February 10, 2013 marked the lunar new year, which is better known as Chinese New Year in North America. Though, it is celebrated by just about every Asian culture.
That Sunday initiated another year of the “snake” in Chinese astrology. Accordingly, snake years tend to be transformative.
For those of us born in previous snake years, this one invites us to take risks and look towards new horizons. We should dream big it seems.
However, this big-dreamin’ and risk-takin’ will require rest. Contemplative activities like “meditating, praying, and journaling” will prove beneficial. Else, we risk burnout.
Being practical, here is an account of our celebratory new year dinner of traditional foods. You know, to keep the burning to a slow smolder…
My organizing last year’s Christmas feast, Jenn took the lead for Chinese New Year. She tasked me with roasting whole chicken (chicken representing prosperity), roasting pork belly (most Chinese banquets including crackling pork), and preparing turnip cake (steamed in rounds representing family reunion).
In the interest of maximizing our available cooking time, I spatchcocked two chickens and made a five-spice cure (star anise, cinnamon, black peppercorns, red pepper flake, salt, and raw sugar). With family coming over for dinner, I did not want to risk not having enough roast beast. My mother-in-law furnished the characteristic shrimp chips for plating, essentially artificially flavoured cellophane crisps.
Click here for the recipe.
The only alteration to the recipe involved employing treacle, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, in place of the maltose. Brushing treacle, which is more invert sugar than sucrose, onto the skin of the bird, caused it to colour beautifully.
[The rice served in the photo above is called "lo mai fan." Akin to North American stuffing (or dressing), it is a stickier rice dish that is usually made with shiitake mushrooms, celery, dried shrimp, and lap chong. For Chinese New Year, we made ours with a pork trotter stock, opting not to serve traditional "red cooked" pigs' feet this year.]
Roast Crispy Pork:
Having visited Chinese grocery stores during Chinese New Year, we know how insane the lineups can be at the barbecue counter, something Martin Yan once called “Chinese deli.” This is where whole roasted crackling pig (siu-yok), barbecued pork (char-siu), poached chicken, and crispy (or barbecued) ducks are sold.
At Kowloon Market (712 Somerset Street W.) in Ottawa’s tiny Chinatown, we noticed there were 5 pigs’ heads at the bottom of the display. Normally, the store retails two whole pigs a day, most everyone ordering a pound or two at a time. That Saturday, they went through many more.
Chinese New Year is celebrated week long with festivities and sporadic feasting. It isn’t uncommon for families to serve new year AND new year’s eve dinners, each consisting of multiple communal dishes.
In recent years, we’ve taken to purchasing cuts of pork belly and roasting them to fulfill the crackling pork requirement. This year was no different. Click here for the recipe.
Turnip cake, made from white radish (daikon in Japanese), is a favourite food of mine. It can be a somewhat acquired taste for dim sum newbies. All white and redolent of radish, many dislike what is essentially a savoury steamed pudding because of its off-putting soft texture.
Made properly and pan-fried to serve, turnip cake can be very comforting.
This year, Jenn’s mom challenged me to a turnip-cake-off, she bringing a tin of hers to dinner.
I pulled out all the stops. Not only did I brunoise my turnip, I slowly rendered out fat from Chinese sausage to cook the shitaake mushrooms. I used duck fat to sweat the turnip until each piece was fork tender. I reserved both turnip and mushroom soaking liquid to make the required rice flour slurry.
Our feast moving at a faster than expected pace, my mother-in-law and I didn’t quite have a taste-off as planned.
Instead, I decided to try my hand at a Singaporean-inspired pan-fried turnip cake, employing some homemade chile oil (vegetable oil infused with crushed chiles for 24-hours). The idea came from our most recent visit to Toronto. Friends took us to Congee Queen (3850 Sheppard Avenue E, Unit 425) in Scarborough. “Singaporean-style Fried Turnip Cake” is a popular item on the Hong Kong tea/noodle-house’s menu.
We at foodiePrints wish everyone observing the Chinese New Year much luck and prosperity.
May health, wealth, and good fortune grace you and yours.