Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chinese New Year Mochi Cake : Baked Nian Gao with Red Bean Paste Center

For Chinese/ Lunar New Year, it is a popular tradition to eat "Nian Gao".  "Nian" means the word "year", but also sounds like "sticky". "Gao" means cake,  but also sounds like "high".  This cake has so much meaning from new year cake to aim high for the new year.  It symbolizes a family "sticking together".
The classic version is steamed, and does not contain eggs or milk.  However, this baked version with a layer of red bean paste is my favorite, and I've eaten a lot of different "Nian Gao" over the years!   My mom used to have a great recipe, but it has been misplaced. So last night, I did some research and came up with the following recipe to recreate the optimal taste and texture that I remembered. I was a little nervous, but when it came out - it was wonderful! So good, that despite having two little boys (nearly 4 and 20 months) running wildly around me, I had to get on my laptop to post this recipe, just in case someone wants to make this for New Years today!.

Baked Nian Gao with Red Bean Paste Center

  • 1 lb (16 oz) bag of glutinous rice flour (sticky rice flour) *available in Asian markets, but I was able to find this in the asian section of our local Albertson's. 
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 2 1/2 cups milk 
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar 
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1 can mashed red "adzuki" bean paste (available in cans in Asian markets)   
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (about 175 Celsius).  Spray a 9x13 pan with PAM or equivalent.  
  2. Mix all the ingredients (except for the azuki bean paste) with an electric mixer at low speed until blended.  Beat for 2 more minutes at high speed. 
  3. Spread 1/2 of the batter on the bottom of the baking pan. 
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the batter is just beginning to set.  
  5. Remove the pan from the oven.  Spread a layer of azuki bean paste. Since the batter isn't fully set the beans, it may be a little messy.  That's ok.    
  6. Add the remaining batter over top of the beans. 
  7. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for another 30 to 40 minutes, until a chopstick or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
  8. Allow to cool before slicing.
This is best served the same day, slightly warm or at room temperature.  It is also good the next day, but if you store it covered, the crust will become softer.  I haven't tried this, but some people recommended reheating their nian gao in the toaster.  Happy New Year!

Chinese Steamed Whole Fish with Soy Ginger Scallion Cilantro Sauce

It's Chinese/ Lunar New Year and I've decided to return to blogging to share some festive and delicious recipes that I've either found and tested, or adapted for optimal results.  This recipe was so easy, and resulted in the most tender, flavorful fish - you must try it!  After much google research, I chose this recipe from A Steamy Kitchen, and my family gave it a big thumbs up!

I used a 1 lb Branzino, as that is what looked the best at my fish market this week.  However, you can use any 1 pound whole fish (or filets 1 inch or thicker). For larger fish, you will need to adjust your steaming time.

A) For steaming Fish
  • 4 stalks, scallions - cut into 3" lengths
  • 3" piece of ginger - slice into "coins"
  • small bunch of cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing/ rice wine to pour on fish prior to steaming (or any cooking wine like dry sherry)
  • salt & pepper
B) Sauce to pour over Fish
  • 2 tablespoons rough chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or black pepper if you don't have white)
C) Garnish, Finishing touch
  • 2 stalks, scallions - cut into 3" lengths
  • 2" piece of ginger - finely julienned to the skinniest, thinnest strips you can possibly manage without a microscope
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil


Equipment: You will need some way of steaming the fish. I used a large wok (this one is my family's favorite - I have one, my dad has one, my in-laws have it - you get the point), and something like steamer basket .  

A) Steaming:
  1. Clean & Stuff: Clean your fish, pat dry. Generously season the inside and outside of the fish with salt and pepper. Take half of (A) and stuff inside the fish. If you are using filets, skip this.
  2. Make your bed: Take the other half of (A) and lay it on the bottom of your steamer tray/ basket. If using filets, use all of (A) for the bed. Lay the fish on top of the bed. If fish is too long, cut in half. Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine on top of the fish.
  3. Steam: Add 2" of water to your large pot/ wok, cover and bring to a boil. When it is boiling, uncover and wipe the inside of the cover clean of any condensation (otherwise this condensation will drip back down on your fish, diluting the flavor) Put your fish pan inside, propped up on steamer basket (should not touch the bottom water). Steam the fish on medium heat 

Cooking times:
Whole fish 1 lb: check at 10-12 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1/2 lb
Fillets 1" and thicker: check at 10 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1/2" more thickness
Fillets less than 1": check at 7 minutes
Super thin fillets: check at 5 minutes

Check to see if its done at the times indicated. Poke your chopstick or a knife at the flesh near the top fin. If flesh flakes easily near the top fin, then its done. If flesh sticks together still, then add 1-2 more minutes to cooking time. For filets, just gently poke at the flesh in the middle. Timing depends on the thickness of your fish.  Periodically check to make sure you haven't run out of steaming water - if it is low, you may need to add more. After steaming, discard the cooked herbs and cooking juices in the pan. Transfer your fish to a serving platter.

B)  Aromatics: Towards the end of the steaming process, you'll want to start preparing the aromatics that garnish the finished dish. Take a microwave-safe bowl, add (B) and microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside. When fish is done steaming, carefully lift the fish out onto a serving platter, discarding all of the cooked cilantro/ginger/scallions and the fish juice in the pan. Pour the hot (B) over fish.

C)  Garnish (C):  In a separate pan or wok, heat up cooking oil until you see smoke. Add the ginger and scallions, fry for 10 seconds to "pop" the flavors. Pour this cooking oil + herbs over the fish. You'll hear a very satisfying sizzle!

Thanks again to A Steamy Kitchen for this fabulous recipe! Don't be discouraged by the many steps. It  is actually very fast and easy, and took less than 30 minutes total from start to finish!  Fish symbolizes prosperity, and when prepared whole - represents family unity.  Happy Lunar New Year!