Feast days: Mark Hix celebrates Chinese New Year in style

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Unlike traditional British end-of-year celebrations, where the food plays second fiddle to a festive booze-up, the Chinese celebrate in a different fashion. In communities all round the world the Chinese mark their new year with two weeks of celebrations, in which everybody visits family and friends and they share meals together. Most celebrate with a big banquet that consists of 10-15 courses and delicacies that you wouldn't find in your average Chinese restaurant.

As each course is served, the host respectfully offers the choice pieces to the honoured guest or the eldest, and the fish course is traditionally served last so that some will remain on the table to see the new year in. This year, the Year of the Ox or Buffalo (a sign that symbolises prosperity through hard work), begins on Monday. You can join in the celebrations by having a dim-sum lunch in your nearest Chinatown, or cook up a feast for your friends with the recipes below; visit your local Chinese foodstore or supermarket to buy the ingredients.

Steamed scallops with black bean sauce

Serves 6

Try to buy large, freshly shucked scallops and ask your fishmonger to keep them attached to the cupped half shell. You will have to order these in advance.

6 large scallops, cleaned, in the cupped half shell
2tbsp salted, fermented black beans, rinsed in warm water and drained
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3tsp finely grated root ginger
2tsp sugar
2tsp light soy sauce
2tbsp oyster sauce
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
3 spring onions, shredded on the angle

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Mix the black beans, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy and oyster sauce in a bowl. Heat a wok and stir-fry the black bean mixture with the spring onions on a high heat for a minute or so, then spoon evenly over the scallops. Place the scallops on a tray, cover with foil and cook in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until the scallops are just cooked. Don't overcook them or they will be rubbery. Serve immediately.

Chicken and papaya soup

Serves 6

I came across this in Fuchsia Dunlop's book Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (Ebury, £16.99), and thought it would work well at a Chinese New Year dinner. Fuchsia recommends a boiling fowl, which can be tricky to get hold of; I find that free-range chicken legs will do the trick.

1 free-range boiling fowl or 6 free-range chicken legs
20g piece of fresh root ginger, unpeeled
2tsp Shaoxing wine
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 spring onions
2 ripe papayas

Place the chicken in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, discard the water and rinse the chicken.

Slightly crush the ginger with the side of a cleaver or a meat bat or heavy chopping knife. Place the chicken in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, skim, season, add the ginger and wine and simmer gently for about an hour and a half until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken and strain the stock through a fine meshed sieve into another saucepan. Skim off any fat. The stock should be fairly strong; if not, continue simmering until it has a good flavour.

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and break into fairly large bite-sized chunks and return to the soup with the spring onions. Peel the papaya, halve it and remove the seeds (see dumpling recipe below for using the skins and seeds). Cut into rough 2cm chunks and add to the soup. Season if necessary.

Shanghai-style five willow fish

Serves 6

This is traditionally made with freshwater fish, such as carp, and the "five willow" refers to the five shredded vegetables that would remove the muddy taste from the freshwater fish. A whole 2-2.5kg fish or 2 x 1.5kg fish should be plenty for six people. You can use anything from sea bass, sea bream, snapper, etc, or if your fishmonger sells carp, then give it a try.

1 large 2-2.5kg fish or 2 x 1.5kg ones, scaled and gutted
6-8 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight if dried)
1tsp salt
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
50g root ginger, scraped and shredded
4 spring onions, trimmed and shredded on the angle
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded into matchstick-sized pieces
1 stick of celery, peeled if necessary and shredded into matchstick-sized pieces
1 small green pepper, shredded
2 red chillies, seeded and finely shredded
2tbsp light soy sauce
3tbsp sugar
3tbsp Chinese black rice vinegar
150ml fish stock
1tbsp cornflour
2tsp roasted sesame oil

Score the fish 5 or 6 times diagonally then rub the salt into the fish. Heat about 4-5cm of the vegetable oil in a wok or deep fat fryer to 160-180C. Holding the fish by its tail, gently lower it into the oil and cook the fish for about 3-4 minutes on each side until the fish is just cooked and crisp. Remove from the oil and drain on some kitchen paper. Place on a serving dish and keep warm in a low oven.

Pour away most of the oil from the wok, leaving a couple of tablespoons. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and slice them thinly. Stir fry the mushrooms, ginger, spring onion, carrot, green pepper, celery and chilli for a couple of minutes. Add the soy, sugar, rice vinegar and stock, and bring to the boil. Mix enough water with the cornflour to make a thin paste then stir into the sauce and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the sesame oil, then spoon the mixture over the fish and serve.

Double-cooked yardlong beans

Serves 6

I always order this in my local Sichuan restaurant in Bethnal Green Road in east London, Gourmet San. It's a great accompaniment to meat or fish. The yardlong bean is also known as the long-podded cowpea, asparagus bean, snake bean, or Chinese long bean – but if you can't find yardlong beans then just use green beans. You can buy the preserved mustard cabbage in vacuum packs in Chinese supermarkets.

1kg yardlong beans or French beans, trimmed
150g minced pork belly
2tbsp light soy sauce
1tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or sherry
tbsp roasted sesame oil
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
5tbsp finely chopped preserved mustard cabbage
3 spring onions, shredded on the angle
6-8 dried red chillies
1tsp caster sugar

Cut the beans on the slant into rough 5cm pieces. Put the minced pork into a bowl and mix with 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the rice wine and the same of sesame oil and mix well.

Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan, electric deep-fat fryer or a heavy wok. Cook the beans in 3 or 4 batches for 3-4 minutes until they are tender and just beginning to colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Transfer a couple of tablespoons of the oil to a wok or large frying pan and cook the minced pork and the chillies on a high heat, stirring every so often to separate the pieces of meat. Add the preserved mustard cabbage and spring onions and stir over a high heat for about 15-20 seconds. Add the beans with the remaining soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and a tablespoon of water and stir well. Serve immediately.

New Year sweet dumplings

Makes 24

These glutinous dumplings are traditionally made for Chinese New Year and can be served in a sweet fragrant soup. I've used the skins from the papaya here from the soup to make a kind of Asian stock syrup.

For the dumplings

60g black bean paste, sesame paste or smooth peanut butter
3tbsp caster sugar
250g glutinous rice flour, plus extra for dusting
90g rock sugar or granulated sugar

For the sweet soup

The skins from the papaya
1 star anise
A small piece of root ginger (about 30g), scraped and roughly chopped
The cooking liquid from the dumplings

Mix the sesame paste with the caster sugar. Sift the rice flour into a bowl and mix with approximately 200ml boiling water, then knead carefully to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Dust your hands with some rice flour and roll the dough into cherry-sized pieces and place on a lightly floured surface with some rice flour. Form each ball of dough into a flat round, then fill each one with a little of the sesame paste and gather the dough back up into a round shape again with no visible joins.

Bring 1 litre of water to the boil with the rock sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the dumplings in small batches and simmer for 5 minutes, or until they rise to the surface, then remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.

Add the papaya skins, star anise and ginger to the syrup and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Reheat the dumplings in the syrup for a couple of minutes, then serve in warmed soup bowls with a little of the syrup.

Suggested Topics
News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor