There are lots of things to love about Chinese New Year, no matter what your cultural heritage is–firecrackers, dragon and lion dances, lively drums, gorgeous red paper lanterns lighting the night sky…and the FOOD. Oh, the food. It’s amazing that there aren’t more obese Asian people, given the way we gorge ourselves on special occasions and our zest for food in general.
Basically, Chinese New Year lasts 15 days, and kicks off with a New Year’s Eve reunion dinner (or, more precisely, feast), featuring some key foods, each of which have a symbolic significance. The feast usually includes whole fish, perhaps a steamed red snapper or rock fish with a soy, cilantro, ginger, sesame oil and green onion sauce, to signify prosperity and abundance; jiaozi dumplings filled with pork and green onions or leeks, which stand for wealth; spring rolls, which resemble gold bars and signify good fortune; oranges and/or tangerines to bring luck; nian gao, or Chinese New Year cake, made with sweetened glutinous rice; and some kind of noodle dish, which signifies longevity.
Since I’m only a half Chinese (and not a very good one at that), I didn’t really go all out and make a big meal over the weekend. Growing up, my family never really got into the full swing of things during CNY. Sure, we did the whole red packet exchange thing (we kids really enjoyed that), and there was the occasional ten-course dinner at a Chinese restaurant, but it was nothing big.
That didn’t stop me from cooking up Cantonese seafood chow mein, which happens to be one of my favorite Asian dishes of all time. Featuring a colorful mix of veggies and seafood in a brown gravy, all sitting atop a pile of crispy, golden pan-fried noodles, Cantonese seafood chow mein is, in my humble opinion, the perfect balance of textures and flavors. It’s also kind o f hard to find, especially among Americanized Chinese restaurants. Usually whenever I order it, it turns out to be a mess of greasy, thick noodles in a gross, flavorless sauce, topped with mystery meats and limp veggies.
Usually, I’m a slave to cookbooks and recipes–I’m trying to remedy this in 2012–but when it comes to Asian foods, I take a more intuitive approach. Sure, I still use recipes as guidance from time to time, but usually I’m flying by the seat of my pants, paying little to no attention to measurements.
Still, for the purposes of this blog, I tried writing things down in a recipe of my own, so here goes. All of these ingredients can be found at any well-stocked Asian grocery:
Flaming Dragon Cantonese Seafood Chow Mein
1/4 lb. medium fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 lb. medium fresh scallops
1/4 lb. frozen squid, defrosted, cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces (you can find packages in the Asian frozen fish section that have already been cut and cleaned)
2 tbsp. plus one tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tsp. fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
5 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. oyster sauce
2 tbsp. cold water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
One 16 oz. package of precooked Hong Kong-style pan-fried noodles (I like Twin Marquis brand, do NOT use that LaChoy crispy noodle crap)
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly and diagonally
4 oz. canned sliced water chestnuts
4 oz. canned sliced bamboo shoots
8 oz. canned baby corn
4 oz. canned peeled straw mushrooms
2 tbsp. dry white wine
1 c. low-sodium chicken broth
4 oz. fresh snow peas, strings removed
12 baby bok choy or 6 large bok choy, with bottoms trimmed and individual stalks separated
1) Pat shrimp, scallop and squid dry with a paper towel, and toss with 1 tsp. cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, white pepper and minced ginger and garlic in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2) Mix oyster sauce, 2 tbsp. cornstarch, water, sugar and sesame oil.
3) Preheat oven for 10 minutes at 300° F.
4) While oven is preheating, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a wok on high until hot. Reduce heat to medium. Gently lower noodles into the wok to avoid splashing hot oil and cook until golden, using chopsticks or a fork to separate and flip noodles as they cook. If noodles are not browning and look a little dry, then add 1 tbsp. vegetable oil. Remove noodles from heat and place in a heatproof platter, and keep warm in the oven.
5) While noodles are warming, heat 2 tbsp. oil in wok again on high until hot, then turn down to medium-high heat. Pour in scallops and shrimp and stir until halfway cooked, then stir in squid. Cook until shrimp are pink, scallops are firm and opaque, and squid are opaque and slightly curled, about 5-7 minutes. Remove wok from heat and pour seafood mixture in a medium heatproof bowl. Set aside.
6) Return wok to stove and heat up remaining 1 tbsp. oil on high heat until hot. Turn down heat to medium, then pour in carrot, water chestnuts, bamboo, baby corn, mushrooms, wine and remaining 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Stir fry for 2 minutes.
7) Stir in chicken broth, and bring mixture to a boil.
8) Cook uncovered for 1 minute, then stir in snow peas and bok choy with the oyster sauce/cornstarch mix. Stir until thickened, then return shrimp, scallops and squid to the vegetable mixture. Season to taste with additional kosher salt and white pepper as needed.
9) Take out the noodles from the oven, then pour contents of entire wok over the noodles. Serve immediately.
This is my first attempt at an actual recipe of my own (thanks to Kate Leahy over at Modern Meal Maker for guidelines on how to write a recipe), so hopefully this works for you.
In the meantime, may you all live long and prosper in the year of the dragon, and that these noodles will give you a long and happy life.