New Beginnings Part II: A Chinese New Year Dish Called Yu Sheng (鱼生)

yu sheng ingredients 2
Clockwise from top left: carrots, cucumber, wonton chips, pomelo, daikon, and tea-cured salmon in the middle

As I mentioned in New Beginnings Part I, I’m investing all my New Year mojo in yu sheng (Mandarin for “raw fish”), only my version uses tea-cured salmon which is technically still raw.

Also called yee sang (in Cantonese), this “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish’s make-up varies from place to place and comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced raw fish (salmon, ikan parang [mackerel], or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.

yu sheng ingredients
I hand cut all my vegetables so they look a little rustic. If you have a mandoline or box shredder, you'll have thinner, cleaner strips.

Like many dishes served during the New Year, yu sheng is popular because of its name (a homonym for the words for prosperity and longevity) and the “lucky” ingredients that go into it. The ingredients are served neatly laid out on a platter and then pandemonium breaks out as diners start tossing with their chopsticks, and crying out auspicious sayings. Supposedly, the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll have for the new year. For more info on the dish read Robyn Eckhardt (of Eating Asia)’s article.

While yu sheng is traditionally eaten on the 7th day of the Chinese New Year (the celebration lasts 15 days, the length of a moon cycle), restaurants tend to have it on their menus starting a week before the New Year, up till several weeks after.

I guess it’s never too late to seek good luck!

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! GONG XI FA CAI! 恭喜发财!

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Lucky (Cured) Fish Salad (Yu Sheng 鱼生)

yu sheng 2

When my parents first moved to the U.S., my mom decided to make her own version of yu sheng. While most of the ingredients are familiar, she did make some deviations. Instead of the traditional ikan parang (mackerel), she used fresh salmon. She pickled carrots and daikon to make them sweet, sour and importantly, crunchy, and skipped the pickled ginger altogether. Plus, she added what might make yu sheng purists cringe, iceberg lettuce, to bulk up the salad. This is my riff on her version using tea-cured salmon which is a nice counter to the sweet and sour flavors that may otherwise overpower this dish, and without the iceberg lettuce.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 large appetizer servings

3 1/2 oz/100 g Tea Cured Salmon (1/2 cup)
3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cup)
1/2 small daikon radish (1/4 pound), peeled and shredded (1 cup)
1 large cucumber, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup /2 oz pickled ginger (the sushi kind), shredded
1/2 cup pomelo sacs (from about 5 wedges)

Dressing:
3 tablespoons plum sauce or duck sauce (Sun Luck and Dynasty are 2 brands you can find at regular supermarkets)
2 teaspoons lime juice (1/2 large lime)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt to taste

Garnish:
1 cup Wonton Chips (see below)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

In separate bowls, soak the carrots and daikon in cold water for 30 minutes. Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain over the sink for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible from the carrots and daikon. Rinse the cucumber first and do the same. Set the vegetables aside.

To make the dressing, mix the plum sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of hot water (or more) and mix until you like the consistency. Add salt to taste.

To serve, pile each vegetable and the wonton chips around a round platter (roundness symbolises fullness) with the fish in the middle. Scatter the sesame seeds, peanuts, and 5-spice powder on top. Pour the dressing over the salad.

Stand up and Lo Hei (Cantonese for tossing luck)! Toss the ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes.

For a complete list of all the auspicious sayings associated with each step and each ingredient, go here.

Wonton Chips

To make the wonton chips, I cut wonton skins into 12 (about 1-by-½-nch) rectangles and deep fried them until golden. Once the oil is ready, the chips take seconds to cook so don’t dilly-dally, they burn quickly. One cup is equivalent to about 48 chips or 4 wonton skins.

Before:After

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Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy:

Chinese New Year Cake
Pumpkin Cake
Cantonese Cake
Longlife Noodles
Teochew Duck

New Beginnings Part I: A New Blog and Tea-Cured Salmon

Picture of a dragon
Enter the dragon (Image via Wikipedia)

Chinese New Year is a celebration of new beginnings and many Chinese take the saying “out with the old, in with the new” very seriously.

This year, the Year of the Dragon, is drumming up a little more hoo-ha–and will welcome quite a few more babies–than usual. In ancient China, the dragon was a symbol of the emperor’s authority and power, and is still considered the most auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac. And its arrival on January 23rd is predicted to bring not only great success, but also unpredictability and drama.

