Did I survive the Wok of Death?
Well, it appears I am here to tell the tale! For those that didn't follow the last post, you might want to look back to see what on earth I am talking about.
I had everything organised. 7 course meal for 12 people, all done single-handed, you need stuff organised. All the ingredients for each sauce and dish, all arranged (well, balanced on each other mostly) on shelves and on top of the microwave, within easy reach of the cooker. I had 2 bowls of chopped-up spring onions for 2 separate dishes... umm... which was which? In the middle of the meal I found myself holding one in each hand, almost literally weighing up this question. Then I remembered which one was for the seafood. No idea what my guests thought seeing me in the kitchen mumbling into my spring onions. But I'm jumping ahead of myself...
Cooking rice for a lot of people is quite a pain. I know this from experience as I am the one (since I am hosting) who has to do the mahjong night rice cooking, and that's usually for 8 people or so. Given that I had to cook for 12 this time, I gave in to my mother. My mother has 3 rice cookers. And since she would never throw one out, she has been pressuring me for years to take one off her hands (this is part of the parental get-rid-of-their-junk-into-your-house strategy). So I thought, OK, take some of the pressure off, make my mother happy, free up a pan and a burner, and take the rice cooker that will cook for 12. BIG mistake.
I guess cooking rice for 12 is not really something you can do a dry run of. I mean, you could, but what the hell do you do with all that rice after?!! So that was one of the 2 bits I'd not tested out. (The other bit was the Pak Choi, but more on that later!). Plus I'm not at all an expert rice cooker user, as I always do it on the hob or in the microwave (I'm talking about the Chinese way of cooking rice here, not the English way which seems to involve dumping it into a swimming pool full of boiling water, then draining it in a sieve). So I did what it said on the tin, or in this case the inside of the rice cooker bowl, filled it with (what seemed like an astonishing amount) of rice to the level marked 12, and water to the water level marked 12, and turned it on at 8pm as the guests arrived. I always aim to start serving at 8.30 after people have had a chance to mingle.
Half an hour later I opened it, and found the rice on the top was "al dente" at best. Panic!!! I poured more boiling water over it and put it on the "keep warm" function in an attempt to solve the problem. 10 mins later - still al dente. Repeat. 10 mins later and I have what my Chinese friend knowingly calls "3 layer rice". Soggy and overcooked in the middle, al dente on the top, and crispy round the edges where the "warming" function has crisped it up nicely, if that's what you're looking for in your rice. At this point I gave up on the rice cooker and pressed the microwave into service, scraping off the al dente rice into a bowl, adding more water, and nuking it into submission. It sort of did the job (still a bit al dente but just about acceptable), and sent it out with my second course. Luckily the first course didn't need rice!
No pressure... as I mentioned before, one of my guests writes cookbooks for a celebrity chef for a living. Pressure enough I would have thought. But then, when they arrived, her charming husband pops into the kitchen offering help. "If you need anything, just let me know, I used to help my Dad out in his Chinese restaurant"... no pressure, no pressure... aargh. And they are both Chinese.
One kind guest came to console me at the end of the meal... she said don't worry, no-one noticed the rice. We're all English and we have no idea how to cook rice anyway! Good point actually, I felt quite a bit better...
but there were these 2 Chinese people, oh the shame of it!!
Throughout the evening, in between wok magic, I kept scraping the salvageable rice from the rice cooker and nuking it. Actually, with a bit more time, it became passably acceptable, so the first batch was the worst. By the way, all my other courses went smooth as anything. I had worried about constant wok usage so had planned instead to blanch the pak choi before adding oyster sauce, but one of my friends told me that makes it go soggy (I hate pak choi for precisely the soggy reason, so this is why I am no expert in cooking it). She said to stir fry it - more wokking work which I was trying to avoid. My mother also told me that stir frying was my only option. I had a brainwave and planned to steam it instead. But after 5 mins steaming it just didn't look right so I ended up stir frying it anyway. I hate it when my mother is right :-)
The Imperial lamb dish - all gone. 2.5lbs of lamb! Pak Choi - 2 bits left. Seafood and tofu in XO sauce, enough left for me to scrape the bowl out. Over 2lbs of belly pork - 1 portion left. 3 large aubergines - 1 portion left. No mango pudding left at all. 7 pieces of pickled carrots left that someone polished off when loading the dishwasher. I couldn't believe how much everyone ate! I'd been looking forward to left overs.... in the event I seem to have ended up with around 8 portions of badly cooked rice. I swear that rice cooker is cursed.
Next night is Norman Night. Anyone want to come? I promise, no rice.
P.S. I go though all this hell in aid of MSF.