By scouting oriental grocery stores for decorative items as well as menu ingredients, you can give your party an eastern feeling as well as flavor. And, by planning ahead and preparing the food in stages, as is possible with many of these recipes, you can avoid a last-minute panic.
The Oriental Chicken Pearl Balls and the Pinwheel Strudel can be prepared and frozen, as can the bouche'es for the Mackerel Mousse. The Hoisin Dipping Sauce, Soy Scallion Sauce and Curry Sauce can be made ahead. Likewise the marinade for the pork tips and Sichuan Baby Corn. The Shrimp Chips and the Mackerel Mousse itself can be done two or three days before the event, at the same time the corn and mushrooms are marinated.
Cutting the pork into strips and steaming the snow peas the day before -- as well as taking out the serving pieces, setting the buffet table and organizing the decorations -- cuts down day-of-the-party duties to manageable proportions.
On the morning of the party, marinate the pork tips, cut and marinate the cucumber fingers, put the strudel and pearl balls in the refrigerator to thaw, drain, dry, halve and refrigerate the quail eggs until ready to use and switch the bouche'es from the freezer to the refirgerator to thaw. One to two hours before the party, cut the strudel rolls, fill the bouche'es, top the quail eggs with caviar, and proceed to organize the remaining appetizers.
There are lots of inexpensive decorative items nestled among the stock in the oriental grocery stores. Look for pretty lacquer bowls for sauces and sets of small lacquer trays for serving. Bamboo sushi mats can be used on the table under trays or bowls; use chopsticks in pairs, placed in baskets with food, or fanned out across the buffet table in sunburst or step fashion.
Check the refrigerated section of the store for additional unusual prepared foods to serve, although it would be best to try a new item before the party; some are an acquired taste. Look for Kim Chee Pickle made with white radish instead of the traditional version made with cabbage; it is much easier to eat at a cocktail party. Also, there is a wide variety of rice crackers available. Buy several kinds, and mix them before serving in small lacquer bowls. SESAME PORK TIPS (8 appetizer servings, about 45 pieces)
3/4 pound pork loin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice cooking wine)*
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste)*
2 teaspoons sesame oil*
2 scallions, green and white part, finely chopped
4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds for garnish
1/2 head chicory, sliced into 1/2-inch wide pieces for garnish
FOR THE HOISIN DIPPING SAUCE:
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons dry Chinese mustard
1/2 hoisin sauce*
Trim any fat from the pork tenderloin, halve piece crosswise, and cut into 1/2-by- 1/4-by- 2/3-inch strips.
In a small bowl mix the soy sauce, lemon juice, lemon zest, mirin, sugar, sambal oelek, sesame oil and scallions. Toss the marinade with the pork, cover and refrigerate for 2 to 5 hours.
For the sauce, mix the rice vinegar with the mustard to form a smooth paste, and whisk in the hoisin sauce. Make up to a week ahead and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.
Remove the pork from the marinade with a slotted spoon, and place the strips on a cake cooling rack set over a cookie sheet. Pre-heat the oven broiler for 5 minutes. Sprinkle pork with sesame seeds and broil for 2 minutes on one side, and 2 to 3 minutes on the second side. The strips may also be charcoal-grilled for about the same length of time. Serve the pork warm or at room temperature.
Serve the dipping sauce in a 3-inch bowl, and place in the center of a tray with the chicory spread around the bowl. Arrange the pork tips seed side up on top of the chicory in a spoke pattern around the bowl.
*Available in oriental grocery stores. QUAIL EGGS WITH CAVIAR (About 60 halves)
16-ounce can quail eggs, drained and halved
4 ounces black, red or golden caviar
Alfalfa sprouts for garnish
Top quail eggs with a dollop of caviar and nestle egg halves in alfalfa sprouts for support to retain balance. A cardboard egg crate, small lacquer tray, ceramic bowl or base of a milk-glass hen work well to hold the sprouts. Assemble shortly before serving. THREE-MUSHROOM PINWHEEL STRUDEL (6 dozen servings)
3 shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried
1/4 ounce porcini mushrooms ( 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound fresh white mushrooms, minced
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
5 to 6 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 ounces gruye re cheese, shredded ( 1/2 cup)
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 pound fresh phyllo dough
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons very fine dry bread crumbs
Pour boiling water to cover over the dried shiitake mushrooms and porcini and let stand 20 minutes until softened. Drain mushrooms, squeeze dry and remove tough stem of shiitake.
In a large heavy saute' pan, melt butter and saute' shallots and garlic for 2 to 3 minutes on low heat until softened. Increase heat to medium, add fresh mushrooms, shiitake and porcini and saute' for 4 minutes, stirring constantly until mushrooms are fairly dry.
Turn heat to the lowest setting, and add the mustard, worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper and cheeses. Stir until melted and well incorporated.
