The Lunar New Year celebration marks the first day of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The heady celebrations are often based around the table, and the food served is ripe with symbolic meaning designed to bring good fortune and prosperity to all.
Steamed whole fish, soy, ginger and spring onion
Steaming a whole fish is one of the best ways to ensure it will be flavourful and succulent. You'll need a large steamer for this recipe. If chrysanthemum is unavailable, leave it out.
1 whole snapper about 1.2kg
80g young fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
½ bunch spring onion, finely sliced, green section only
120ml grapeseed oil
50ml light soy
50ml sweet ginger vinegar*
1 tbsp lemon juice
sea salt and white pepper
½ bunch coriander, leaves picked and washed
½ bunch chrysanthemum, leaves picked and washed
1. Clean the snapper of any stray scales and pat dry inside and out with paper towel. Using a sharp knife, score the flesh on both sides of the fish, gently making incisions about one-centimetre deep across the fish. Season both sides with a little salt. Arrange the prepared fish on a piece of lightly oiled baking paper and place in your steamer basket. Top the fish with the ginger and spring onion.
2. Meanwhile, put two centimetres of water in a large saucepan and bring it to a boil. When ready, place the steamer over the water, top with the lid and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork in the thickest part. I start checking this from time to time around the 10-minute mark.
3. Meanwhile make the dressing by mixing together the oil, soy, sweet ginger vinegar and lemon juice. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
4. When the fish is ready, remove from the steamer and carefully transfer the whole fish onto a large serving platter. Season the fish with a little salt and douse quite liberally with the dressing. Scatter the coriander and chrysanthemum leaves over the fish before serving.
*Sweet ginger vinegar is available at Asian and speciality grocers.
The noodles, using traditionally long strands, represent longevity. Photo: William Meppem
Chilled noodles with sesame dressing
There are countless recipes for noodle dishes to serve for the Lunar New Year celebration but the one constant is that the noodles (often handmade) are extra long to symbolise longevity. I like this recipe because it's made with chilled noodles, which work so well in the Australian summer. Use noodles you like to eat. I favour fresh udon noodles for their chewy texture.
400g fresh noodles (egg, rice, soba or udon)
150ml sesame dressing (see recipe)
small handful green mizuna leaves
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms
2tsp mustard dressing (see recipe)
puffed wild rice (see recipe)
small handful fresh bean shoots, blanched
1. To prepare the noodles, start by bringing a large pot of water to the boil. Plunge the bean shoots into the water and blanch for five seconds. Using a small sieve, scoop the shoots from the boiling water and plunge quickly into a large bowl of iced water. Using the same boiling water, cook the noodles according to the manufacturer's directions. When ready, strain and cool the noodles in the bowl of iced water.
2. When cool, remove the noodles from cold water immediately and toss in a few drops of grapeseed oil to stop the noodles from sticking together. Place the noodles in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
3. Meanwhile, remove the stalks from the shiitakes and saute with a little grapeseed oil in a pan. When cooked, remove pan from the heat and season with a little salt and pepper. When cool, slice shiitakes into thin slices and set aside.
4. When you are ready to serve, toss the noodles and bean shoots in the sesame dressing. Taste the noodles and add a little salt if needed. Arrange the noodles in four bowls. Dress the mizuna in the mustard dressing and arrange around the noodles. Top each bowl of noodles with a little stack of mushrooms and a sprinkling of puffed wild rice.
Any leftover dressing can be stored in the fridge for a few days for later use. It's great drizzled over steamed vegetables.
1 dried shiitake mushroom
50ml rice vinegar
100g toasted sesame seeds
125ml Kewpie mayo
40ml light soy
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
125ml dashi stock or chicken stock
1. Remove the stem from the shiitake, and rehydrate the cap in 60 millilitres of boiling water in a small bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to cool.
2. When cool, place all the ingredients, including the shiitake and soaking water, into an upright blender and puree until smooth. Place the dressing in the fridge. When ready to serve, the dressing should have the consistency of runny cream. If it seems a bit thick, add a little hot water to thin it out.
15ml mustard oil
30ml rice wine vinegar
20ml sesame oil
15ml gluten-free soy
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients together in a bowl with a whisk and set aside.
Puffed wild rice
1 cup grape seed oil
2 tbsp wild rice
In a heavy-based saucepan, bring the oil to 190C. As this warms, line a dinner plate or tray with a sheet of paper towel. You will also need a fine wire sieve at the ready for the next step. When the oil has come to temperature, add the wild rice and cook for a few seconds. The rice should puff very quickly. Skim the rice out of the oil as soon as it appears to have puffed up. Transfer to the paper towel to drain and season with a pinch of salt.