Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Year Of The Rabbit: 2011 Chinese New Years

We just shared Chinese New Year’s holiday together. Did I tell you that I LOVE this holiday?

Amazing to me that I got two revelations this year – the way Chinese prepare fish and a little red envelope… stuffed full of cash.

An ancient custom which has a primary role in Chinese New Year is Hong Bao. This involves gifting small red envelopes filled with "lucky money". These envelopes are given to children and unmarried adults (that would be me) by the married couples. The red color is considered to bring good fortune, and the money inside the envelope is used to buy holiday treats. I haven’t spent mine yet but I’m on the hunt.

                    Photo: TJ Weber

The fish was the best I’ve had in a long time. It was fried and then dipped in a spicy thai pepper sauce that was so delicious that I wanted to go back to Joy Yee’s at 521 Davis Street, Evanston the next day to savor the taste again. Truth of the matter is, I could eat that sauce on just about anything.

             Photo: TJ Weber

Get a rack to stand the fish upright so everyone can pick at them and dip in the pepper sauce. Now I know why the Chinese are so close - sharing a meal this way really makes you feel like instant family.

This is the first fried fish recipe I tried and it was pretty good. I am determined to perfect this recipe because I know it will be a keeper.

Chinese Red Snapper With Thai Chili Sauce

1 tablespoon tamarind

2 tablespoons sugar

1 shallot

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 Red Snapper fish

1-2 chili peppers

3 sprigs cilantro


One pound of fish = 2 people.

Make sure you have your market clean and gut the fish.

The Fish: Score the fish at an angle all the way to the bones on both sides to help it cook faster and crispier.

Add oil to the pan. Fry the fisg on low heat, It should take 10 minutes on the first side. Don’t try to loosen the fish from the pan until it’s done otherwise you will have a mess.

When the first side is cooked, flip and fry the other dise. It should take about 5 minutes. Remove and place on a plate. You can increase the crispiness by putting it in a 350 oven until the sauce is ready.

The Sauce: Peel garlic and shallot. Remove seeds and stem from the chili peppers. Use orange habaneros and santa fe yellow peppers. Use one or two at the most. Chop garlic, shallot and pepper. Add a teaspoon of oil to the pan over medium heat. Add the chopped mixture and stir to release the fragrance. Add tamarind, fish sauce, sugar and a few teaspoons of water. Mix and let boil. Thin with water if needed. The sauce should be sweet, spicy and sour. Taste and adjust. Pour sauce over fish and garnish with cilantro.

Serve with steamed rice.
One of my favorite Chinese recipes is black pepper chicken. These were another first for me and they came out terrific. I especially love the additive oyster sauce – which by the way does not taste like oysters at all.

This is a recipe that I will play around with and possibly add a few more vegetables to make the texture more interesting.

Bon Appetit!

Black Pepper Chicken

1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced

1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 carrot – sliced thin

1 small onion - chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 cup oyster sauce

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1 tsp sugar

2-3 tbs peanut oil

Season the chicken with 1 tsp of soy sauce and allow it to marinate for a few minutes. Meanwhile combine the oyster sauce, 1 tsp soy sauce, black pepper, and sugar. Then set the sauce mixture aside. In a wok over a high flame add the oil. Then add the chicken and stir-fry until the chicken turns opaque. Then add the bell pepper, carrot, onion and garlic. Continue to stir-fry for a couple minutes. Then add the sauce. Cook for about 1 minute more. Serve with steamed rice.

Here is another Pepper Chicken recipe that is made the Vietnamese way and comes out a little caramelized.

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

2 fresh Thai chiles, halved, or dried red chiles

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 cilantro sprigs

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper and chiles.

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture and the chicken and simmer over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve.

The Chinese New Year’s holiday is significant because of all the myths and traditions and is celebrated to wish "happiness", "wealth", and "longevity" on everyone you know.This will always be a holiday I will celebrate. And here are some of my much loved highlights from Chicago’s Chinatown.

Bon Appetit!