Friday, February 8, 2013

Jack-Lights and the Year of the Snake!

Chinese New Year 4711 begins on February 10, 2013! The Harbin Ice Festival is celebrating it's 29th year of incredible ice and snow sculptures to welcome the Year of the Snake! These ice sculptures have their roots in northeast China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when local peasants and fishermen made ice lanterns or "jack-lights" during the winter months. The jack-lights were made by pouring water into a bucket and allowed to almost freeze. Once partially frozen, the bucket was gently warmed so that the bucket-shaped ice could be removed. A hole would then be chiseled in the top and the remaining water poured out, creating a hollow vessel. A candle would then be inserted creating a windproof lantern! The jack-lights were placed outside their houses and used during traditional festivals. As you can see, this tradition has evolved into the mind-numbingly enormous Harbin Ice Festival, which I heard only takes two weeks to build! Wow!

In honor of the Chinese New Year, I always like to create a fun dinner for family and friends! Last year I started with Crab Dumplings with Garlic-Ginger Dipping Sauce, followed by Seared Salmon with Shiitake and Snow Pea Lo Mein, and finished with an incredible Ginger, Lemon, and Mint Granita. Absolutely delicious! This year I plan to keep things simple by serving "Soy-Marinated Flank Steak with Asian Pesto and Wasabi-Mashed Potatoes!" While not actually authentic, the flavors are Asian inspired and create a simple, flavorful, and exciting meal! This is one of my favorite recipes and is definitely a great way to cook flank steak, no matter what recipe you choose! Some fortune cookies and red envelopes filled with money is all that's needed to create a fun dinner in honor of the Year of the Snake!

Soy-Marinated Flank Steak with Asian Pesto

Serves 6-8

For the Flank Steak
2 1/2 pounds flank steak (don't substitute skirt steak, it's too thin for this recipe!)
2 cups soy sauce
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced or grated (I use my Microplane.)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon canola oil

For the Pesto
3 scallions, white and 3" of the green part, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To marinate the steak
Trim any silver skin and excess fat from the flank steak. With the tip of a sharp knife, score each side of the meat. In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and canola oil. Place the steak in a large glass or ceramic dish and pour the marinade over the steak, turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Let the steak return to room temperature before grilling.

To make the pesto
In a food processor, combine the scallions, cilantro, parsley, olive oil, pine nuts, sesame oil, and garlic. Process until smooth. Stir in the sesame seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To cook the steak
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Preheat an indoor grill pan (or a large heavy skillet) over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Remove the steak from the marinade and scrape off most of the marinade. Brush the grill pan with oil; then sear the flank steak on both sides until golden brown in color. Transfer the browned steak to a foil-lined baking sheet, and finish cooking in the oven until medium rare and an instant-read thermometer registers 135 degrees, 10-15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, covered loosely with aluminum foil, before slicing and serving. To serve, thinly slice the flank steak and place on a platter, Top with the pesto.

Wasabi-Mashed Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon wasabi powder (available at most grocers)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. As you peel and cut the potatoes, put them in a large bowl of cold water. When all the potatoes have been peeled, drain the potatoes and add them to the boiling water. Boil until completely tender, about 20 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the potatoes. Set aside.

Combine the milk and wasabi powder in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the powder.

Using a food mill or ricer, mash the potatoes into a clean pot. Stir in the wasabi milk, butter, and vinegar. Add as much of the reserved potato liquid to loosen the potatoes as needed. Season with salt and pepper.

Recipe adapted from Weir Cooking in the City, by Joanne Weir.

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