The highlight of this weekend was a very special event, a celebration that we had planned for my friend Michelle's 26th Birthday. Oh, she will kill me for revealing her age but it was such fun, both the eating and the cooking of all the food.
I joked with her about her Empress celebration because she had parties the whole week with different groups of friends but this is the Empress version of the whole process of dinner, broken down into segments for your reading pleasure. Over this week, step-by-step and complete with recipes, the whole hog, all the way up to pictures of the dinner itself.
(Stock for 2 large dinner parties and braised meat accompaniment)
I've written previously about making the pho stock here and here, which you should also take a look at.
The ingredients are, 3 kilograms of oxtail bones and 3 kilos of beef shin meat. Wash the meat and bake it in the oven at maximum heat for 30 minutes, turning the meat over to cook. Drain all the scum and liquid and wash meat again.
A handful of mustard pepper seeds, 15 sticks of cinnamon, a large handful of cloves, 10 star anise (for the braised beef) and 10 seeds of nutmeg. You have to peel the skin off the nutmeg, it will take on the mottled colour you see in two of the peeled nutmeg seeds above. You can add cumin if you want, I didn't this time. Reserve some of the pepper and cinnamon for the braised beef (ngau gan).
For the stock, quarter 4 sweet yellow onions, roughly chop a large bunch of chives and cilantro, chop up 4 daikon, half a white Chinese cabbage, peel and break up a large ginger root.
Find your largest pot, throw all the ingredients in and cover it with hot water. Put it on the stove, turn up heat and boil for at least 4 hours. Yes, 4 hours. Don't be a wimp, you don't have to watch it boil.
After 4 hours, you should see something a little like this. Scoop the soup out, put it in the fridge, wait for the fat to rise to the top and harden and cut it out. Re-heat the soup. Put it back into the fridge. Rid it of the remainder top fat, you should be left with a clear, heady stock. Easy peasy? Still with me?
Prepare your condiments, buy limes, cut red chilli, fish sauce, Thai basil, cilantro and mint. Lots of mint.
With the leftover shin meat, par boil it in boiling water for 2 minutes till it turns pink but not grey. Pull it out, marinade the meat with dark soy sauce, light soya sauce, rice wine vinegar, star anise, cinnamon, mustard pepper seeds and Chinese rock sugar.
Put the dish in the steamer and on a slow heat, steam it for at least 3 hours. The meat should emerge dark, soft, herbal, sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Cool and remove all the fat that may be in the sauce. Continue to steam on low heat if you need the meat softer, if not refrigerate and re-heat before serving.
Reheat the soup before the guests arrive and set up the meat counter with shabu-shabu meat (sliced thin Japanese premium beef), fatty short rib beef or brisket, meatballs, rice noodle and lots of beansprouts. The dark beef you see in the background is what the ngau gan or beef brisket looks like after steaming slowly in dark soya sauce and rock sugar for hours. Have your guests ladle their choice of meat, soup and herbs into their bowls. YUM.