By Ana Kinkaid
Each year the Chinese mega-celebrate the start of the new Lunar Year. It’s always quite a party because for 15 days the number of people feasting, dancing and laughing in China will equal the entire population of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and all of Western Europe combined.
Now that’s a big guest list! This year’s party starts on January 28th under the new zodiac sign of the Rooster.
According to legend, the holiday started long ago when there was a fierce fight against a giant magical beast. It would appear on New Year’s Eve as a huge raging ox with a roaring lion head killing and destroying all in its path.
After many battles, the people of the region learned that the creature feared the color red, bright lights and loud noises. To ensure their safety, villagers hung red paper signs on their doors. Fireworks exploded overhead and drums banged loudly in the nearby streets and alleys.
Once defeated, it was believed a better year could be secured by serving symbolic foods. One such dish still popular is “Yee Sang,” also known as “Yusheng,” means “prosperity toss.” This unique tossed salad is created in an unusual manner in the hope of obtaining both prosperity and good fortune.
Smoked salmon, pickled leeks, daikon, carrots, red pickled ginger, deep fried crackers, pomelo pulp, peanuts, sesame seeds, five spice powder and plum sauce are the most traditional ingredients used.
When the time comes to “lou” or toss the salad, the final sauce is added and everyone present stands up. They toss the salad with their chopsticks and the higher they toss, the more luck they will have in the coming year.
Other traditional Chinese New Year dishes still served today contain noodles. Pulled noodles were made in historic times by two main methods, (1) pulling and stretching the dough by hand through a series of looping and twisting motions and (2) by rolling and stretching the dough over hanging poles.
The ultimate goal of each noodle master, no matter his preferred method of production, was to be able to create a noodle so fine and yet so strong it could be passed through the eye of a needle, a feat known as the Lamian.
Despite the amazing Chinese skill level, both Italy and the Middle East have claimed that they first created noodles. An archeological discovery in 2004 finally resolved the conflict.
Clams have long been considered the perfect ingredient to combine with Chinese noodles. Noodles, especially long noodles, represented a lengthy, joyful life while clams with their rounded shape resembled coins and future wealth. It was reasoned that if one were blessed with endless riches, that person would also want a long life in which to enjoy them.
Surely such wonderful dishes that offer the hope of wealth, long life and a bright future should be part of every chef’s menu as millions celebrate the new year of the Rooster. It’s as simple as a stepping into the kitchen and joining the world’s biggest party–a party full of good wishes for all in the coming New Year!
Chinese New Year Tossed Salad
20 wonton wrappers, sliced 1 cm wide
Vegetable oil to deep fry
1/4 cup thinly sliced candied ginger
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup thinly sliced pickled ginger
2 Tbsp julienned red-salted ginger
2 Tbsp pickled onions, finely sliced
1 cup shredded carrot
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 cup shredded green apple
1 cup shredded cucumber
1 medium-large turnip, shredded
200 grams thinly sliced sashimi salmon
1 Tbsp finely chopped coriander
3 green shallots, finely shredded
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted
3/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup Chinese plum sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp warm water
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat until 180ºC (356ºF).
Deep-fry sliced wonton wrappers in small batches until golden and crisp.
Remove from oil with a mesh skimmer and drain on paper towel.
Arrange all salad ingredients and fried wonton wrappers on a large platter by color.
Arrange the salmon pieces last.
Scatter coriander, sesame, peanuts and spices on top of the vegetables.
Place ingredients for the sauce in a bottle and shake well to combine.
Pour sauce over salad in a circular motion.
Each guest tosses the salad with chopsticks while saying good wishes for the coming year.
Long Noodles and Clams with Bok Choy and Black Bean Sauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
6 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise, white and green parts separate
2 Tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed well and mashed lightly with a fork
3 to 5 dried whole small chilies, or to taste
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut thinly into 2-inch strips
3 dozen Taylor Shellfish clams, or clams of your choice
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 Tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp soy sauce
1 lb baby bok choy, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
Long noodles, cooked in amount needed per guest
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the garlic, ginger, scallion whites, fermented black beans and chilies.
Cook while stirring for 1 minute.
Add the red bell pepper and cook while stirring for 1 minute.
Add the clams and 1/2 cup of the broth.
Cover the pan tightly and steam the clams. As they open, transfer the clams to a bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup of broth, rice wine, cornstarch and soy sauce.
Add to the saucepan in a stream while whisking.
Bring to a boil.
Add the bok choy and cook while stirring for 1 minute.
Add the cooked clams with juices to the pan.
Cook, stirring to coat the clams until hot.
Serve the clams and broth over pre-cooked long noodles.
Garnish each portion with scallion greens