The firework festivities of New Year's Eve might feel like a lifetime ago, but for some, the biggest celebration is yet to come. January 28 marks the start of Chinese New Year and a string of celebrations to ring in the Year of the Rooster.
"To me, Chinese New Year means family gatherings," says Kei Lum Chan, co-author of China: The Cookbook. "Family members, whether near or far away, will try to return home to celebrate together, to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new."
At the heart of the festivities is New Year's Eve dinner, which is "the most important meal of the year," Chan says. A typical menu varies by region, but usually includes chicken, fish, or pork in the south of China and homemade dumplings in the north.
If you've never attempted to cook a Chinese dish before, Chan says it's easier than you might think. "No special utensils are required to make Chinese food at home," he says, noting that a frying pan or large pot makes a good substitute wok.
Ready to expand your cooking repertoire? Celebrate the Year of the Rooster with these four chef-approved dishes from China: The Cookbook.
"In Northern China, dumplings, or jiaozi, have a special significance during the Lunar New Year festivities," Chan says. "Everyone, whether old or young, man or woman, participates [in making them]. Jiaozi is usually consumed very late at night, close to the changing into the New Year."
11 oz. ground pork
1 1/2 tsp. light soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 small Napa cabbage, leaves separated
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. sesame oil
24 large dumpling wrappers
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Combine the pork, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and four tablespoons water, and marinate for 15 minutes. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, add the cabbage, and blanch for five minutes. Drain and rinse; then chop the cabbage and combine with the pork. Stir in the cornstarch and sesame oil, and mix well.
Fill a small dish with cold water, and set aside. Lay a dumpling wrapper in your hand and place about one tablespoon of filling in the middle. Brush a little water on the edge of the wrapper, fold over into a semicircle, and then seal the top by firmly squeezing the edges together. Start on one end of the semicircle and create pleats by pinching and pressing the edges tightly, about 10 to 14 pleats per dumpling. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the pot stickers and 1/2 cup of water, and cover the pan. Cook for 20 minutes or until the water has been absorbed and the bottoms of the pot stickers are golden brown. Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with cilantro, and then serve with fresh ginger and vinegar dipping sauce.
"Chicken has always been a sign of prosperity," Chan says, so it usually features on Chinese New Year menus. "Until recent times, when food is in abundance, chicken was served only on special days, such as birthdays, festive days like the mid-autumn festival and New Year, or as an offering to the gods. The chicken thigh, considered to be the best part of the bird, is usually served to the elders."
1 lb., 5 oz. chicken pieces, cut into pieces
1 tsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. ginger juice
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic
3/4 cup long-grain rice
2 Chinese sausages, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 scallions, chopped
1 tbsp. shredded ginger
Combine the chicken pieces, soy sauce, and ginger juice in a bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Mix in the cornstarch.
Stir-fry chicken in a wok until browned. Transfer to plate. Then, stir-fry garlic in a wok for one minute, and add rice. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a dutch oven, add water, and cook until water is absorbed. Add the sausages, chicken, scallions, and ginger. Cover the Dutch oven, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
Garnish with cilantro, and see China: The Cookbook for the accompanying sauce recipe.
Balancing flavors and textures is key when creating a Chinese dinner menu. Chan notes that there should be a mix of dishes, ranging from stir fries and steamed vegetables to soft-textured foods offset with something crisp.
4 dried black mushrooms
1/4 cup dried black fungus
3 1/2 oz. lean pork, cut into strips
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cornstarch (corn flour)
7 oz. firm tofu, drained
1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
2/3 cup sliced bamboo shoots, drained
2 tbsp. water chestnut flour or cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
5 tbsp. red vinegar
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1 tsp. sesame oil
Soak the mushrooms and black fungus in two separate bowls for 20 minutes, until softened. Drain, and then discard mushroom stems and slice into thin pieces. Tea the fungus into small pieces.
Combine the pork, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the cornstarch in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the tofu, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and enough cold water to cover and soak for 15 minutes. Drain, cut into thin strips, and set aside.
Bring 4 1/4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan and add one teaspoon salt and the sugar. Put in the mushrooms, black fungus, and bamboo shoots. Drop the pieces of pork, and do not stir.
Mix the water chestnut flour with four tablespoons water in a small bowl, stir until dissolved, and pour slowly into the soup, stirring continuously. Add the tofu, and reduce to medium-low heat.
Hold a strainer (sieve) over the soup, and slowly pour the beaten eggs into the strainer. At the same time, move the strainer in a circular motion over the soup so that the beaten egg is strained into the soup in a continuous line. Let sit for 1 minute, do not stir.
Finally, stir in the vinegar and white pepper, and then add the sesame oil. Ladle the hot soup into a bowl, and garnish with cilantro.
WHIP IT UP:
"[It's] very popular in South China to serve these to guests as a snack during the Chinese New Year," Chan says. "It is so named because the round dough balls, when deep fried, will crack open like someone laughing. It carries a meaning of being able to laugh throughout the year."
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
6 tbsp. white sesame seeds
8 1/2 cups vegetable oil
Melt the butter in a frying pan, and set aside to cool. Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the center and add the sugar, egg, lard, and four tablespoons cold water. Using your hands, gently bring the flour toward the center of the board, and push down to form a dough. Using a scraper, gently fold the dough for 4 to 5 minutes, press down with your hands—do not knead the dough; otherwise gluten will form and the right texture won't be achieved.
Cut the dough into strips, and then into small pieces. Roll each piece into a small dough ball, dampen the balls with a little water, and roll them in the sesame seeds. Roll and press the sesame seeds firmly into the dough.
Use a strainer or slotted spoon to lower the dough balls into a wok or saucepan filled with hot oil. Deep-fry for two minutes until the donuts have opened up. Cook until golden brown. Remove and dry on paper towels before serving.
Add this cookbook to your collection for more delicious, authentic Chinese recipes.