Saturday, January 21, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

As I get older, any excuse will help make me do stuff I've been putting off for ages works to motivate me. Chinese New Year is coming up on Monday, and one of the customs is to sweep out the bad luck and make room for good luck in the year ahead. Hence, I've spent the last few weeks obsessively putting our home in order.

Traditionally, as well, families get together on New Year's Eve for a big dinner. The foods served are all symbolic, representing good luck and fortune. Here is an extensive list of Lunar New Year symbolic foods. One really traditional "lucky" Chinese dish is oysters and faat choy, a fine black moss, which looks like hair, a taste not for everyone. But as I am planning to cook at home, I'll stick to the basics, foods that I know everyone will enjoy.

Fish symbolizes togetherness and abundance. Noodles symbolize longevity, so don't cut them up! There doesn't seem to be a specific recipe for Chinese New Year, so here is mine. Add some shrimp for happiness. And of course, don't forget your NEW YEAR'S DUMPLINGS symbolize wealth as they look like ancient Chinese ingots. Oranges / clementines are also symbolic of wealth because the Chinese word sounds the same as the word for "gold".


1 whole fish, about 1.5 lb or less (sea bass or red snapper)*
1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine (or vodka will work too)

Sea salt
2" ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 stalk scallion, cut into 2-inch length, and then thin matchsticks
Cilantro/coriander leaves
2 Tbsp cooking oil

For the sauce:
1 Tbsp coconut or turbinado sugar, optional
2 Tbsp just-boiled water

4 Tbsp low-sodium tamari

2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine (or vodka)
1/4 tsp sesame oil

1/8 tsp white pepper powder

  • In a small bowl, prepare the soy sauce mixture and set aside.
  • Clean the fish properly (remove any scales, rinse insides).
  • Lay the fish on a heatproof plate, drizzle a tablespoon of cooking wine on top of the fish, sprinkle with salt and half the cut ginger.
  • Fill a large frying pan or wok (big enough to hold the plate and fish) with ½” of water for steaming. Place a shallow heat-proof saucer in the center or a couple of pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks to prop up the steaming plate. As soon as the water boils, carefully place your plate with the prepped fish in. Cover completely and steam for 8-10 minutes. Use a fork to test the thickest part of the fish to see if the meat is opaque, firm, and easily separates from the bone.
  • As soon as the fish is done, take it out, transfer to a shallow serving bowl and set aside. Discard the fish water and ginger. Garnish the fish with the remaining fresh ginger strips, scallions and cilantro/coriander.
  • In a small dry frying pan over a high heat, add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, swirl around until it’s hot. Test by putting a sliver of the scallion in - it should sizzle furiously. Pour the hot oil over the steamed fish. Return the pan to heat, add the soy sauce mixture, stirring well. Once the sauce boils, pour over fish and garnish.*When shopping, look for a fish with clear eyes, which indicates freshness.

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
½ Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp white sesame seeds
1 clove garlic, crushed
Sea salt
For the noodles:
8 oz (225g) Chinese noodles, cooked and drained
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, julienned (thin matchstick strips)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
large handful of spinach, bok choy, cabbage, chard or kale, washed and chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 3 Tbsp cold water

  • Mix sauce ingredients together and set aside.
  • Coat a large frying pan large with oil. On medium-high heat, gently fry the onion, celery and carrots, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and chopped green leaves, cook for another minute, until wilted. Add the dissolved cornstarch and sauce. Stir until thickened.
  • Refresh the cooked noodles with boiling water and gradually add to pan, stirring continuously. Toss and cook for a further couple of minutes. If the noodles look like they are clumping and sticking together, add some olive oil or sesame oil to coat. Sprinkle with green onion to serve.

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