Seasonal Pantry: Chinese hot pot celebrates holiday

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There are a lot of reasons to love Lunar New Year. The first is its name. How can you not love something based on the moon and its cycles? Another is that it can seem like a second chance, especially if the new year observed around the world didn’t get off to such a great start.

By Lunar New Year, days are noticeably longer and we understand, viscerally, that spring is on its way. Then there are the colorful celebrations, with beautiful red lanterns, red envelopes, dragons and lion dances.

In 2019, the Year of the Pig begins on Feb.5, with celebrations continuing for most of the month. On Feb.23, the Redwood Empire Chinese Association hosts its annual celebration at the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Rosa. The evening includes a buffet of traditional foods, a no-host bar, a raffle, a silent auction, hands-on activities for kids, music, martial arts demonstrations, dance demonstrations and, of course, an appearance by the dragon, which snakes through the room and across the stage.

The grand finale is the lion’s dance, in which trained dancers don lion costumes and bring the creatures alive.

Tickets, which are sold in advance only, are $25 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 10. They are available at Asia Mart (2481 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa) and by calling Nancy Wang (707-576-0533) or Judy Cheung (707-528-0912).

You should be sure to clean your house — and especially your kitchen — before Lunar New Year begins. For the first day, hide your knives away — a drawer is fine — so that you don’t cut your good luck. Put your broom away, too, so that you don’t sweep your good luck out of the door. Enjoy oranges and tangerines, visit family and friends and eat well.

For Lunar New Year recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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Traditional Chinese hot pot has a lot in common with fondue, especially the type that involves cooking various meats and vegetables in hot oil. In the Chinese version, meats and vegetables are cooked in hot, flavorful broth. In my Lunar New Year version, I use a whole chicken — considered good luck — and a rack of pork ribs to make a flavorful stock and then cook most of the ingredients in that stock. Condiments are stirred in at the table.

Be sure not to cut the noodles, as you risk cutting your luck. This is why I’ve used tiny carrots, too. Try to get your carrots at a farmers market to avoid those fake baby carrots that come in packages at supermarkets.

You can prepare the meat and stock a day before completing the dish.

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Chinese-Inspired Hot Pot

Serve 6 to 8

For the meat and stock:

1 whole chicken, preferably local, rinsed under cool running water, patted dry

1 rack baby back ribs

6-8 slices (each about the size of a quarter) fresh ginger

2 bay leaves

1 star anise

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

— Several garlic cloves, trimmed but unpeeled

1 yellow onion, quartered

2 serranos, deeply scored but not cut through

— Kosher salt

6 cups homemade chicken stock

¾ cup rice vinegar

For the soup:

1 cup very small whole carrots, trimmed and rinsed

1 pound specialty mushrooms, such as maitake, hedge hogs or oyster

5 very small bok choy, halved lengthwise

4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage

1 14-ounce package rice vermicelli (do not break)

— Soy sauce

For condiments:

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon freshly pressed or minced garlic

— Toasted sesame oil

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and cut into very thin rounds

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, chopped

2 cups mung bean sprouts or other sprouts of choice (see note below)

— Asian hot sauce of choice

Set the chicken and ribs into a large soup pot and add the sliced ginger, bay leaves, anise, peppercorns, garlic cloves, onion and serranos. Season generously with salt and add the stock, ½ cup of the vinegar and enough water to cover everything by about 3 inches.

Bring to a boil over high heat. While waiting for the liquid to boil, spoon off any foam and other impurities that rise to the surface. When the water reaches a rolling boil, cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let sit for 1 hour.

Transfer the chicken and the ribs to a platter and cover with a sheet of aluminum foil.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, gently pull the meat from the carcass. Set the meat on the platter with the ribs and put the carcass into the pot. With the heat on medium-low, simmer very gently for about 2 hours, until the bones begin to fall apart when pressed. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Strain the liquid into a clean pot and discard the bones and aromatics. There should be 12 to 14 cups of liquid; if there is not, add water to make up the difference.

To finish, set the stock over medium heat. Cut the ribs apart and add them to the pot, along with the carrots and mushrooms and simmer gently until the carrots are just tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the bok choy and cabbage and simmer 5 minutes more. Add the rice vermicelli, stir the pot, cover and remove from the heat. Let rest for 10 minutes.

To finish, add the remaining vinegar and several generous shakes of soy sauce to the soup. Taste and correct for balance, adding more soy sauce if it seems a bit flat. Tear or cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add it to the pot.

Put the grated ginger and the minced garlic into small bowls. Stir about a tablespoon of sesame oil into both of them. Put the green onions, cilantro and bean sprouts onto a platter or in individual bowls.

To serve, ladle into large soup bowls, being certain that each portion contains some of everything. Enjoy right away, with condiments alongside for guests to add as they wish.

Note: Mung bean sprouts are traditional but I prefer radish sprouts or onion sprouts. Use whatever sprouts you like best.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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