Celebrating The Year Of The Ram

Throughout the month of February, Chinese people all over the world will celebrate the Year of the Ram, 4701, which begins Saturday.

Festivities can last an entire month, two to three weeks or just one day, depending on the family traditions. One thing remains constant with each celebration, and that is the abundance of food.

Food is definitely the focal point of every special occasion in Chinese culture, says Chef Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. And for the Year of the Ram to come in, the Year of the Horse must go out with a great feast.

So say Gung Hei Fat Choy (Happy New Year in Chinese) with Chives Stir-Fried with Shrimp, Drunken Chicken; Steamed Sea Bass; Pickled Jicama; and Noodles with Ginger and Scallions.

The following are Chef Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's recipes taken from her book, "The Chinese Kitchen":

Chives Stir-Fried with Shrimp
Gau Choi Chau Har

Makes 4 servings

As a little girl I always wanted to do what the boys did, what I was not supposed to do. Girls did not, for example, catch shrimp, certainly not the way the boys did it. I would run a shallow woven basket near the shore of the river near our house - one of the many tributaries of the Pearl River -and catch tiny baby shrimp. As I caught them, I would put them in my mouth to save until I had a half dozen. Then I would use them to bait the hook I had made from a bent needle and fish for larger shrimp. That's the way the boys did it. When I had caught enough to feed my family, I would take them home and insist I had the right to cook them. What I made, most often, was this dish. Not only does it taste good, but the colors of the pink shrimp and green chives are beautiful.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 pound garlic chives, well washed, dried, hard stems cut into 1/4-inch pieces, green parts cut into 1/2-inch pieces and stems and green parts separated.
3/4 pound medium shrimp (28 to 30), shelled and deveined
1 tablespoon Chinese white rice wine or gin
2 tablespoons Seafood Stock mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Heat a wok over high heat for 30 seconds, add the peanut oil, and coat the wok with it, using a spatula. Add the salt and sugar and stir briefly. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add the ginger and hard ends of garlic chives, stir, and cook for 30 seconds, until the fragrance of the chives is released. Add the shrimp and spread in a thin layer. Add the wine, lower the heat to medium, and turn the shrimp over. Add the green chives, mix well, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until the chives turn bright green and the shrimp turn pink and curl. Stir the stock-cornstarch mixture, add to the wok, stir, and cook until it thickens, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat, transfer to a heated plate, and serve.

Noodles with Ginger and Scallions
Geung Chung Bon Mein

This is truly a Cantonese classic. It presents the fine tastes of fresh ginger, particularly the young ginger of spring, summer, and fall, a taste that is subtle and less hot than that of older ginger root. When fresh ginger is available, the Cantonese always demand that this noodle dish be made with ji geung, which translates into "baby boy ginger."

8 cups cold water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 pound fresh egg noodles, flat, like linguine
2 tablespoons fresh young ginger, shredded (if unavailable, use 3 tablespoons regular ginger, shredded)
1cup scallions, washed, dried, with both ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, and white portions quartered lengthwise

Make a sauce--combine in a bowl:

1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons Chicken Broth
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch of white pepper

  1. Place the water and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 30 seconds, or al dente, stirring and loosening them with chopsticks or a fork as they cook. Turn off heat, run cold water into pot, and drain noodles immediately through a strainer. Place noodles back in pot and fill with cold water. Mix with your hands and drain noodles again through strainer. Repeat once more until noodles are cool. Allow to drain for 10 to 15 minutes, loosening with chopsticks to assist draining. Reserve.
  2. Heat wok over high heat for 45 seconds. Add the peanut oil and coat wok with spatula. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and mix well with the ginger until noodles become very hot.
  3. Add the scallions and mix well and cook for 1 minute. Make a well in the center of the wok, stir the sauce, and pour it into the well. Cook for 1 minute, mixing well, making certain the noodles are well coated. Turn off heat, transfer to a preheated serving dish, and serve immediately.

