Chinese New Year with Grace Young (podcast)Jan 20th, 2017 | By Cecilia | Category: Featured Articles, podcast, the show
Most cultures celebrate holidays with food. That’s especially true during Chinese New Year, where the food one eats — primarily on New Year’s Eve — is steeped in symbolism. Grace Young says it is the most important meal of the year and that everyone does whatever they can to “get home” for the celebration.
Young is an award-winning author and contributing editor for Saveur magazine. The Chinese, she told me over the phone, “believe the food one eats during the New Year’s Eve meal can have a favorable influence on health and good fortune.” Take fish, for example, the name for fish in Cantonese sounds like wish, abundance, or surplus. Therefore a whole fish is always on the menu during the New Year’s Eve meal. “It’s important to save some of the fish for the next day,” she told me, “so that the abundance crosses over into the New Year.”
Shrimp are often on the table on New Year’s Eve because the name for shrimp in Cantonese is Ha, and that sounds like laughter, and may foretell happiness.
Chinese New Year begins Saturday, January 28, 2017; it’s the year of the fire rooster. So if the January first resolutions didn’t take hold, Young says, “You get another chance.”
Perhaps one of the resolutions from January that hasn’t gotten any traction yet is learning a new cooking technique. Consider stir frying. In her most recent book Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, Grace Young demystifies this ancient cooking technique, which, she says hasn’t been done very well in this country.
“When I see recipes for stir-fry in the paper or magazines, I’m mortified,” she said with great urgency. “What you soon realize is that most people don’t end up with a good stir-fry, they end up with a soggy braise.” So, Young set out to find best way for people to replicate what a stir-fry should taste like. “When you use seasonal ingredients and cook the food quickly on high heat, the result is an intensely flavored, seared aroma that’s not like anything else you’ve ever tasted in your life. It’s incredible.”
Of course using the right pan is important, and for Grace Young that means a well-seasoned 14-inch, flat bottomed, carbon steel wok. In Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, Grace uncovers how this method is a kind of Culinary Chameleon thanks to Chinese who brought the woks and the technique with them when they moved to other countries. She recounts a visit to Trinidad, where she learned a “wonderful shrimp dish” from a Chinese cook who, unable to find rice wine for the dish, substituted dark rum, instead. “The flavor was incredible,” Young gushed. “It was just more flavorful and intense.”
Image by Exodus, and courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net
*This show has been reworked from the archives.