For a lot of cooks attempting Chinese food at home, authenticity can be a worry, discouraging even the more adventurous, enthusiastic, bold ones from tackling dishes in their own kitchens. There are many ways to talk yourself out of attempting Chinese cookery - I've only got light soy sauce, if only it was rice noodles instead of egg, I don't like the sound of woodear fungus in the ingredients so I won't even try. But as with anything that involves taste - music, clothes, hairstyle, home décor - why must we be oppressed by authenticity? Slavishly following the 'right' way to make chicken in black bean sauce while disdaining faster, cheaper, more convenient ways to do it won't guarantee you'll like the finished product more.
Growing up with Chinese parents in London, just one generation removed from Hong Kong, guaranteed me authentic Chinese tastes and experiences - but I can enjoy crispy duck tortilla wraps and "Chinese" style chicken wings too, without any hand-wringing about how 'real' I am keeping things. 'Fusion food' is nothing to be ashamed of, and if it allows more people to try new things without the pressure of authenticity, then I am all for it. Here are some simple dishes to try at home, with lots of flexibility so you can be in charge of whether you're making Chinese food with a British twist - or the other way around.
CHICKEN AND SPRING VEGETABLE CHINESE SPAGHETTI
This is an endlessly adaptable, fresh and uplifting recipe which can be made with a Western base of spaghetti, or 'upgraded' to more Chinese egg or rice noodles. Proportion all the ingredients according to how many people it will serve; you know best how much spaghetti you can handle and what your dining companions like in their chicken to vegetable ratio. Add more or less ginger according to how much you like the sharp, fiery taste - there's no obligation to be masochistic with this! And don't be tempted to add soy sauce at any point, I found it muddled and toned down the contrasting flavours.
You will need:
Shredded or chopped cooked chicken
Equal amounts minced spring onion and minced ginger
Any cooking oil except olive oil
Young asparagus, blanched
Fine green beans, trimmed and blanched
Spaghetti, cooked and drained
Sesame oil (optional)
Heat quite a lot of cooking oil in a non-stick pan or wok. When it is really hot, quickly stir fry the minced spring onion and ginger, until the aroma is released. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Add the asparagus and green beans and toss in the oil, ginger and spring onions until cooked through. Add the spaghetti and vigorously toss in the mix until everything is evenly coated in the glossy, fragrant oil. Serve on warm plates with a drizzle of sesame oil over the top, if you have it.
POTSTICKER DUMPLINGS WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR TOMATOES
Potsticker dumplings are dim sum favourites and these small pan-fried parcels of minced pork and dough are normally served with Chinese red vinegar. While it would be nice to recreate a full dim sum feast at home, a more manageable version is this mix of dumplings, crisp and brown from the frying pan, with a healthy serving of sharp, vinegary oven roasted tomatoes. The pairing is unorthodox but the flavours and textures are superbly matched, creating a fine balance of Chinese and British elements.
Buy your dumplings frozen from a Chinese supermarket. Before you deal with the dumplings, toss cherry or baby plum tomatoes in balsamic vinegar and some olive oil, then place in a hot oven until the skins split and the red juices have mingled with the dark vinegar. Fry your dumplings then heap onto warm plates with the tomatoes and enjoy, with chopsticks or knife and fork.
CHAR SIU PORK CHOP AND BRITISH 'TWO VEG'
It's meat and two veg, plain and simple. But to keep it from being too plain and simple, I suggest char siu pork chops to go with the two veg. To make char siu style pork chops, marinade loin or shoulder chops in hoi sin sauce, minced ginger, minced garlic, a liberal amount of soy sauce and a generous amount of honey. Then roast in a hot oven until cooked through and the edges have blackened. 'Char siu' means 'fork roasted' so for a Chinese 'upgrade', try threading your chops onto bamboo or stainless steel skewers, and roast them suspended over a roasting tin. The flavours are strong, sweet and savoury and best served with plain sides of potatoes, couscous, rice, pasta or noodles and a vegetable of your choice.