February 1, 2014

Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cakes 炒年糕

chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, stir fry, 炒, chinese, recipe, 年糕,

This is one of my 媽媽's favorite comfort dish, Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cakes, or 炒年糕.  She, au contraire, to the rest of our family seemed to always secretly long for this warm and hearty dish of rice cakes, pork and vegetables and now, finally (duh!), I have realized why.

My 媽媽 is originally from around Dinghai 定海 in Zhejiang 浙江 province of China.  And Dinghai is right next to Ningbo 宁波 where this delicious and unique dish originates!  She recounts early childhood memories of her grandparents house where they actually made their own rice cakes in enormous amounts (enough for a whole year's eating!), storing the flat hand molded rice cakes in enormous water filled porcelain urns, each day taking out only enough cakes for that day's cooking.  My 媽媽 says that nothing comes close to the taste of those home made Nian Gao rice cakes from when she was a little girl!

Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cakes is also a dish that is specially made for the Chinese New Year.  The name Nian Gao, or 年糕, is symbolically lucky and prosperous as the first character 年 means 'year' and the second character 糕 actually means 'cake' but is a homonym (has the same sound as) to the character 高 which means 'high'.  So Nian Gao, for the Chinese New Year, means 'soaring high in the year ahead'.  Whew, everything is symbolic for the Chinese!  I don't know about you but I get confused sometimes!

chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, stir fry, 炒, chinese, recipe, 年糕,
chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, stir fry, 炒, chinese, recipe, 年糕,

First you will need to get some Rice Cakes.  Either chinese or korean made is okay.  Look for them in the sections near the wonton skins.  There are different kinds of Rice Cakes.  Some are dried and some are frozen. We used the frozen kind, which is easier because you won't need to soak it.  Well, at least I didn't need too.  My 媽媽, however, says "No, no!": you have to soak both frozen and dried rice cakes at least 3- 4 hours in cool water.  And how can I, a Chinese daughter, argue with my 媽媽?!  So soak away!  

Extra tip: A lot of rice cakes come pre-sliced which saves some time.

chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, stir fry, 炒, chinese, recipe, 年糕,  shitake mushrooms
Dried Shitake mushrooms being rehydrated
chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, stir fry, 炒, chinese, recipe, 年糕, baby bok choy
Bok Choy

There are many variations of what you put into Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cakes, but since this is my 媽媽's recipe I have just followed what she prefers.  The rice cake is subtly flavored itself but absorbs flavor well, so adding strong, tasty flavors is required.  In our case we used dried Chinese Shitake Mushrooms and marinated pork and then added some baby bok choy (my 媽媽 prefers napa cabbage). 

You can also add things like bamboo shoots and chinese preserved mustard greens. The characteristic of nian gao that makes it so beloved is not just the taste, but the mostly the 'mouth feel'.  It has the perfect texture, chewy yet softly tender.  No wonder my 媽媽 loves this dish so  much!  

Hope you like my 媽媽's Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cake recipe!  

Happy Chinese New Year!  新年快樂! May you reach higher year after year! 年年高升!

chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, stir fry, 炒, chinese, recipe, 年糕,
媽媽's Stir Fried Nian Gao Rice Cakes Recipe 炒年糕
(Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 10 mins)



Soak the Nian Gao Rice Cakes for 3-4 hours.  Slice to 1/4" slices if not sliced already.  

In separate bowl, cover mushrooms with hot water until soft enough to slice.  (Around 1 hour)  Reserving the mushroom soaking water, squeeze mushrooms and slice.  

Slice the pork against the grain into matchsticks or thin slices and then marinate for at least 1/2 hour with soy sauce, sugar, wine, pepper, sesame oil and starch.  

Wash baby bok choy carefully, changing water several times as there usually is sand.  Slice the boy choy in half for more bit sized pieces.

Heat wok.  Add 2 tsp oil.  Add pork slices, spread out and let brown for a half a minute,  then give it a good stir.  Remove to a plate.

Add 2 tbsp oil to medium high heated wok.  Add the sliced mushrooms and stir till fragrance rises.  Add the bok choy and salt, then quickly add the rice cakes in a layer over the bok choy, cover and turn down heat to low.  Cook until the rice cakes are soft (a few minutes).  Check occasionally and add a bit of water if too dry.  

When rice cakes have softened, add chicken essence and 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup reserved mushroom water (or chicken stock and 1/2 cup reserved mushroom water).  Stir to mix, then cover and cook at low heat for 2 minutes.  Make sure to poke at the Nian Gao to separate pieces if they start sticking together.  Add in cooked pork.

Mix your 1 tbsp of starch with 2 tbsp of water, give it a big stir and add to your wok.  Stir immediately, watching the sauce to check the thickness.  The sauce should cling lightly on everything.  Turn off the heat immediately and serve.



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