Alright, let’s get right to this, we have a lot to do. It’s time to celebrate – out with the old and a toast (not of the bread variety) to new beginnings. Of course this also means food; good food, decadent but simple food, good-luck food, and the need to begin preparing food now! Where shall we start?!
Oysters are a brilliant beginning – I like them plump and small… Kushi, Kumamoto, Belon… whichever of these mollusks that you tend to prefer!
….and then there is duck… always a good idea this time of year. I love it crispy and tender.
Are you having a party, going out, or just staying put?
If you are having a party or just a few friends in (heck, even yourself, your partner and / or your pets), dig through the closets and pull out the glitter. We have an old box that Tom drags out each year, full of party hats, silver stars, noise makers and horns. It is in desperate need of replenishment (actually, replacement), but each year I wear my (somewhat tattered) tiara (at least for a bit), Tom switches it up between various ridiculous hats and Ginger wears a tiara of her own (Buddy is still skeptical of head gear but has a dapper black top hat that Ginger chewed on as a young pup). We blow wildly into horns that have been blown into for years before and dress up the table with decorations that have lived a full life but bring smiles and memories still.
Since the goal is to make it past midnight, I like to keep the food coming and not too light or too little (Update 12/31 pm: Tom’s note: “frequently & filling”). Think of this as a dinner deconstructed, meant to last through the night. You can only eat so many puff pastries and dips before feeling the need to line up at Dick’s Drive-in (or insert favorite late night grub hub here) before going to bed.
NEW YEAR’S EVE NOSH, NIBBS and NABS – Below is a small sampling of some standard appetizers I might offer on a night such as this… depending on who will be joining, how many and when. Take inspiration from these or improvise, but whatever you do, grab a party hat, kiss someone at midnight, and ring in the New Year with cheer!
These descriptions are somewhat loose and informal (or I would be here all day with nothing to eat tonight); if you have questions or interest in further instruction, please feel free to give me a shout.
OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL WITH A CLASSIC MIGNONETTE.
I favor a classic mignonette to a traditional cocktail sauce with my oysters. These are great with a cold glass of bubbly or try a chilled sake instead.
Super easy to make, just mix 1 TB champagne (or rice wine) vinegar, 2 TB chopped shallot, 15 grinds black pepper, 2 TB chopped cilantro, a few dashes tabasco and a 1/4 cup champagne. Shuck the oysters before the guests arrive and have them sitting in their shell, over rock salt, on a platter (in the refrigerator until ready to serve). When you are ready to put them out, spoon a little mignonette sauce over each one, and garnish the platter with lemon wedges, cilantro and small bowls of the sauce; offer tiny forks too. They will go quickly so be ready with the next thing soon after.
TUNA TARTARE WITH MISO, AVOCADO & PICKLED GINGER
Using approximately 6-8 oz. of sashimi grade ahi tuna, cut into 1/8″ dice (work quickly and with a sharp knife so it stays cold). Put the tuna into a small bowl and sprinkle with sea salt & fresh ground pepper. Squeeze over the juice of 1 small lime wedge. Mix in 1 TB finely chopped pickled ginger, 2 TB finely diced avocado, 1 tsp finely chopped green onion, 1 tsp finely chopped cilantro, 1 TB miso sauce (recipe to follow) and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Carefully mix together with a rubber spatula (so as not to squish the tuna). Chill, covered tightly with plastics wrap until ready to serve. When ready to serve, dollop a small bit of miso sauce onto fried won ton crisps and mound a small spoonful of tartare over top; garnish with mint (or better yet, shisho if you have access to this asian mint which I get at Uwajimaya). If you prefer, rather than using wonton wrappers, you could fill self-standing appetizer spoons with the tartare and set out on a platter for a more elegant presentation.
MISO SAUCE (you can also use this sauce for the pork tenderloin and / or toss it in with fresh Dungeness crab, finely chopped kumquats and cilantro; serve in endive spears).
To make the miso sauce: In a food processor, combine, 1 TB chopped fresh ginger, 1 TB rice wine vinegar, 1 TB mirin, 1 tsp chopped garlic, 2 TB light miso paste, and 1 egg yolk. With the motor running, add 2 TB hazelnut oil and 7 TB peanut oil. An easier option is to mix everything except for the egg yolk and oils with 1 cup of mayonnaise instead. Drizzle in a little of one or both of the oils for flavor.
