One of the best ways to inject some more interest and fun into your kitchen is by taking inspiration from the cuisines of other cultures.
In celebration of the upcoming Lunar New Year, we are taking you on a culinary journey to a country with a hugely varied seafood-eating culture: China! Seafood is a staple in homes and restaurants all over China, with shellfish, prawns, cuttlefish, squid, and abalone all particularly popular in coastal areas.
The vastness of China, and the sheer number of regions and cultural groups within its borders, mean that it would be impossible to sum up its seafood cuisine in just a few dishes... But we can certainly take inspiration from some of the more general characteristics and staples of Chinese cooking – like rice, noodles, soy, oyster sauce, fish sauce, vinegars, garlic, ginger, sesame, and chilli – to create some delicious seafood meals.
Try some of these recipes this week to create your very own Yum Cha experience at home this Lunar New Year!
Mini Seafood Spring Rolls with Plum Sauce
Ever wondered where the name ‘spring roll’ comes from? Lunar New Year symbolises the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Spring rolls, with their delicious fresh ingredients, represent the renewal of life and the start of a new season, and are widely known to be connected to positive energy. Spring rolls are one of the most important foods to be enjoyed during the Lunar New Year to ensure a successful year ahead.
Steamed Chinese-style Whole Murray Cod
Any whole fish, cooked using this traditional Chinese method, will turn out deliciously. First, the fish is steamed to cook it through, then it is made crispy and delicious by pouring over sizzling, seasoned oil. This is particularly impressive for a dinner party – just place the fish in the middle of the table and let everyone pull off their portion with a knife and fork. Superstition says it's bad luck to turn a fish over, so instead, lift the bones out once one side is fully eaten, and access the bottom side that way.
Steamed Prawn Dumplings (Har Gau)
No Lunar New Year (or Yum Cha experience!) is complete without dumplings. What most people don’t know is dumplings are shaped like ancient Chinese currency, therefore eating them during the Lunar New Year is thought to attract wealth: the more dumplings consumed, the richer you will be. Traditionally a coin is hidden in one dumpling when making them, the person who receives this coin will have great luck for the year.
Cocktail Abalone with Asian Dressing
Abalone is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, making it a highly sought-after ingredient. In Australia, you will sometimes see it priced at around $100/kg! That is what makes this recipe perfect for those wanting to try it for the first time; you only need two Abalone to pull it off as a great little entrée. The secret to this recipe is slicing the abalone as thinly as possible... Chilling them well in the freezer firms them up and makes this easier.
This dish is perhaps more common in Australia, the USA, and the UK than in China, though it does appear on Yum Cha menus in Hong Kong as ‘ha tosi’, ‘ha’ meaning prawn and ‘tosi' derived from the English word ‘toast’. We simply had to include it on this list (despite it not exactly being traditional) as it is a staple in Australian Chinese restaurants, and is so tasty it is almost addictive!
Stir-Fried Bailer Shell with Garlic Shoots
Mild-flavoured, firm Bailer Shell meat is extremely similar to Abalone, in that the eating experience is more about texture than taste. This recipe is based on the classic Chinese way of preparing Bailer Shell, as taught to us by one of Sydney Fish Market’s buyers, Alan Ong from Chullora Fish Market. If Bailer Shell is a bit too freaky for you, you can substitute many firm-fleshed species into this recipe, including prawns, squid, and octopus!
Crispy Honey King Prawns
Another less traditional – but still delicious – recipe... Crispy Honey King Prawns. Many of the Chinese dishes served in Australia are adapted versions of the originals, made for Western tastebuds. However, being less authentic doesn't make these classics any less delicious. Dishes such as Prawn Toast and Honey Prawns have cemented their place in our cultural consciousness – even if your chances of finding them on the Chinese mainland are pretty slim.