Chinese New Year is fast approaching. While January 1st is easy to remember, the specific date of Chinese New Year changes each year, as it falls on the first day of the lunar calendar. In 2007, the first day of the new lunar year is February 18th. The New Year season is also called the Spring Festival as it begins at the start of the Spring term according to the Chinese calendar.
According to Chinese astrology, 2007 is the year of the pig. People born in pig years are happy and honest. Famous Pigs include David Letterman, Hillary Rodham-Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Elton John.
Most of the dishes served during Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival) are symbolic of something positive and hopeful. Chicken and fish, for example, symbolize happiness and prosperity–especially when served whole. Dishes made with oranges represent wealth and good fortune because they are China’s most plentiful fruit. Noodles represent longevity; therefore, they should never be cut! Duck symbolizes fidelity, while eggs signify fertility. Bean curd or tofu, however, is avoided because its white color suggests death and misfortune.
Dishes are also chosen based on homonyms–words that either are spelled the same or sound the same as other words. Fish (yu) is served because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for plenty; whole fish represents abundance. Turnips are cooked because their name (cai tou) also means “good luck.”
Another popular Chinese New Year dish is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. In some areas of China, coins are placed in the center of jiaozi. Whoever bites into one of these dumplings will have an exceptionally lucky year.
Crispy Fish with Sauce
4 large Chinese dried black mushrooms
1 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/3 C thinly sliced carrots
1/3 C thinly sliced bamboo shoots
1/3 C snow peas, cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp. rice wine
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 C oyster sauce
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/3 C soy sauce
2 tsp. rice vinegar
3 tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 3 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. peanut oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
shake of white pepper
Soak the dried mushrooms in water to cover, and set aside. Minceginger and garlic and put into a small dish. Cut carrots, bamboo shoots, and snow peas and combine in a small bowl. Combine rice wine, chicken broth, oyster sauce, sat, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small bow. Combine cornstarch with water in a small dish.
Remove dried mushrooms from bowl and squeeze aout excess liquid. They should be fully hydrated, if not, let them soak longer. Trim and discard stems. Cut into 1/2" wide strips and place in dish with carrots.
Heat wok over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add vegetable oil and heat 30 seconds. Move the wok around so the oil coats the sides. Add ginger mixture and stir 15 seconds. Add vegetables and stir quickly. Add chicken broth mixture and simmer briefly then add cornstarch. Bring to a boil. Add sesame oil, a little white pepper (black can be substituted) and pour over hot fried fish.
Fish: Buy firm fillets and cut into serving sizes. Soak in salt
water for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse. Pat dry. Dip in beaten
egg and coat well with cornstarch. Fry in hot oil to cover until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain briefly and transfer to serving platter. Ladle sauce over fish.
Crispy Orange Beef
1 lb. flank steak, partially forzen
1/4 to 1/2 C cornstarch, approximately
2 to 3 cups peanut oil
6 to 8 pieces of dry orange peel, about 1/2" square
1 dozen dry hot pepper pods, about two inches long, or to taste
1/4 small onion, cut in 1/2" squares
1/4 C water chestnut slices
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. minced green onion
1 tbsp. rice wine
1/4 C sugar
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 C chicken broth
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
The flank steak should be frozen, but still pliable for
easier slicing. Cut it into 3 lengthwise pieces, then cut across the horizontal to make small pieces, about 1/2" by 2" (sizes will vary, but those are ballpark figures). Coat the meat completely with cornstarch and set aside.
Cut up dry orange peel into small pieces and combine in a small dish with hot pepper. Cut onion and combine in another small dish with water chestnuts.
Mince garlic and green onion.
Combine rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, chicken broth, and oyster sauce in a small bowl. Set a metal strainer over a large receptacle (not plastic) in kitchen sink.
Heat wok for two minutes over highest heat. Add oil and heat until it is very hot. Add beef and stir to break it up. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until beef gets a yellowish cast to it and the outside is crispy. Transfer to strainer in sink and pour oil and beef into it.
Place empty wok back on high heat and add garlic and green onion. Add hot pepper and orange peel. Stir briefly. Add onion and water chestnuts and stir 30 seconds. Add sauce and stir well to coat. Let Mixture boil until it thickens slightly. Add hot beef and then sesame oil. Stir once or twice and place on a warm plate. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 8 as part of a larger meal.
Serve with steamed rice.