New Beginnings Part II: A Chinese New Year Dish Called Yu Sheng (鱼生)
As I mentioned in New Beginnings Part I, I’m investing all my New Year mojo in yu sheng (Mandarin for “raw fish”), only my version uses tea-cured salmon which is technically still raw.
Also called yee sang (in Cantonese), this “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish’s make-up varies from place to place and comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced raw fish (salmon, ikan parang [mackerel], or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.
Like many dishes served during the New Year, yu sheng is popular because of its name (a homonym for the words for prosperity and longevity) and the “lucky” ingredients that go into it. The ingredients are served neatly laid out on a platter and then pandemonium breaks out as diners start tossing with their chopsticks, and crying out auspicious sayings. Supposedly, the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll have for the new year. For more info on the dish read Robyn Eckhardt (of Eating Asia)’s article.
While yu sheng is traditionally eaten on the 7th day of the Chinese New Year (the celebration lasts 15 days, the length of a moon cycle), restaurants tend to have it on their menus starting a week before the New Year, up till several weeks after.
I guess it’s never too late to seek good luck!
Happy Chinese New Year everyone! GONG XI FA CAI! 恭喜发财!
Lucky (Cured) Fish Salad (Yu Sheng 鱼生)
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 make some deviations. 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. This is my riff on her version using 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.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 large appetizer servings
3 1/2 oz/100 g Tea Cured Salmon (1/2 cup)
3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cup)
1/2 small daikon radish (1/4 pound), peeled and shredded (1 cup)
1 large cucumber, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup /2 oz pickled ginger (the sushi kind), shredded
1/2 cup pomelo sacs (from about 5 wedges)
3 tablespoons plum sauce or duck sauce (Sun Luck and Dynasty are 2 brands you can find at regular supermarkets)
2 teaspoons lime juice (1/2 large lime)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt to taste
1 cup Wonton Chips (see below)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
In separate bowls, soak the carrots and daikon in cold water for 30 minutes. Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain over the sink for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible from the carrots and daikon. Rinse the cucumber first and do the same. Set the vegetables aside.
To make the dressing, mix the plum sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of hot water (or more) and mix until you like the consistency. Add salt to taste.
To serve, pile each vegetable and the wonton chips around a round platter (roundness symbolises fullness) with the fish in the middle. Scatter the sesame seeds, peanuts, and 5-spice powder on top. Pour the dressing over the salad.
Stand up and Lo Hei (Cantonese for tossing luck)! Toss the ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes.
For a complete list of all the auspicious sayings associated with each step and each ingredient, go here.
To make the wonton chips, I cut wonton skins into 12 (about 1-by-½-nch) rectangles and deep fried them until golden. Once the oil is ready, the chips take seconds to cook so don’t dilly-dally, they burn quickly. One cup is equivalent to about 48 chips or 4 wonton skins.
Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy: