If you’re anxious about what to prepare for Thanksgiving (感恩节 / 感恩節), have you considered doing a Chinese-style dish? We’re not talking about making dumplings or doing hot pot, but sinfiying Thanksgiving by doing variations on traditional dishes.
The lead image says, “中国政府制定新的政策：火鸟＝好吃 / 中國政府制定新的政策：火鳥＝好吃” and can be translated as “The Chinese government is making a new policy: Turkeys are delicious. So, starting with the centerpiece of the meal, let’s see how your Thanksgiving turkey can be done in a “Chinese style”.
The simplest involves including Chinese five-spice powder (五香粉) a mixture of
- Star anise (bajiao, 八角)
- Cloves (dingxiang, 丁香)
- Chinese Cinnamon (rougui, 肉桂)
- Szechuan pepper (huajiao, 花椒)
- Fennel seeds (xiaohuixiang, 小茴香)
Here’s a recipe which uses a marinade made with five-spice. Five-spice or any of its elements can also be used as part of a dry rub that’s applied to the turkey before roasting. Five-spice is used in Cantonese roast duck, with anise being the most dominant flavor. Apply it judiciously. A little can go a long way. This is especially true for anise.
Chef Ming Tsai created a citrus tea rub and five-spice chile tea rub (video) for meats, seafood, and poultry. Two years ago, he said he would tea-smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving. We wonder how it turned out.
Tea and/or five-spice can also be used as a part of a brining solution. Here are two recipes from Sandra Wu for Zester Daily uses the smokey Lapsang Souchong (正山小种 / 正山小種) and Katherine Martinelli uses Oolong (乌龙 /烏龍) tea. Another brining solution includes soy sauce.
You can serve the turkey as you normally would, but Serious Eats Chinese food columnist Chichi Wang suggests serving it Peking Duck-style. Make sure the skin crisps well. Since preparing the turkey sometimes begins far in advance, might as well get really serious about it and prepare the turkey as you would a duck.
Any leftover turkey can be used for turkey congee.
If you’re unwilling or not permitted to violate the sanctity of the Thanksgiving bird, there are other things that could do to bring some Chinese-ness to the meal.
Try replacing the traditional mush that is bread crumb stuffing with something you may have had at dim sum — sticky rice, known as you fan (油饭 / 油飯) or nuo mi fan (糯米饭 / 糯米飯). To me, and Salon agrees, this is one of the quintessential Chinese hacks for Thanksgiving. As the turkey roasts, the glutinous rice cooks and soaks up juices that combine with the other ingredients for an umami rich taste. If done well, it will be both starchy and slightly crisp, like guoba (锅耙 / 鍋耙). The Salon article provides a recipe, and here are two more from Saveur and Rasa Malaysia.
Instead of cranberry sauce, plum sauce (苏梅酱 / 蘇梅醬) could be offered as the sweet counterbalance to the savory dishes. You could, of course, buy plum sauce from your Asian grocery store, but that would only be slightly less egregious than using canned cranberry sauce. It’s really easy to make your own with this simple plum sauce recipe from All Recipes and Five Spice Chinese Plum Sauce recipe from Serious Eats.
Cornbread, a standard part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, has a counterpart from northern China called wotou (窝头 / 窩頭). Its heavily footnoted Wikipedia article tells its part of its history:
“The legend says that during Empress Dowager Cixi‘s(慈禧太后) flight to Xi’an from the Battle of Peking (1900) when the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China in the Boxer Rebellion (义和团运动 / 義和團運動), Cixi received a bunch of corn buns to satiate her hunger. After her return to Beijing she ordered the Imperial cooks to make it again for her and the chef used more refined ingredients to create the golden colored wotou bun, which became one of the Imperial dishes.”
Wotou is shaped like a cone (wo means nest), and, like mantou, they are steamed and can be stuffed. The only recipe in English we could find is here, but there are plenty of recipes in Chinese that can be deciphered with Google Translate. You can also follow this video:
Another side dish that could be served is this savory pumpkin cake that is inspired by taro cake (芋头糕 / 芋頭糕), which is a common dim sum plate.
Hopefully, everybody will have saved room for dessert. If five-spice is the magic ingredient that turns things Chinese, then these desserts are Chinese:
- Mini cranberry pies with Chinese five-spice meringue (another recipe for meringue here)
- Five-spice apple quince pie
- Five-spice apple pie
- Chinese five-spice lady cake by Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Ice Cream
- Chinese five-spice chocolate cupcake with spiced frosting
If five-spice isn’t your thing, and we totally understand if it isn’t, this lychee and ginger sorbet or Taiwanese shaved-ice like sorbet topped with red bean, dragon fruit, bananas, kiwi, and pear could be a good way to end on a refreshing note.
For beverages, if your turkey or desserts do not have five-spice, offer your guests this Chinese five-spice mulled wine, this bourbon-based cocktail, or this ginger daiquiri. Thankfully, there are five-spice-free cocktails. Lychee martinis are easy to make. For the more daring, try making Mission Chinese Food’s bitter melon martini. A recipe isn’t available, but you can modify this recipe for a cucumber martini, replacing the cucumber infusion with bitter melon or by puréeing the melon as is done with cucumbers in this recipe. Red Bean Box talks about Chinese-influenced cocktails and offers recipes for a baiju sours, a five-spice fizz, the vodka-based Cathay Pacific Cloud 9. We’d like to have a Pu-erh Old Fashioned.
If anybody’s curious, “tryptophan” is “色氨酸” in Chinese.
Leave a comment or send an email if you have any additional ideas of adding some Chinese flair to Thanksgiving. If you make any of these dishes or drinks, take a photo and let us know!
Image: Alex Yu, via Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons