Gloria Tai, our Food Sourcing Manager, shares her story about making dumplings with her mother and grandmother, along with the traditional — and not-so-traditional — dishes she’s serving this Lunar New Year.
A DUMPLING ASSEMBLY LINE
As far back as I can remember, around the age of five, I was usually found playing in the kitchen while my mother and grandmother made hundreds of dumplings in anticipation of the Lunar New Year. At first, my mother or grandmother would give me broken or oddly shaped dumpling skins to play with. I eventually graduated to the table becoming a part of the actual process.
It became sort of an assembly line game. They would make the filling, and I would place the dumpling skins in rows as fast as they would work. One of them would dollop perfect mounds of meat in the center of the skins with their chopsticks, while the other folded them quickly into perfectly uniform dumpling purses.
CHOPPING, BLENDING AND FOLDING
Eventually, I graduated in the dumpling-making process. By now I could take on the tasks of chopping and blending the filling and dropping the dumplings onto the starch-dusted sheet tray, ready for the hot pan. Those memories are always with me whenever I make dumplings now, and especially around Lunar New Year. Though it’s not always easy to get the entire family together, making dumplings will always be a tradition in my home.
I have fond memories of dumpling making, but there are so many other wonderful things to savor during the Chinese New Year. With increasing passion and interest around global food, more people are coming to understand and appreciate the Lunar New Year who are not Chinese or who may not have otherwise celebrated. From the dumplings, which resemble ingots representing wealth to uncut noodles associated with a long life, there’s a multitude of meanings and symbols in these foods.
THIS YEAR’S LUNAR NEW YEAR’S MENU
For our celebration of the new Lunar New Year at the Williams-Sonoma Office, we’re celebrating with a few of my favorite dishes: Whole steamed fish, the dumplings I made as a child, traditional roast soy sauce chicken, Taiwanese popcorn chicken and greens.
Whole roast soy sauce sauce chicken is important at the Lunar New Year feast, with an emphasis on the word “whole”, representing completeness and wholeness of the family as they join together.
Whole steamed fish (another focus on the word “whole”), made with ginger, scallion and cilantro and topped with splash of hot oil and soy sauce is a centerpiece at the banquet for several reasons. The actual Chinese word yu, when pronounced differently means abundance. It is also important to always have a bit leftover to signify bringing more into the new year.
Taiwanese popcorn chicken, though not always present at a traditional Chinese New Year banquet, will be part of the celebration since it’s a perennial crowd-pleaser. To balance out the richness of the flavors in the protein and dumplings, I’ll be serving A-greens, named as such for their pointy base when flipped upside down which represents the American letter A. It’s also important at any Lunar New Year meal to serve something green, since it represents prosperity.
The Lunar New Year banquet is a time to share with friends and loved ones all the wonderful treasures of Chinese cuisine, but it always reminds me that there is so much more to discover and taste.
Cantonese Roast Soy Sauce Chicken
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 lb. (2 kg)
For the seasoning:
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tsp. five-spice powder
For the marinade:
- 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) mushroom soy sauce or low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) dark soy sauce
- 2 Tbs. Shaoxing rice wine or sherry
- 5 slices fresh ginger
- 1 garlic, sliced
- 2 green onions, cut into 3-inch (7.5-cm) pieces
- 1/2 tsp. five-spice powder
- Pinch of ground white pepper
- Pinch of sugar
- Wash the chicken inside and out and pat dry.
- To make the seasoning, in a small bowl, stir together the salt, Sichuan peppercorns and five–spice powder.
- To make the marinade, in a bowl, stir together the soy sauces, rice wine, ginger, garlic, green onions, white pepper and sugar.
- Sprinkle the seasoning mixture evenly in the cavity of the chicken. Put the chicken in a large sealable plastic bag and add the marinade. Turn to coat. Refrigerate overnight, turning the chicken occasionally to make sure the marinade evenly coats the chicken. (If you don’t have a plastic bag large enough for your chicken, you can marinate the chicken in a large nonreactive bowl, covered, in the refrigerator.)
- At least 5 hours and up to one day before roasting the chicken, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Remove the chicken from the marinade; discard the marinade. Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil (this will make cleanup easier). Return to the refrigerator, uncovered, and let dry for at least 5 hours and up to overnight. (The drier the chicken, the crispier the skin will be.)
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400°F (200°C).
- Roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Check the chicken and cover the wings and ends of the drumsticks if they’re darkening too quickly. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Continue roasting, flipping the chicken in the pan about every 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh reaches 170°C (77°C), about 1 hour more.
- Let the chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then carve and serve with ginger scallion oil (recipe follows).
Ginger Scallion Oil
- 3 Tbs. finely chopped ginger
- 1 cup of finely diced scallions
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- Salt, to taste
- Pinch of sugar, if needed
- Heat vegetable oil to medium high and then turn off heat.
- Add full amount of ginger and scallions and a few dashes of salt to taste. If sauce is too oily, add more scallion and ginger. If too bitter, add a pinch of sugar. Optional: A squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavor.
Happy New Lunar New Year, Gung Hay Fat Choy and happy eating!
Follow Gloria’s food adventures on Instagram here.