Hong Kong cooks and chefs are a resourceful lot. So long as there's an oven and a wok, they can make stunning party food without too much stress, and the bonus is that it won't break the bank.
Char siu (barbecue pork) is simple to make and tastes gorgeous. All you need to do is marinate, roast and serve.
Sichuan wontons with chilli oil are easier still if you're time-poor because you can prepare the wontons ahead and freeze them before your party.
All you have to do on the day of the party is drop the uncooked and still frozen wontons in boiling water and serve with chilli oil or soy sauce.
Dan tat (egg or custard tarts) are divine party treats. Said to be a British or Portuguese legacy, they can be made ahead and reheated in the oven just before serving, which leaves you time to entertain.
Char siu (barbecue pork)
Char siu, with its c, has a certain deliciousness that's forever locked in my food memories – it makes my mouth water from the moment I see the honey dripping down the smoky pork in Cantonese siu mei restaurants. In Hong Kong this barbecued pork is taken so seriously that food critics debate which establishment makes the best.
This is a simple recipe. The secret lies in basting the pork with the marinade while it's roasting. This recipe is based on the glorious char siu I've had at One Harbour Road, the Cantonese restaurant at the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai.
500g shoulder pork
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
thinly sliced spring onions, to serve
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp white pepper
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 cubes red fermented bean curd, mashed (see note)
½ tsp Chinese five-spice
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Mei Kuei Lu Chiew liquor (see note)
a few drops red food colouring (optional)
Cut the pork lengthways into strips 5cm wide and 2.5cm thick and put into a non-reactive container. Combine the marinade ingredients in a saucepan over low heat and stir together. Leave to cool, then stir in the garlic and massage the marinade into the pork. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 5-6 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 220C. Bring the pork back to room temperature and drain off the excess marinade into a small bowl. Place the pork on a rack in the middle of the oven and put a roasting pan containing a cupful of hot water underneath on the bottom rack. Roast the meat for 20 minutes, basting with the marinade occasionally. Reduce the oven to 180C and roast for a further 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 74C.
Cool the pork briefly, then cut it into bite-sized pieces. Garnish with spring onions and serve as an appetiser or with steamed rice as a light meal.
Note: Red fermented bean curd, cubes of tofu preserved with red yeast rice (red koji rice), is available in jars in Asian grocers. Mei Kuei Lu Chiew liquor, which translates as rose dew wine or rose essence, is made with sorghum and rose petals. If it's unavailable, use Shaoxing rice wine.
These wontons are a cinch to make. Photo: Greg Elms
Wontons with red chilli oil
I adore Cantonese wontons in soups, but every once in a while I get a craving for Sichuan's spicy wontons. Called hong you chao shou in Mandarin, these delicious dumplings are pretty common in Sichuan province but less so in Hong Kong. They're a cinch to make and the accompanying hot sauce takes these morsels to another level.
360g packet square wonton wrappers
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
300g minced pork with 30 per cent fat content
2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tsp sugar
2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp chicken stock
Red chilli oil
1 tbsp white sesame seeds, roasted
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
185 ml (¾ cup) chilli oil with sediment (see note)
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of sugar, or to taste
To make the filling, put all the ingredients except the chicken stock in a bowl and mix well. Add the stock a tablespoon at a time, stirring in a circular motion until incorporated before adding the next spoonful.
Fill a small bowl with water. Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place a teaspoonful of pork filling in the centre of the wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and run it around the edges of the wrapper. Fold over to form a triangle, then dab one of the lower corners with water and fold over to the other lower corner and pinch with your thumb and index finger to seal. Repeat until all the filling is used.
Mix together all the red chilli oil ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook the wontons in batches until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon. Divide the wontons among serving bowls, drizzle with chilli oil and garnish with spring onions.
Note: Koon Yick Wah Kee brand chilli oil is available at many Asian stores. Use a little of the sediment (the ground pulp of fried dried chillies) to add kick to the chilli sauce.
Makes 30-40 wontons
Egg tarts are made with short or puff pastry. Photo: Greg Elms
Dan tat (egg tarts)
Considered a legacy of the Portuguese and British, these ubiquitous Cantonese custard tarts have been around since the 1940s. They were made famous by the last British governor, Chris Patten, who declared Tai Cheong Bakery's tarts the best in the world. They're usually made with short pastry, although some bakeries, such as the Honolulu Coffee Shop in Wan Chai, make them with puff pastry.
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
50g caster sugar
110g cold butter, cut into small cubes
120g castor sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml unsweetened evaporated milk
½ tsp vanilla essence
To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar and butter on a work surface and lightly rub with your fingers to partly combine. Make a well in the centre and add 2 tablespoons cold water. Using a pastry scraper, work the mixture into a buttery dough. Smear the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then gather together and form it into a flat disc. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes to rest.
To make the custard, put the sugar and 225ml water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then set aside to cool. Combine the eggs, evaporated milk and vanilla essence in a bowl, stir in the cooled sugar syrup and mix well without creating bubbles. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a jug.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured bench to a thickness of 5mm. Using a fluted cookie cutter a little larger than your buttered tart cases (see note), cut the dough into rounds. Ease the pastry rounds into the cases, transfer to the oven rack and pour the custard into the pastry cases.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned, then reduce the heat to 180C and carefully rotate the tray. Continue to bake for 10 minutes or until the custard is slightly puffed. Cool for 10 minutes before removing the tarts from their cases.
Note: I used 6cm pastry cases. Any leftover pastry can be frozen for up to a month.
This is an edited extract from Hong Kong Food City by Tony Tan (Murdoch Books RRP $49.99). Photography by Greg Elms.