from Big Hong Kong Garden, 292 Chapel Road South, Bankstown, Tel: +61 (02) 9793 8540. Cost was $43/kg (as at Jan 2012). The pig pictured weighed about 6.3kg.
The loud and distinct splintering sound as the meat cleaver was pushed through the crackling was like music to our ears. It was almost like glass breaking, as the toffee-like skin split apart neatly in two.
Vietnamese often have suckling pig with banh hoi, lacy bundles of fresh steamed rice vermicelli dressed with shallots that have been sauteed in oil. The banh hoi and pork is eaten together, drizzled with nuoc cham fish sauce dressing - others wrap it all up in lettuce leaves with extra herbs.
We just eat lots of it, savouring the juicy fatty pork crowned with irresistibly crunchy crackling.
Suckling pig plate with banh hoi
A night of good food and much laughter? I couldn't think of a better start to the Year of the Dragon!
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1/25/2012 02:26:00 a.m.