The Chinese New Year 4712 begins on 31st January 2014. Solange was lucky enough to have a reunion dinner to find out more about the coming year and share a Sichuan banquet. She also shares a delicious recipe for jumbo grilled prawns on a hot pot.
In the Chinese Zodiac, or Shengxiao, 2014 is The Year of the Horse.
According to legend, Buddha in his wisdom invited all the animals roaming the earth to meet him on Chinese New-Year. Only 12 turned up so he had no alternative but to slice time into a dozen, each period symbolizing a lunar year named after an animal.
He then declared that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. Those born in Horse years are cheerful, money wise, kind to others and stubborn, the latter being a donkey's trait, but it naturally donkey didn't bother to turn up.
Something that Chinese folks wouldn't dream of doing on New Year’s Eve. A time when China buzzes with family members returning home to celebrate. Starting with the whole important reunion dinner on New Year's Eve known as Wei Lei.
I was thrilled to be invited to a preview of celebrations to come by the Chinese Cricket Club
restaurant in Blackfriars (London) and share a Sichuan banquet. Being ever so slightly familiar with Chinese food and only Cantonese for that matter, it was exciting to explore new culinary territories.
So what do Chinese feast on, in the south-west province? As across the land, on New Year's Eve families will start with "the tray of togetherness". As people are fond of symbolism, each dish will be full of meanings as it soon appeared during our own Wei Lu.
A whole fish symbolises surplus, a whole chicken prosperity, pork is lucky, dried apricots look like gold in shape and colour. Such a meal will be well rounded, each course including seven primary tastes: sweet and sour, salty, bitter, umami (meaty), pungent and astringent.
Our sumptuous reunion dinner starters comprises Prawn Har Gao, Steamed Pork Bun and Vegetable Spring Rolls. Har Gao is translucent dim sum, a delicacy pleated preferably with 7 or more folds. Sweet to look at, deliciously fondant, Har Gao should be generous enough not to be eaten in one go. A trick, I had the greatest difficulties to master.
That was not a problem with Cha Siu Bao, classic steam yeast bun filled with barbecued pork. A large spongy dumpling, a sweetish dough which deflates as you put it in your mouth. I hear that there is a vegetarian version somewhere in the world. Well, I am not yet ready to pack my bag to search for it. Syrupy and sweet meat dumplings are an acquired taste.
An acquired taste is something you will not need when it comes to delicately seasoned dishes so representative of Chinese food. Food which let the ingredients do the talking and where in my opinion Chinese cuisine is at its best. Among our main courses there was a Steamed Sea Bass with Ginger and Spring Onion in Light Soy.
The whole fish (yú), symbol of abundance therefore 'having leftovers of money', should not be eaten entirely and if this is to be taken seriously, 2014 will not be a wealthy year for us as we made sure that every single flake disappeared while wishing, "May there be fish such a this, every year."
Kung Hei Fat Choy! May the Year of the Horse be filled with perfect recipes such as
Grilled Jumbo Prawns on a Hot Pot
125g Jumbo prawns
Green and red pepper
Separate the prawn meat from the shell (save the head for garnish if desired)
Make a small incision down the back of the prawn and remove the feed tube.
Chop and snip your base ingredient to desired size.
Preheat a griddle pan or use a wok
Use a moderately high temperature and start with a generous drizzle of sesame oil.
Add all of the base ingredients and toss until oil is seasoned and base ingredients take on colour and sheen.
Add the prawn meat (and heads if desired to garnish) until half of the liquid has evaporated. Strain the liquid off. Continue to sear the prawns, adding in a little more sesame oil if needed.
Season with added Szechuan pepper to your taste.
For the hotpot:
Add a little extra water to the liquid in the hot pot and create your desired amount of broth.
Bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
Transfer prawns in hot pot add in the remaining ingredients, cooking until vegetables are ready.
Serve whilst sizzling hot!
Inspired? For more delicious Chinese New Year recipes visit Great British Chefs collection