Remove 4 sheets of phyllo dough from package and keep remaining dough covered with a towel to prevent drying.
Lightly brush each sheet of phyllo with butter and place the 4 sheets on top of each other. Using a long metal spatula, dipped in hot water, spread half the warm filling over the entire sheet of phyllo in the thinnest layer possible. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup parsley and 1 tablespoon of fine dry bread crumbs.
Cut the sheet in half lengthwise. Fold the long side over 1/2 inch and roll jelly-roll style, stopping halfway to brush top of roll with butter. Continue to roll to form a strudel about 1-inch diameter by 16-inches long. Brush entire roll lightly with butter. Roll second half of dough and brush.
Repeat with remaining filling and 4 sheets of phyllo dough to form 2 more rolls. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes before cutting in half diagonally for easier handling.
The mushroom rolls can be made 2 days ahead, and covered with a tea towel or frozen. To freeze, place halved rolls in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, put rolls in a container, separating layers with foil, and cover tightly. To use, separate rolls, and thaw in the refrigerator.
Cut each half roll diagonally into about 3/4-inch slices, keeping slices together to prevent filling from drying out when baking. Bake rolls in a 375 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes until crisp on the outside, and slightly golden. The filling should remain creamy. Serve warm. SICHUAN BABY CORN WITH STRAW MUSHROOMS (6 to 8 appetizer servings)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste)*
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
16-ounce can baby corn, drained, dried, halved lengthwise*
1 teaspoon minced white onion
1/2 teaspoon ground roasted sichuan peppercorns**
16-ounce can straw mushrooms, drained, dried*
1 to 2 scallions, green and white part slivered diagonally and separated
Mash the garlic and salt together until a paste is formed.
In a small bowl, whisk in the rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, chili oil, sambal oelek and black pepper into the garlic paste.
Put the corn and onion in a small noncorrosive container and stir in 1/4 cup of marinade. Stir the ground roasted sichuan peppercorns into 1/4 cup of marinade, pour over the mushrooms and stir. Cover and refrigerate both the corn and mushrooms up to 2 to 3 days, stirring occasionally. Reserve remaining marinade for the cucumber fingers.
The day of the party, wash cucumber, leaving skin intact, halve lengthwise, remove seeds with a melon baller and cut into fingers 1/2-inch wide by 2 to 3 inches long. One cucumber yields about 15 fingers. Pour remaining dressing over cucumbers and marinate 4 to 5 hours or until serving time, stirring occasionally.
To assemble the dish, remove all vegetables from marinade with a slotted spoon. Arrange the corn in a sunburst, cut side down and points out, leaving a 4-inch circle in the center. Mound the straw mushrooms in the center and arrange the cucumber fingers in a spoke pattern over the corn, skin side up. Sprinkle the slivered scallions over the mushrooms and let appetizer stand, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour before serving. Pass toothpicks separately.
*Available in oriental grocery stores.
**Place sichuan peppercorns in a dry heavy skillet without oil and "roast" on medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the peppercorns darken and begin to give off volatile oils. Cool and grind to a powder in a spice mill or clean coffee mill. Store in a small airtight container at room temperature. SMOKED MACKEREL MOUSSE (5 dozen servings)
FOR THE BOUCHEES:
1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 eggs, room temperature
FOR THE MOUSSE:
9 ounces skinned, boned smoked mackerel
3 tablespoons drained capers, dried on paper towels
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3/4 cup whipping cream, whipped
To make the bouche'es, heat the water and salt to boiling in a medium saucepan and melt butter. Add the flour all at once away from the heat and stir rapidly to incorporate. When a smooth paste has formed, place on low heat, continue to stir for several minutes to evaporate some of the water and cook flour. The dough is ready when a thin skin forms on the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat. Place the mixture in a mixing bowl and beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes to cool. Add eggs one at a time, and after the third egg, check consistency. Beat the fourth egg in a small bowl, and add until paste is of piping consistency, but not runny.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper. Using a 1/2-inch plain tip and a large pastry bag, pipe 1-inch puffs onto the sheet, about 2 inches apart. Smooth peaks with a spoon dipped in cold water. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Cool on a rack. Remove tops with a sharp knife and discard any moist dough in puff. Freeze in a single layer, then store in plastic bags until ready to use. (This makes about 65 puffs.)
To use bouche'es after freezing, thaw and place on a cookie sheet in a 300-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes to crisp slightly. Fill when cool.
For the mackerel mousse: In the work bowl of a food processor using the steel blade, pure'e the mackerel, capers, lime juice, lemon juice and pepper for 10 to 15 second until pure'ed. If working by hand, mash the mackerel with a fork until smooth, mince the capers, and add with the lime juice, lemon juice and pepper.