If I was superstitious and followed Chinese custom accordingly, by New Year’s Eve I will have, among other things, done the following:

• Spring-cleaned my home from top to bottom to remove any traces of bad luck from the previous year (BTW, you’re not supposed to sweep during the New Year celebrations lest your good luck gets swept away!),
• Paid all my debts (still trying!),
• Resolved differences with family members, friends, neighbors and business associates (really, do I have to?),
• Bought new outfits in flashy shades of red or orange for my entire family (tempting but my husband would protest).

As you can see, I’m not very diligent about chalking up points for luck and prosperity.

Even though it appears I’m not going to rid myself of previously accumulated bad karma or even revamp my wardrobe, I have decided that it’s time to take a long hard look at my blog. Since my cookbook came out, I’ve felt that this blog in its current format doesn’t accurately reflect me or what I write about. Hence, I am planning to refocus and I’d like your input!

Some questions I’m pondering:

-What do you like/don’t like about my blog?
-What features or elements would you like me to add?
-Would you like to see more Cambodian recipes perhaps, or a glossary?
-Do you prefer traditional recipes or modern adaptations?
-Do you like the ingredient spotlight and homemade recipe departments? What other ongoing departments are you interested in?

But really, any and all suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated. Please do tell all in the comments section!

That being said, I am not totally averse to having some good fortune in the coming year so I will be making yu sheng (raw fish in Mandarin), a dish popular in Singapore and Malaysia, for our mini New Year dinner.

This “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants and its make-up varies from place to place, but comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced fish (salmon, ikan parang (mackerel), or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.

curing mix
Salt, brown sugar, and tea leaves form the basis of my curing mix. You can also add a little sake or Chinese wine to turn it into a paste

When my parents first moved to the U.S., my mom decided to make her own version of yu sheng. While most of the ingredients are familiar, she did deviate a little. Instead of the traditional ikan parang [mackerel], she used fresh salmon. She pickled carrots and daikon to make them sweet, sour and importantly, crunchy, and skipped the pickled ginger altogether. Plus, she added what might make yu sheng purists cringe, iceberg lettuce, to bulk up the salad.

I came up with my own riff on yu sheng by making my own tea-cured salmon which is a nice counter to the sweet and sour flavors that may otherwise overpower this dish, and without the iceberg lettuce.

The tea-cured salmon method is below and the full yu sheng recipe is coming up in New Beginnings II.

In the meantime, I’d love your feedback for my new blog!

~~~

Tea-Cured Salmon

IMG_2002

I tweaked this recipe from Chef Arpad Lengyel of Washington D.C.’s Teaism restaurant. I used a heady Ceylon tea my friend had brought back from Sri Lanka and the salmon absorbed the tea’s lovely earthy, smoky flavor. So while you can choose any tea you’d like, do think about how its fragrance and flavor will infuse the salmon. The Ceylon tea I used was almost like a fine dust, but in hindsight a whole leaf tea would’ve been much easier to wash off.

Time: 10 minutes, plus curing time

1 pound fresh skin-on wild salmon fillet, scaled, pin bones removed
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup loose leaf Ceylon tea (use whichever tea you prefer: oolong, sencha, jasmine, etc.)

Mix the salt, sugar, and tea in a small bowl.

Find a non-reactive casserole dish or baking pan that will fit the entire length of fish and line it with plastic wrap, leaving several inches hanging off the sides. Lay half the curing mix on the plastic. Pat the salmon dry and lay it skin-side down on the curing mix. Sprinkle the remaining curing mix over the salmon, coating it evenly. Don’t forget the sides. (It looks like a lot of curing but after scouring numerous recipes, it seems necessary!)

Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the salmon and wrap it tightly, kinda like a present. Weigh the salmon down with something heavy – try a plate, brick, or some canned foods. Refrigerate the salmon for 3 days, draining the liquid that comes out and flipping it once every day (although I was not very diligent). If you can’t wait 3 days, some sources say a minimum of 24 hours would suffice.

IMG_1991

When the salmon is ready, scrape off the curing mix and rinse it thoroughly with cold water. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and place it skin side-down on a cutting board. With your longest, thinnest, sharpest knife, slice the salmon diagonally off the skin. The sliced salmon will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

If the salmon is too salty for your taste, rinse it as many times as necessary.

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Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy:

Chinese New Year Cake
Pumpkin Cake
Cantonese Cake
Longlife Noodles
Teochew Duck