Friday, February 22, 2013

Chinese Year Cake - Shanghai Rice Ovalettes

I am way overdue in posting my Chinese New Year's recipes as I have been traveling and teaching my new Certificate Program, which hasn't allowed for much cooking. But, I did cook a lot for Chinese New Year and many of these dishes I actually cook all year long. So, here is one of the dishes that is classic for my family to serve on New Year's Day and we also enjoy it many times the rest of the time and we make it with different kinds of meats and green vegetables. Chinese Year Cake is made with special rice noodles cut in the shape of ovals that is very popular in Shanghai, where my Chinese family is from and it is the same noodle base as in log shapes used in Korean soup or the long noodles used in Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese food. And, they are found in most Asian markets.

These noodles are considered good luck as sticky rice is one of the lucky foods that you are supposed to eat and so is chicken. Many people soak these Rice Ovalettes in water to plump them up and then stir fry them with meat and vegetables. This step is essential when these kind of noodles are found dried, like in Europe.  But here in the US, you can find them fresh and frozen. When fresh, they come in a vacuum sealed bag and keep in the refrigerator for a really long time and if you only use part of a bag, you can freeze the rest. When these noodles are soaked and then cooked in oil, they require a lot of oil or they will stick to the wok and I don't like that much oil in my food. So, I stir fry the meat and vegetables and then add the noodles with some diluted chicken broth and Oyster Sauce and cook until the noodles are soft. Chinese Year Cake is delightfully chewy and oddly comforting. I always think of this dish as a kind of Chinese Chicken and Dumplings and is a favorite of my soon to be daughter-in-law so she's learning how to make it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Chinese Year Cake - Shanghai Rice Ovalettes

1 pound boneless chicken breast or boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat, cut into bite size pieces

1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Shaoshing Rice Wine
6 green onions, cut into small pieces (white and green parts separated)
1/2 Napa Cabbage or 6 Baby Bok Choy
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 package (2 lb - 4 cups) Rice Ovalettes in a vacuum sealed package
1 cup diluted chicken broth (1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup water)
2 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce

In a small bowl, marinate the chicken with the Soy Sauce and Shaoshing Rice Wine. In a large frying pan with high sides or a wok, heat the 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil until hot. Add the white part of the green onions along with the Napa Cabbage or Baby Bok Choy. Stir fry until the vegetables wilt. Add in the meat and stir fry until it just turns opaque. Then add in the Rice Ovalettes, the chicken broth and the oyster sauce and boil for 5 - 8 minutes or until Rice Ovalettes are chewy and broth is mostly absorbed - there should still be a good amount of sauce left for serving. Sprinkle the mixture with green onion tops, toss and serve in a large bowl.

Five Element Analysis

Rice belongs to the Metal Element and is enhanced even more by the green onions, whereas the Soy Sauce and Oyster Sauce add in the Water Element.  The chicken and chicken broth contribute the Wood Element and the Napa Cabbage brings in the Earth Element. Only the Rice Wine adds a bit of the Fire Element so be sure to serve this dish with something else that is fiery or pass some chili sauce on the side or serve with tea to create a balanced meal.  

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