It is International Women’s Day. I have just finished the final episode of When the Camellia Blooms 동백꽃 필 무렵 which was very popular because it touched on many things: romance, law, murder, community. Being a Korean drama there was also a lot of kimchi making, soju drinking and the scenes where Dongbaek served her signature stir-fried spicy pork always made me feel hungry.
But the one theme recurring is how hard a mother’s life is. Whether you are rich or poor, pretty or plain, a city girl or country lass, married, widowed or a single mum, life as a woman is sometimes just so hard.
Discounting and leaving aside the cases where some mothers are abusive, negligent and really not fit to be mothers, it is hard being a mother because you can never stop being a mother. Children can and do stop being children but we mothers, we think of, care and love our children because that is how and why God made us.
Now that our own children are mostly away, it is really nice to borrow other people’s children for some lunch and good conversation. Today we pushed the (steam) boat out and had a fun time catching our food from the bowl of steaming soup.
Brass wire ladles which we used to fish out the cooked meat and vegetables
Our steamboat is an electric one and has interchangeable pans: one for boiling and one for frying. There is also a steaming rack on which you can place e.g. bao or dumplings. We started our lunch by frying some pork and vegetable dumplings. If your steamboat does not have this feature, it is still good to serve some fried dumplings or crispy chicken whilst waiting for the soup to heat and the meat to cook. It just adds to the anticipation of the meal ahead.
Pan-fried pork and vegetable dumplings
The principles of steamboat are universal: start with some good stock, add some meat, fish and vegetables, then finally add some noodles at the end to round off the meal. Since this post is a working repository of recipes for my friends and family, I am going to write down a list of ingredients that my mother always has at her steamboat dinners, supplemented by my own additions.
The stock is made with chicken carcasses or pork bones. I used a pressure cooker to shorten the simmering time by a third. Chilling the soup two days in advance ensures that the fat floats to the top, solidifies and can be removed before reheating. At the point of reheating, it is an idea to add thinly sliced carrots and white radish to sweeten the soup further.
Thinly sliced chicken breast, pork tenderloin, beef steak. You can also make meatballs from minced chicken, pork or beef with chopped water chestnuts and spring onions/ chives.
I tried to make fishballs which was not a huge success. Unless I perfect the recipe I feel that like tofu, it is better not to waste your time making this at home. Other seafood to add are sliced firm fish, shelled and deveined prawns, squid which have been sliced or if you can manage it, cut into squares and finely scored. Finely scoring the squid makes it curl up when heated.
Sliced beef, beef meatballs, sliced chicken and fried fishballs
Cabbage and green leafy vegetables are most suitable. Firm or deep-fried tofu are good. You can also rehydrate dried shiitake mushrooms, and wood-ear or cloud-ear fungus. Mange tout, sugar snap peas and baby corn add a lot of crunch and colour to the steamboat.
Noodles and Rice:
Cook some wheat noodles, drain then toss in a mixture of shallot and sesame oils. It will be easy for everyone to pick their own bundle of noodles if you twist the cooked noodles around a fork beforehand. It is also an idea to steam some rice, or to cook egg fried rice with peas and lap cheong wind-dried sausages as a side dish in case your guests are still hungry at the end of the meal.
Chinese (Napa) cabbage, firm tofu, wheat noodles, mange tout, baby corn and Savoy cabbage
One thing my mother always added to the soup was deep-fried shallots and the oil in which it was fried. I now just serve the shallots separately. Some freshly-made chilli sauce is a must. If you do not have the time for this, then make a dipping sauce: slice some chillies and spring onions, add this to 2 tablespoons soya sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1 tablespoon rice vinegar.
Everyone should feel stuffed at the end of this meal. However, we still managed some matcha and vanilla cake and some of Fortnum and Mason’s really fabulous champagne truffles. Yes, it is really tough being a mother but lunches like this, with such good company, keep us going for another day, another week, another year.