Stir 3 tablespoons parsley into the mackerel along with 1/4 of the whipped cream to lighten the mousse. Fold the remaining whipped cream into the mackerel. Taste and adjust seasonings. The mousse can be made 3 to 4 days ahead. (This makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups.)
One hour before serving, pipe the mousse into the bouche'es using a fluted 1/2-inch tip. Sprinkle with a bit of minced fresh parsley. ORIENTAL CHICKEN PEARL BALLS (6 dozen servings)
3 cups Japanese short-grain glutinous rice
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, or fresh shiitakes
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons rice wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup minced cilantro or fresh parsley
2 large garlic cloves
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 8-ounce cans water chestnuts, drained and dried well on paper towels
1 pound boned, skinned chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
Soak rice in cold water, just to cover, for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Drain rice and dry completely. To dry, place in a thin layer on clean tea towels and stir occasionally.
The rice can be done ahead of time and stored unrefrigerated in a glass jar.
Squeeze shiitake mushrooms dry, cut off tough stem and halve mushrooms.
In a large bowl, mix the salt, cornstarch, sugar, pepper, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, beaten egg, ginger and cilantro.
In the work bowl of the food processor using the steel blade, mince the garlic. Add the cut-up carrots and mushrooms, and mince. Stir the garlic, carrots and mushrooms into the soy mixture. Coarsely chop the water chestnuts and add to soy sauce.
Mince the chicken and stir into soy sauce until blended well. Refrigerate chicken for 1 hour or overnight for easier handling. The mixture will be very moist.
Roll chicken into 1-inch balls. Wet hands to keep chicken from sticking. Put 2 cups soaked, dried rice into a deep bowl with a narrow bottom. Place 8 balls on top of rice, not touching, and swirl bowl to coat with rice. Add rice as needed, and repeat with remaining chicken. Discard used rice.
Store balls in a single layer on a cookie sheet, tightly covered with plastic wrap. The balls may be made 2 days ahead, or frozen in advance. Thaw chicken before cooking.
To cook chicken, steam in a Chinese steamer or on wet cheesecloth over a vegetable steamer for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve hot with a soy dipping sauce, if desired. SOY DIPPNG SAUCE (Makes about 1 1/4 cups)
9 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste) or to taste
3 scallions, slivered diagonally and separated
1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Mix the soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice and sambal oelek up to 5 days ahead. Store refrigerated in a glass jar.
Serve the sauce at room temperature in a 3-inch bowl, sprinkled with some of the sesame seeds and scallions. Do not stir the sauce. Serve with the Oriental Chicken Pearl Balls, and replenish as needed. SNOW PEAS WITH CURRY SAUCE (12 servings)
1/2 pound snow peas (about 50 peas)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon pure'ed mango chutney
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 dashes hot pepper sauce
Notch the stem end of the snow peas into an inverted V-shape. Steam peas for about 1 1/2 minutes and plunge into cold running water to stop cooking and to retain color and crispness.
Place snow peas in a single layer, not touching each other, on a clean tea towel. Cover with a second tea towel, roll up and let stand for about 15 minutes to dry. Refrigerate snow peas overnight if desired, layered between paper towels, and loosely covered to prevent sogginess.
Make the sauce one day ahead to blend flavors. In a small bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, chutney, lime zest, lime juice, curry powder, cumin, salt and hot pepper sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate.
Serve on a black lacquer tray, the sauce in one corner and the snow peas arranged in concentric waves around the sauce. SHRIMP CHIPS (Makes about 200 chips)
4 cups corn or peanut oil
8-ounce box dried shrimp chips
Heat oil in a wok or heavy-bottomed pot to about 350 degrees, and fry chips. If a thermometer is not available, determine the correct frying temperature by heating oil and dropping in one shrimp chip. The chip should puff up, double in size in approximately 4 seconds and not brown. If it puffs immediately and browns, the oil is too hot. If it takes a longer time, the oil is not hot enough, the chip will absorb too much oil and puff up less. Adjust heat accordingly.
Before beginning to fry, separate paper towels into 2 block sections, and place a double layer in the bottom of 2 deep-sided 2-gallon foil pans. Drop about 10 chips at a time into the hot oil, and remove with a long-handled 5-inch Chinese wire basket strainer as soon as they are puffed. Place chips in a single layer between double paper towel layers to absorb oil, using second foil pan as necessary. Let chips stand for about 30 minutes until cool and drained.
The shrimp chips can be fried 4 to 5 days ahead and stored in a dry, tightly sealed container in a dry place. A foil pan covered with plastic wrap works well. Remove paper towel layers before storing. Do not refrigerate chips. Fry the entire box, or as much as needed. Unused chips will last stored in a plastic bag unrefrigerated for an extended length of time.
Serve chips in a wicker basket lined with a linen napkin.