Monday, January 23, 2006

Lian Lian You Yu

OK, that's a pun on the popular Chinese New Year greeting Nian Nian You Yu, which literally means Prosperity Every Year.

Chinese New Year greeting, Wan Shi Ru Yi - May All Your Endeavours Be Successful

Photo from

Every lunar Chinese New Year, all the Chinese suddenly wax lyrical. Everyone begins speaking in lyrical couplets and breaking into song without provocation during this season. It's like a bad (is there a good?) Woody Allen musical. Even I, with my half baked Chinese, know at least 3 celebratory phrases. One of which is Nian Nian You Yu.

I remember this because I would hear it at a Chinese restaurant or at someone's house for Chinese New Year dinner when they beckon me to partake of some fish dish. It is terribly auspicious to eat fish during this season as the Chinese word for prosperity - "yu", sounds like the Chinese word for fish, also "yu". Thus, you will see paintings of fishes, golden fish decorations, live fish in aquariums adorning Chinese homes during Chinese New Year.

You will also see a plethora of fish dishes served during the Chinese New Year too. