All over the world Chinese communities are ramping up to celebrate Chinese New Year which begins today – Saturday January 28th and lasts until February 15th 2018.
This is the Year of the Rooster – the date changes every year because it is connected to the lunisolar Chinese calendar.
Each New Year is characterised by one of 12 animals which appear in the Chinese Zodiac. The latter is divided into 12 blocks or houses but each lasts a year rather than a month. People who are born in the year of the Rooster are said to be honest, energetic, intelligent, resourceful, flamboyant, flexible, diverse and confident, contagious, charming….
Huge colourful noisy parades with traditional lion dances, bell ringing, fireworks, music….. take place all over the world and the celebrations last for at least two full weeks.
Traditionally, it’s a very special time of the year for Chinese families.
On New Year’s Eve they gather together all over the world for a reunion dinner and ‘spring clean’ their houses to sweep away bad fortune for the coming years. Lots of presents, for everyone traditionally children would be given red envelopes stuffed with ‘lucky money’ and positive good wishes on New Year’s Day. You’ll be amused to hear that nowadays they are more likely to have a red envelope app so their relatives can transfer money digitally….
There are many superstitions and customs associated with New Year, several associated with food. An empty rice jar is considered to be a bad omen for the coming year. Porridge should not be eaten for breakfast on Chinese New Year Day – it’s considered to be the food of the poor and doesn’t bode well for the future either.
As with all celebrations, food is an integral part of Chinese New Year. There are many simple recipes that can be made at home some in minutes with easily available ingredients. But, I absolutely love to visit the Chinese shops and supermarkets in many of our cities. In Dublin one my favourites is the Asia Market in Drury Street which has recently had a makeover. I’m intrigued with the many ‘strange’ ingredients that I’m unfamiliar with and bombard the always busy staff with questions about what to do with’ this and that’ and always leave the shop with bags full of beautiful fresh vegetables, tropical fruit and lots of jars and bottles of exotic sounding ingredients to experiment with.
They’ve also got quite a range of Chinese porcelain, bamboo steamers, clay pots and cool utensils. In Cork there are several tempting Chinese shops that I also enjoy rummaging in, like Jia Jia Market on Cornmarket Street and Asian Foods on North Main Street.
If you were born in the Year of the Rooster your lucky numbers are 5, 7, 8, lucky colours brown, gold and yellow, lucky flowers gladiola and cockscomb and lucky direction south, southwest.
So now you know, let’s all celebrate together and Happy New Year of the Rooster. Here are some more of my favourite Chinese recipes.
Masterclass in Wild Fowl with Slow Food Galway
On Sunday February 5th 2017, at the Cáit Curran Síol Centre, Moycullen, Eoin Warner will give a short talk and slide show as well as bringing a selection of wild birds. There will be hands on experience in plucking and preparing the wild fowl, followed by lunch of game casserole and other dishes.
Phone Kate 087 931 2333 or www.slowfoodireland.com for further information.
Top Favourite Utensils
Chinese Steamer – no house should be without a Chinese bamboo steamer. They have two or three tiers and cost tuppence halfpenny! Even if you never cook a dumpling, steam a fish or a boa bun in your life they are brilliant for steaming vegetables or even potatoes and look chic on the table to serve poppadums, bread or floury steamed potatoes.
Available in several sizes from Asian shops.
Pizza, Calzone, Panzerotti, Piadina…..
Sadly, this wonderful dish has had its reputation besmirched by fast and frozen food manufacturers. However, in the space of a single morning (including a pizza-orientated light lunch) you will learn how to prepare indescribably delicious, melt-in-the-mouth pizza! We shall cover everything from different sorts of pizza bases to innovative toppings, how to cook first class pizza in a domestic oven or a wood burning oven to the importance of using the right olive oil. Plus, we will look at all the other exciting things you can make with the same dough including a Calzone, Piadini, Sfinciuni, Foccacia with Maldon Sea Salt and Rosemary, Carta Musica as well as Dough balls with garlic butter. Friday February 17th, 2017 www.cookingisfun.ie
Stevie Parle’s Chinese Lettuce Cups
A past pupil of the Ballymaloe Cookery School who has recently opened his fifth restaurant Palatino in London
A great starter or canapé
50g/2oz of vermicelli noodles
½ red onion, chopped
1 red chili, deseeded and sliced
½ small bunch of coriander, roots chopped and leaves separated
A thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
350g/12oz pork mince
½ teaspoon of crushed white pepper
2 tablespoon hoisin
1 tablespoon soy
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 castelfranco or soft lettuce, separated into leaves
3 spring onions, shredded
2 handfuls of peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Bring a pan of water to the boil, pour over the vermicelli and leave to soak for five minutes. Pour into a sieve and rinse under cold water. Chop into small lengths and put to one side.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok over a medium heat. Add the onion, chilli, coriander roots, ginger and garlic and stir fry until softened. Remove from the pan, then add another small splash of oil to the pan and turn up the heat.
Lightly season the pork, then add to the hot pan and fry for a few minutes until cooked through. Return the ginger, etc, to the pan and add the noodles, white pepper, hoisin, soy, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil.
Cook for another minute, then take off the heat and stir in the coriander leaves. Check the seasoning and adjust to suit your tastes. Place a heaped tablespoonful into the centre of each lettuce leaf, then top with the spring onions and peanuts.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuanese Sauce
About 3/4 lb (300–350g) cold, cooked chicken, without bones
3 spring onions
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
For the Sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinkiang (brown rice) vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon chicken stock
3–4 tablespoons chilli oil with 1/2 tablespoon of its sediment (or more, if you wish)
1/4–1/2 teaspoon ground, roasted Sichuan pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Cut or tear the chicken as evenly as possible into bite-sized strips or slivers and place them in a deep bowl. Cut the spring onions at a steep angle into thin slices. Mix them and the salt with the chicken.
If using sesame seeds, toast them gently in a dry wok or frying pan for a few minutes, until they are fragrant and starting to turn golden, then tip out into a small dish.
Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
When you are ready to eat, pour the sauce over the chicken, and mix well with chopsticks or salad servers. Arrange on a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
Taken from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Kenneth Lo’s Egg Fried Rice
Simple as it is, this is a satisfying dish to eat even with only a very limited amount of accompaniments, such as some chopped pickles, or just a tablespoon or two of soy sauce.
Serves 2-3, with at least one other dish
1 teaspoon salt
2 spring onions
3½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1½ bowls of cooked rice, cold
Slice and coarsely chop the onion. Break the eggs into a cup, add the salt and beat with a fork for 10 seconds. Clean and cut the spring onions into fine shavings.
Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok. When hot, add the chopped onions and stir fry in the hot oil for 45 seconds. Pour the salted beaten egg into one side of the pan or wok, and add the rice on the other side. When the eggs are about to set, scramble them, then bring them over and mix evenly with the rice which is being stir-fried in the same pan. Sprinkle the contents with half the spring onion shavings. Turn and stir the ingredients together.
Serve by transferring the contents into a large serving bowl or into individual bowls, and sprinkle the top of the fried rice with the remainder of the spring onion shavings.
From New Chinese Vegetarian Cooking by Kenneth Lo
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fish Fragrant Aubergines
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as part of a Chinese meal
600 g aubergines
cooking oil for deep-frying (400ml will do if you are using a round-bottomed wok)
1½ tablespoons Sichuanese chilli bean pastep, or Sichuan pickled chilli paste, or a mixture of the two
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
150 ml stock
2 teaspoons caster sugar
¾ teaspoon potato flour, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar
4 tablespoons spring onion greens, finely sliced
Cut the aubergines lengthways into three thick slices, then cut these into evenly sized batons. Sprinkle them with salt, mix well and leave in a colander for at least 30 minutes to drain.
In a wok, heat the oil for deep-frying to 180C. Add the aubergines in batches and deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until slightly golden on the outside and soft and buttery within. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Drain off the deep-frying oil, rinse the wok if necessary, then return it to a medium flame. When the wok is hot again, add 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry until the oil is red and fragrant, then add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir fry until you can smell their aromas. Take care not to burn these seasonings; remove the wok from the heat for a few seconds if necessary to control the temperature (you want a gentle, coaxing sizzle, not a scorching heat).
Add the stock and sugar and mix well. Season with salt to taste if necessary. Add the fried aubergines to the sauce and let them simmer gently for a minute or so to absorb some of the flavours. Then stir the potato flour mixture, pour it over the aubergines and stir in gently to thicken the sauce. Add the vinegar and spring onions and stir a few times, then serve.
From Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Beef with Cumin
You may use prime steak if you wish, but I usually make do with braising steak.
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as part of a Chinese meal
340 g beefsteak, trimmed
400 ml groundnut oil, for frying
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
2 fresh red chillies, seeds and stalks discarded and finely chopped
2-4 teaspoons dried chilli flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the marinade
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon potato flour
1 tablespoon water
Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices, ideally 4 x 3 cm. Add the marinade ingredients and mix well.
Heat the groundnut oil to about 140C. Add the beef and stir gently. As soon as the pieces have separated, remove them from the oil and drain well; set aside.
Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil. Over a high flame, add the ginger, garlic, fresh chillies, chilli flakes and cumin and stir fry briefly until fragrant. Return the beef to the wok and stir well, seasoning with salt to taste.
When all the ingredients are sizzlingly fragrant and delicious, add the spring onions and toss briefly. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.
From Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop