Chinese New Year with Grace Young (podcast)

Jan 20th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Articles, podcast, the show
Grilled Fish

Grilled Fish

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.”

The New Year is upon us — again. Take advantage of it and start fresh. It’ll give you something to crow about.


Image by Exodus, and courtesy of

*This show has been reworked from the archives.

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  1. Loved the Chinese New Year show with Grace Young! My Cinese zodiac sign is Monkey! My resolution in the new year would be to learn how to make the Dry Fried Pepper & Salt Shrimp well enough to invite company to enjoy it with me.
    Wonderful website, btw. Glad to become aquatinted with Field & Feast.

  2. I’m the year of the Pig. I’m also a huge fan of Grace Young and love all her books. My New Years resolution is make more Chinese food at home.

  3. I’m year of the dragon. Grace’s recipes always work, even for a beginning stir fryer like me.

  4. I am a dragon by zodiac. I resolve to drink and try more Chinese teas in the New Year.

  5. My sign is the pig and I would like to try to find more ways to incorporate tofu into my menus. I have a few recipes but would like to find some additional ones that give results similar to those one often finds in restaurants.

  6. My Chinese sign is the snake. My resolution is to eat better, both in terms of health and taste.

  7. I am the sign of the snake! This is my year, and, at 72 is my sixth “year of the snake,” an animal I love. My resolution is to eat more vegetables, especailly stir-fried as Grace so gracefully tells how to do, and many fewer donuts!
    To the sky’s edge — and beyond —
    I pledge to get out my wok,
    Walk around and find vegetables,
    Stir fry them and become even more fond
    Of vegetables, around the clock.

  8. My sign is the Dragon. This actually surprises me because I am fairly peaceful. But dragons can be ferocious. So this year, I will resolve to be more fierce. I am going to be fierce in my convictions and stand up for a few beliefs I have.

  9. My Chinese Zodiac Sign is Dragon! My (double barreled) Chinese New Years Resolution is to speak more Chinese (to practice) and to add more of Grace’s recipes to my stir-fry repertoire!

  10. Zodiac is the Rooster and my Chinese New Year’s resolution is learn how to make a decent version of Dandan noodles at home!

  11. Thank you to everyone who entered to win one of two copies of Grace Young’s terrific cook, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. We have our winners. Congratulations to Michelle and Paul.

    How the winners were selected:

    I created a list of the names of those of you who left comments per the posted rules; your names appeared in the list in the order in which you all left a comment. I put the list into the list randomizer at Before randomizing the list, I decided that the names the site assigned to place #4 and place #9 would be our winners, as those numbers are lucky numbers in the year of the snake.

    When I hit “randomize” the site placed Michelle & Paul in those slots.

    Thank you all for sharing your Chinese zodiac sign and your resolution. I wish I had books for everyone. I will have more giveaways with future guests down the road and hope you will check back to listen and play. Until then, Happy New Year!

    Cecilia Nasti
    Producer and Host, Field & Feast