The year of the snake starts Monday. Some refer to it more delicately as the year of the serpent. And according to Chinese cooking authority Fu Pei-Mei, a still smarter name is the year of the small dragon, dragon being a far more auspicious sign than the lowly viper.
While here on a rare visit from her home in Taipei, Taiwan, Pei-Mei gave four cooking demonstrations, two for Chinese-speaking audiences, one for Chinese chefs and one in English. All took place at the Los Angeles Midtown Hilton.
What the Chinese serve for New Year varies according to region, she said. Pei Mei's demonstrations were not geared toward the holiday, but she did present regional specialties that would make interesting fare for a celebration next week.
Diced chicken with peppers and garlic is from Hunan, while fried prawns dressed with mayonnaise is a Cantonese dish well known in Taiwan and Hong Kong, she said. Sweet and sour fish from Shanghai is scored to produce an interesting pattern when fried. The fish is garnished with pine nuts, which are soaked in sugar water before frying to make them slightly sweet. A cheese-topped casserole of mixed vegetables in crab sauce comes from Taiwan. And the dessert is a Beijing specialty, deep-fried morsels of firm custard sprinkled with crushed peanuts blended with sugar.
In Taiwan, Pei Mei heads Pei Mei's Chinese Cooking Institute and conducts a daily television cooking show. She has written 13 cookbooks, some of which are available in Chinatown bookshops here. And she is preparing a new series of books based on cooking techniques. These will be in Chinese only. "There are 28 kinds of cooking methods, and it's very difficult to translate the names of the methods into English," she explained. Here are her recipes.
DICED CHICKEN HUNAN STYLE
1 pound boneless chicken meat
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 cups oil
1 cup diced green and sweet red peppers
3 tablespoons sliced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Place chicken in bowl. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce and cornstarch mixture. Mix well and let stand 20 minutes. Combine remaining soy sauce, wine and 1 teaspoon cornstarch and set aside.
Heat wok until very hot. Add oil and heat to 350 degrees. Add chicken and fry until meat is no longer pink. Remove chicken and drain off oil. Reheat 2 tablespoons oil in wok. Add peppers and garlic and stir-fry quickly. Add chicken and stir-fry 10 seconds, or until done. Add reserved soy sauce mixture and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle vinegar and sesame oil on top. Remove from heat at once. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SWEET AND SOUR FISH WITH PINE NUTS
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 (2-pound) whole fish
1 tablespoon wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced tomato
2 tablespoons green peas
Combine water and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to boil. Remove from heat, add pine nuts and soak 2 hours. Drain. Heat 1 cup oil in wok over low heat. Add nuts and fry 3 to 4 minutes, until light brown. Drain and reserve.
Clean fish. Remove head and reserve. Fillet fish, removing center bone but leaving fillets attached at tail. Do not remove skin. Cut 3 quarter-inch-deep parallel slashes lengthwise on flesh side of each fillet. Make crosswise slashes 1/2 inch apart, cutting diagonally into fish. Shake fish lightly, and flesh will separate into squares attached at base. Sprinkle with wine and salt and let stand 10 minutes.
Heat oil for deep frying in wok. Sprinkle fish with flour, then dip in Batter. Hold by tail and dip in and out of oil several times, then submerge fish in oil and fry until golden brown. Remove to platter. Dip reserved fish head in Batter and fry until golden brown. Reassemble fish on platter.
Drain oil. Reheat 2 tablespoons oil in wok. Add Seasoning Sauce, onion, tomato and peas. Cook until mixture thickens, then pour over fish. Sprinkle fish with pine nuts and serve at once. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Beat egg in small bowl and add water. Beat in flour and cornstarch until smooth.
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2/3 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup catsup
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon wine
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Combine cornstarch and salt in bowl. Gradually blend in water, then add catsup, vinegar, sugar, wine, soy sauce and sesame oil.
CRISPY PRAWNS WITH MAYONNAISE
15 large shrimp
1/2 egg white
1 teaspoon wine
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
5 cups oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Remove heads and shells from shrimp but leave tails attached. Remove veins. Split each shrimp lengthwise down back but do not cut through. Clean and dry. Marinate 10 minutes in mixture of egg white, wine, salt and 1 tablespoon cornstarch.