The traditional introduction to an elegant Chinese banquet is usually a Mixed Cold Plate. It consists of an elaborately arranged assortment of thinly sliced meats and other delicacies. Since a cold plate lies within the realm of haute cuisine, its appearance is very important. Its preparation presents an ambitious Chinese cook with an excellent opportunity to indulge himself artistically. We have encountered some extraordinary manifestations of this genre, including one plate of cold meats arranged in the form of a peacock. Although the creation of such esoteric masterpieces is normally the province of a professionally trained chef, any home cook can turn out an extremely decorative cold plate, consisting of tastefully arranged slices of meat, eggs, and other ingredients.
Cooking the ingredients is the easiest step in constructing a mixed cold plate; slicing everything after it has been cooked is the most difficult. It is tedious and demanding work that is surprisingly time consuming. Arranging the sliced ingredients provides some compensation; it can be fun to express yourself artistically in the unusual medium of food. And while there are no set rules for laying out a cold plate, in this area of cuisine as in all others, Mrs.
Be forewarned: if you follow this recipe exactly, you will produce an enormous amount of food, enough for several gigantic platters. This is because culinary tradition demands that a cold plate contain equal portions of each item. To avoid being overwhelmed by a mountain of anise-flavored cold cuts, simply reduce the number of ingredients you use. We have included a full panoply in the recipe in order to provide instructions for preparing each item. The overall combination is the essence of Chinese cuisine, with its emphasis on innards and on foods with unusual textures. But it is perfectly acceptable to prepare a cold plate containing only one or two items; and in fact, each major ingredient, like the duck or the pork loin, can easily be treated as a separate dish.
Note that you can boil all the ingredients of your cold plate a day in advance, leaving only the slicing and final arrangement of the dish for the day you plan to serve it. Even the final arrangement can be done hours in advance, as long as the platter is covered and doesn’t dry out.
Note also that this dish is made by boiling a variety of meats and other things together in a large pot. Since different items are added at different points in the boiling, it is rather difficult to make the usual distinction between cooking and preparation in this recipe. Allow about 2 hours for cooking the cold plate and another 30 minutes for arranging it.
(kelp) (pork liver) (eggs) (bean curd)
Put the water, soy sauce, and sugar in a large pot and bring them to a boil over a high flame. Then add the star anise, dried red peppers, and Szechwan peppercorns.
Clean the scallions, then fold them in half and tie them together in a bunch. Add them to the pot.
Don’t peel the ginger; just smash it with the side of your cleaver and put it in the pot.
Clean the duck carefully and remove the fatty sacs around the tail. Chop it in half lengthwise down the breastbone (a cleaver or poultry shears will do the job). Put the halved duck in the pot. (You will use only one half of the duck in your cold plate. However, since the cooked duck will keep for several days, cook both halves. You can always serve the extra duck cold at another meal.)
Put the dried kelp in a large bowl and cover it with the warm water. Let it soak for about 20 minutes.
Put the pork tongues in a medium saucepan and cover them with the water. Bring them to a boil and let them cook for about 2 minutes before removing them from the pan. Cool them off quickly by placing them in cold water. Then, using a small sharp knife and your fingers, peel the skin off the tongues. This is a tedious task; the skin doesn’t come off easily, even though the parboiling should help somewhat. When the tongues are fairly well skinned, add them to the pot.
Rinse the mushrooms off under cold running water and add them to the pot.
Put the pork in the pot.
Put the eggs in a medium saucepan, cover them with water, and bring them to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat and let the eggs boil for about 10 minutes, then remove them from the pan and run them under cold water. Set aside.
Put the bean curd in another saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.
Simmer over a moderate flame for 15 minutes, then drain and set aside.
After the kelp has soaked for about 20 minutes and become soft and gelatinous, drain it. Then rinse it very carefully under cold running water. Use the salt, as you might use a kind of scouring powder, to rub into the kelp in order to scrub off all the impurities. When the kelp is clean, divide it in half and roll each half into a compact bundle. Tie each bundle together with string if the kelp itself won’t hold together. Then add the kelp to the pot.
Peel the cooled hard-boiled eggs. Then, using a small knife or a taut piece of thread, make tiny parallel slashes about ¼ inch apart all over the surface of the eggs. (This will help the eggs absorb the flavor of the liquid in which they will be boiled.) Set the eggs aside.
Rinse the liver under cold running water and remove as much of the white membrane around it as you can. Set the liver aside.
After all the ingredients in the large pot have boiled for at least 30 minutes, add the salt and the wine, then the pork liver. Cover the pot, but don’t lower the flame.
Wait about 15 minutes, then add the hardboiled eggs, bean curd, and sesame oil. Cover the pot again and let it boil over the same hot flame for about 5 more minutes.
Reduce the heat and let everything simmer, covered, for a final 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn off the flame, but don’t begin to take the ingredients out of the pot. Let them cool in the pot for at least 30 minutes before you remove them and begin to prepare them for the cold plate. Reserve the cooking liquid and discard the mushrooms.
The elegant nature of a Mixed Cold Plate requires that it be presented on a very large and attractive platter or tray. Every ingredient is sliced very thin and then arranged decoratively on the platter.
(lean pork) (pork liver) (pork tongue) (bean curd)
Slice the lean pork, against the grain, as thinly as possible. Arrange the slices on the platter so they overlap slightly. Do the same with the liver, tongue, and bean curd.
Use only one of the duck halves. Cut the drumstick off the duck and then chop the carcass crosswise, bones and all, into pieces about ½ inch thick. Chop the drumstick into ½ inch sections, too. Arrange them all on the platter.
Slice each egg lengthwise into sixths. Put the slices on the platter.
Cut the kelp bundles crosswise into pieces about ¼ inch thick. Arrange them on the platter.
After you have laid out all the meats, eggs, seaweed, and bean curd in some kind of design on the platter, you can, if you wish, garnish the center with a tomato rosette. Create it by making 8 lengthwise cuts two-thirds of the way down from the top of the tomato and about 1¼ inch deep, no deeper than the outside flesh of the tomato, and then bending each segment down like the petal of a flower.
Right before serving the cold plate, spoon the cooking liquid over it. Use enough liquid to moisten all the sliced ingredients, but not enough to drown them.
Finally, sprinkle the sesame oil over the ingredients and serve.
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