Drunken Chicken
Joi Gai

Makes 6 to 8 servings

This traditional dish from Changhai is often referred to as "wine chicken," but not in Shanghai, where those who cook it and those who eat it with pleasure call it joi gai, or "drunken chicken." The classic way of cooking this chicken is to steam it whole. I have done a version of it in which I boil it, and it is a fine dish, but what follows is "drunken chicken" as it is supposed to be cooked, accompanied by its "drunken" sauce.

One 3 1/2-pound chicken
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 scallions, trimmed and cut in half
Three 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh ginger

For the wine sauce
3 tablespoons Shao-Hsing wine or dry sherry
3 tablespoons steamed chicken liquid
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch freshly ground white pepper

  1. Clean the chicken and remove the fat and membranes. Wash under cold running water, rinse, and drain. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup salt, rub the outside well, rinse, drain, and dry well with paper towels.
  2. Place the chicken in a steam-proof dish, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and the sugar inside the cavity and out. Place 1 scallion and 1 slice of ginger in the cavity, the others along its sides. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a wok. Place the dish containing the chicken on a rack over the boiling water, cover, and steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Have boiling water at hand to replenish any water that evaporates.
  3. Turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the steamer, and reserve. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients.
  4. When the chicken is cool to the touch, cut into bite-sized pieces and place in a deep serving dish. Pour the sauce over the chicken, place in the refrigerator, and marinate for at least 4 hours, to become "drunk."
    Serve as either a small dish appetizer or a first course.

Steamed Sea Bass
Ching Jing Seh Bon

Makes 8 servings

This epitomizes the essence of Cantonese cooking, simplicity, freshness, and honesty of flavor. Steaming a fish, any fish, whether it be a bass, garoupa, wrasse, or snapper, is the favored method of preparation in Canton. A steamed fish is a particularly important component in a family dinner or an elaborate banquet, where usually it is the final course that graces the meal. And precision is demanded in steaming. I can recall an evening in a restaurant when my cousin sent a fish to the kitchen, refusing it because he simply knew that it had been steamed 30 seconds too long.

For the marinade
2 teaspoons Chinese white rice vinegar or distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese white rice wine or 1 1/2 tablespoons gin
2 tablespoons julienned fresh ginger

One 2 1/2-pound sea bass, striped bass, flounder, or red snapper, cleaned thoroughly, intestines and extra fat removed, washed inside and out, and dried well.
2 quarts boiling water
2 tablespoons White Peppercorn Oil or peanut oil
3 scallions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro), finely sliced

  1. In a bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Coat the fish inside and out with the marinade. Place in a steam-proof dish and marinate, refrigerated, for 15 minutes.
  2. Place the boiling water in a wok and place a rack over but not touching the water. Place the fish in the dish on the rack, cover the wok, and steam for 25 to 30 minutes (see steaming, page 64) or until a chopstick can be inserted easily into the flesh. (If flounder is used, the steaming time will be about 15 minutes.) If the fish is too large, it may be cut in half, though it is preferable aesthetically to keep it whole.
  3. Turn off the heat, remove the fish in the dish from the wok, pour white peppercorn oil over it, sprinkle scallions and coriander on it, and serve.

Pickled Jicama
Wor Mei Sah Gut

This crisp tuber is known as sah gut in China and is as popular there as it is, under its Spanish name, in the American Southwest. In China, it is eaten in many ways: in soups, in stir-fried dishes, in salads, and as a pickle. Its texture makes it a perfect pickled vegetable.

1 whole jicama, 1 1/2 pounds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons Chinese white rice
vinegar or distilled vinegar
5 tablespoons sugar

Peel, wash, and dry the jicama. Cut into 1/2 inch dice. Place in a bowl with all the other ingredients and mix well. Place the bowl in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 3 days. It will keep, refrigerated, for 2 to 3 weeks. Serve as a condiment or a snack.