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New Beginnings Part I: A New Blog and Tea-Cured Salmon

January 19, 2012
Picture of a dragon

Enter the dragon (Image via Wikipedia)

Chinese New Year is a celebration of new beginnings and many Chinese take the saying “out with the old, in with the new” very seriously.

This year, the Year of the Dragon, is drumming up a little more hoo-ha–and will welcome quite a few more babies–than usual. In ancient China, the dragon was a symbol of the emperor’s authority and power, and is still considered the most auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac. And its arrival on January 23rd is predicted to bring not only great success, but also unpredictability and drama.

If I was superstitious and followed Chinese custom accordingly, by New Year’s Eve I will have, among other things, done the following:

• Spring-cleaned my home from top to bottom to remove any traces of bad luck from the previous year (BTW, you’re not supposed to sweep during the New Year celebrations lest your good luck gets swept away!),
• Paid all my debts (still trying!),
• Resolved differences with family members, friends, neighbors and business associates (really, do I have to?),
• Bought new outfits in flashy shades of red or orange for my entire family (tempting but my husband would protest).

As you can see, I’m not very diligent about chalking up points for luck and prosperity.

Even though it appears I’m not going to rid myself of previously accumulated bad karma or even revamp my wardrobe, I have decided that it’s time to take a long hard look at my blog. Since my cookbook came out, I’ve felt that this blog in its current format doesn’t accurately reflect me or what I write about. Hence, I am planning to refocus and I’d like your input!

Some questions I’m pondering:

-What do you like/don’t like about my blog?
-What features or elements would you like me to add?
-Would you like to see more Cambodian recipes perhaps, or a glossary?
-Do you prefer traditional recipes or modern adaptations?
-Do you like the ingredient spotlight and homemade recipe departments? What other ongoing departments are you interested in?

But really, any and all suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated. Please do tell all in the comments section!

That being said, I am not totally averse to having some good fortune in the coming year so I will be making yu sheng (raw fish in Mandarin), a dish popular in Singapore and Malaysia, for our mini New Year dinner.

This “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants and its make-up varies from place to place, but comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced fish (salmon, ikan parang (mackerel), or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.

curing mix

Salt, brown sugar, and tea leaves form the basis of my curing mix. You can also add a little sake or Chinese wine to turn it into a paste

When my parents first moved to the U.S., my mom decided to make her own version of yu sheng. While most of the ingredients are familiar, she did deviate a little. Instead of the traditional ikan parang [mackerel], she used fresh salmon. She pickled carrots and daikon to make them sweet, sour and importantly, crunchy, and skipped the pickled ginger altogether. Plus, she added what might make yu sheng purists cringe, iceberg lettuce, to bulk up the salad.

I came up with my own riff on yu sheng by making my own tea-cured salmon which is a nice counter to the sweet and sour flavors that may otherwise overpower this dish, and without the iceberg lettuce.

The tea-cured salmon method is below and the full yu sheng recipe is coming up in New Beginnings II.

In the meantime, I’d love your feedback for my new blog!

~~~

Tea-Cured Salmon

IMG_2002

I tweaked this recipe from Chef Arpad Lengyel of Washington D.C.’s Teaism restaurant. I used a heady Ceylon tea my friend had brought back from Sri Lanka and the salmon absorbed the tea’s lovely earthy, smoky flavor. So while you can choose any tea you’d like, do think about how its fragrance and flavor will infuse the salmon. The Ceylon tea I used was almost like a fine dust, but in hindsight a whole leaf tea would’ve been much easier to wash off.

Time: 10 minutes, plus curing time

1 pound fresh skin-on wild salmon fillet, scaled, pin bones removed
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup loose leaf Ceylon tea (use whichever tea you prefer: oolong, sencha, jasmine, etc.)

Mix the salt, sugar, and tea in a small bowl.

Find a non-reactive casserole dish or baking pan that will fit the entire length of fish and line it with plastic wrap, leaving several inches hanging off the sides. Lay half the curing mix on the plastic. Pat the salmon dry and lay it skin-side down on the curing mix. Sprinkle the remaining curing mix over the salmon, coating it evenly. Don’t forget the sides. (It looks like a lot of curing but after scouring numerous recipes, it seems necessary!)

Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the salmon and wrap it tightly, kinda like a present. Weigh the salmon down with something heavy – try a plate, brick, or some canned foods. Refrigerate the salmon for 3 days, draining the liquid that comes out and flipping it once every day (although I was not very diligent). If you can’t wait 3 days, some sources say a minimum of 24 hours would suffice.

IMG_1991

When the salmon is ready, scrape off the curing mix and rinse it thoroughly with cold water. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and place it skin side-down on a cutting board. With your longest, thinnest, sharpest knife, slice the salmon diagonally off the skin. The sliced salmon will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

If the salmon is too salty for your taste, rinse it as many times as necessary.

