Monday, December 31, 2012

My First Chow Mein Christmas

To carry on in the vein of non-traditional traditions I seem to have acquired this year I was invited to spend Christmas with the Cute Gardener and his family for seafood and chow mein dinner.

Christmas dinner for me has always meant turkey. While growing up, the holiday morn meant waking up early to the smells already wafting in from the kitchen as mom cooked a trough of stuffing for the basted bird that would soon go into the oven. The family would converge in the living room around the tree with a big black garbage bag for discarded gift wrap and we would gorge on trays of brie en croute, goose liver pate and my mom’s famous white trash dip alongside cracker bread from San Francisco and miniature pumpernickel and rye bread slices while opening our stockings stuffed with treats. Throughout the day guests would arrive as my mother always claimed the day for all our orphan friends who had nowhere else to go. Hot toddies and white Russians would be poured long into the evening and clean up would be saved for the following day when we would scour the pots for leftover food and slices of pecan and pumpkin pie. As an adult, I continued on with the turkey to feed my own orphans but developed my own recipes for things like my famous (and constantly requested even from other people for dinner at their own houses) sausage and sage stuffing and tarragon green beans.

But this year it all started for me at Santa Monica Seafood, which became a strange Dickensian scene of mass people gathered around the fish monger deli counter five deep waving their hands in the air as their numbers were called in a frantic symphony of buyers and sellers of fruits of the sea. We danced around the crush of bodies, weaving in and out to choose salmon and crab and other tantalizing things to eat.

Later on our holiday destination, I watched as the CG prepared chow mein, something I have never participated in but have always been strangely fascinated by. For, like the CG says, “Chow mein is an odd meal in that you take a dry noodle and make it wet only to make it dry again and then make it wet again before it even reaches the dinner plate.”

In laymen’s terms this meant watching him first boil the special chow mein noodles in a large pot.

Then he painstakingly fried handful batches of the cooked noodles and then put them aside.

Next he stir fried cubes of tender pork that had been marinating in dark mushroom soy sauce all morning.

Then, he prepared vegetables: carrots, yellow bell pepper, mushrooms, and bok choy for the wok, cutting them all into roughly the same ratio of julienned strips. This was all stir fried together in a strategic order before a dousing of chicken broth, corn starch and oyster sauce that married all of the flavors together.

The noodles were then added and everything was tossed and plated along with the body, legs and head of this shell-y beast. 

I had the pleasure of cooking the salmon, simply baked, lain with thin, whole rounds of lemon slices under a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.

Although I am typically a red wine drinker, I find that it's really hard to find a libation that goes with Chinese food. Although, for this meal we found the perfect accompaniment in a Corpse Reviver cocktail that consists of gin, Lillet Blanc, lime juice, Cointreau and absinthe. 

I have never really cared for chow mein in Chinese restaurants because it tends to be oily, mushy and fat-ridden – not worth the calories. But after having this version, I am now an ardent fan and even may try to copy it in my own kitchen experimenting with the types of veggies, meat and sauces.

I also didn’t mind being the orphan for a change!

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