By Leigh O’Connor.
Brought up by her Hong Kong parents in Northern Ireland, Suzie Lee learnt to cook from her Mum who passed away when she was 16 before she could see her daughter take out the title of the BBC’s Best Home Cook.
Now the presenter of Suzie Lee Home Cook Hero on BBC One, she has just released her new cookbook ‘Simply Chinese Feasts’ in time for the Lunar New Year. Take a seat at Suzie’s table to explore the myriad of Chinese celebrations, festivals and traditions, all of which centre around food and family.
Growing up, Suzie was extremely fortunate her parents her parents carried on the customs and traditions of Hong Kong in their family home and now she wants to do the same in this follow-up to her debut cookbook ‘Simply Chinese’.
Designed for the home kitchen and structured by food group, in each section, Suzie reveals the traditions, symbolism and lucky sayings associated with fish, meat, bread and cakes, before delving into delicious recipes to be shared and celebrated with family and friends.
She also gives top tips for each dish to get the most out of the recipe, along with her famous twists, allowing the home cook to tailor the dishes to their own needs.
Let’s start with pork belly in black vinegar – this recipe is based on a very traditional pork trotter, ginger and vinegar dish, which was made for confinement mothers because it was believed to provide nourishment and replenish energy.
"However, it required a lot of ingredients so I decided to showcase this pork belly and black vinegar recipe in a nod to the confinement dish,” Suzie explains.
The pork belly is boiled first, then plunged into cold water and cooked again giving it a wonderful texture, reminiscent of the pork trotter dish. The flavours of sweet and sour are there but with an extra layer of flavour from the added garlic.
Suzie says this dish freezes well and can be kept in the freezer for up to a month. If you don’t have time to boil and brown the pork belly, use finely sliced flash-fried pork loin fillet or shoulder.
Fish is a really auspicious Chinese food group and a whole fish is a must at banquets and special occasions. Suzie’s Mum used to make this crispy sea bream recipe and she loved it:
"Crunchy, salty, sweet fish skin against the tender fish meat – it was delicious!”
The fish is coated in cornflour and fried along with ginger until the skin has a lovely, golden, crunchy appearance. If there is any leftover fish, remove it from the bone and use to bulk up a fried rice dish. The fish bones can also be placed in a pot of water and boiled down to make a stock.
No Chinese meal is complete without fried rice and Suzie’s Yung Chow version takes its name from the region where it originates and is a popular dish for special occasions.
"It usually includes a combination of meat, which would have reflected wealth, but this ‘special’ fried rice has morphed into our modern society as a dish ordered in takeaways,” she says. "I frequently make variations of this as it lends itself to using up leftovers.”
It also uses leftover cooked basmati rice, if you don’t have any leftovers simply use a packet of microwavable rice.
If you are looking for child, veggie, budget-friendly or super quick meals, look no further than ‘Simply Chinese Banquets’.