~~~

Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy:

Chinese New Year Cake
Pumpkin Cake
Cantonese Cake
Longlife Noodles
Teochew Duck

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    January 23, 2012 12:38 pm

    Hi Pat, I hope your yu sheng brings you good fortune for the new year. The one feature I would really like to see is how to find, identify, use and, if necessary, substitute for unfamiliar Asian ingredients. We have a couple nice (I think) Asian supermarkets nearby but that sometimes just confuses things. For example, it seems every region has a different type/style of fish sauce and they don’t look interchangeable. Maybe that is what is intended for the ingredient spotlight so I’m hopeful. Thank you!

    • January 25, 2012 8:46 pm

      Thank you Steven. I wish you a happy and prosperous new year too! I have to admit that I go to the Asian market perhaps once or twice a month so I always substitute with ingredients from my local supermarket. And because I often have my toddler son with me when I go shopping, I prefer to make a one-stop shop as well so I’ll definitely be highlighting this. I’m hoping to have a glossary on my new blog with precisely all the info you requested, and for queries on-the-go, my app has over a hundred ingredients listed. Thanks for taking the time out to give me some suggestions. I really appreciate it!

  2. Lisa permalink
    January 20, 2012 11:11 am

    Pat – Good luck for the New Year! and the new blog! I think I would like your cloud tag and favorites higher up the side bar. I lke the mix of traditional and modern.

    • January 25, 2012 8:52 pm

      Hi Lisa, I believe that before you can improvise and add your own spin, you have to learn from the masters. In this case, I like to learn the traditional methods of cooking a cuisine or dish and then make it more contemporary. It’s fun to do both and I’m glad you like the mix! I’ll see about putting the cloud tag and favorites in a more prominent spot. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

  3. Julie permalink
    January 19, 2012 10:02 pm

    Good luck on the new blog! I love the photos you add in – keep those up for sure! I’d also be VERY interested in seeing some gluten free options, especially for some of the westernized dishes like chow mein. I’ve been itching to try your black bean sauce, but having troubles locating fermented soy beans, even at the local supermarket with a heavy asian influence. Perhaps it’s time for a trip to Chinatown!
    In any case, just keep posting delicious recipes and keeping us entertained with your stories!! Thanks & Happy New Year!

    • January 26, 2012 2:30 pm

      Hi Julie, A lot of Asian recipes are naturally gluten-free (be sure to use a wheat-free soy sauce!) but I’ll definitely be adding a specific category for it. Unfortunately, you can only get the fermented soy beans from a proper Asian store. You can also find it online here: http://www.amazon.com/Mee-Chun-Salted-Black-Beans/dp/B003UL4570/ref=pd_sim_sbs_gro_6 although it costs twice as much! Mee Chun is the brand I use. Thx for taking the time to tell me what you think! Cheers, Pat

Trackbacks

  1. How To: Tea-Cured Salmon | Reading in Skirts
  2. Blog Love: The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook « Paths of a Foodie
  3. New Beginnings Part II: A Chinese New Year Dish Called Yu Sheng (鱼生) « The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

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