DUCK WON TONS – WITH CITRUS SOY DIPPING SAUCE
I make this when I have leftover duck legs, but to be easy on myself when I want to make these and don’t have leftover duck, I buy a duck confit leg from Whole Foods, PCC, or Don & Joe’s in the Pike Place Market (confit of duck is available at many places that sell good food).
Simply heat the leg so that it is soft enough to release the meat in shreds. Discard some, but not all, of the fat and all of the sinew. Place in a bowl, with the juice of 1/2 lime, a handful of cilantro, chopped, 1 tsp Sambal, 2 chopped fresh figs (or 1 Medool date if fresh figs are not available since the season is early Spring or late Fall; in Summer I use nectarines, and mango works too). Place a spoonful into the center of each won ton wrappers. Fold one corner over the filling making a triangle then fold the two bottom corners in to touch the top corner. Wet the edge with a dab of water and press to seal in the filling (keep a small bowl of water at your prep station with which to do this). Repeat until all of the filling is used. You will want to cook these sooner than later or the wraps will become soggy. Fry in peanut or canola oil; working in several batches and single layer, I use a stainless sauté pan or a wok. They can burn quickly so be sure to give them your full attention; they will need just a few minutes per side. Remove to tray lined with paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. If you are cooking them early, they can be popped into the 375 degree oven to heat through when you are ready to serve (paper towel removed first).
SOY CITRUS DIPPING SAUCE
Simply whisk together 3 TB lime juice, 3 TB rice wine vinegar, 6 TB sake, 6 TB soy sauce, 1 tsp Sambal, 1 tsp honey. Or use twice this amount.
GRILLED COCONUT PRAWNS – MANGO DIPPING SAUCE
I am quite a big fan of fried coconut prawns, however, I always make wontons on New Year’s Eve so therefore, to cut down on fried stuff, this is a healthy compromise (not to mention easier to deal with for a large crowd from a small kitchen).
With the best quality prawns (or shrimp) you have available or can afford, peel and clean leaving the tail intact. Dry thoroughly with paper towels and drizzle lightly with olive oil and rub with a spoonful of the thick part of a can containing coconut milk (you can use the rest to make a sauce with and grilled chicken wings if you like). Mix in chopped garlic, grate over some lime zest and grind over fresh pepper. Grill over hot coals, propane or sear in a hot oiled wok. When they are slightly golden and the body begins to curl (a few minutes each side), transfer to a bowl, squeeze in fresh lime juice, sprinkle over toasted coconut shreds, and sea salt to taste. Serve alongside a bowl of mango dipping sauce.
MANGO DIPPING SAUCE
Too easy… just whiz in a blender, the meat of 1/2 a mango (depleted of skin), 1 tsp Dijon mustard, juice of 1 lemon wedge, 1 TB peanut oil and a little water to thin (start with 1 TB at a time). Adjust flavors and thickness as desired. Go here to see another, longer version
HOISEN PORK TENDERLOIN SERVED SLICED, WARM and with CABBAGE LEAVES, SPICY MUSTARD & SESAME SEEDS
I make this almost every year, beginning with a party I threw when we lived on Queen Anne with a view of the Space Needle. It is a homemade version of barbecue pork and can be served as a dinner course or as an appetizer to feed a large crowd. If doing for a big party, I often make four tenderloins so I can keep replenishing the tray through the night as they cook. They could also be cooked in advance and warmed one by one or even serve chilled.
In a zip lock freezer bag, mix 1/2 cup hoisin, 2 TB ketchup, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 chopped garlic clove, a handful of cilantro – chopped, 1 chopped green onion, 1 TB chopped fresh ginger, 1 tsp five-spice. Season one or two pork tenderloins with salt and pepper (I use my roasted pepper, sea salt and coriander mix). Add the pork to the bag of marinade and let sit one hour or up to two days before cooking. To cook, line a baking pan with aluminum foil large enough to fold over the top of the pork. Transfer pork and marinade mixture to the pan and cook at 350 degrees until internal temperature reads 160 degrees. This should take approximately 30 minutes during which time you should turn the pork once and cover with the foil if beginning to burn. Let sit to rest for 10 minutes then remove from the pan, leaving any sauce behind, slice thin and serve warm alongside prepared Chinese mustard (thinned with a little miso sauce if you have made some or perhaps a little crème fraîche if you like, a plate of sesame seeds and hoisin diluted with lemon juice. Offer napa cabbage leaves on the side or assemble pretty pork cabbage cups instead.
…and again, hope for those kitchen cleaning elves!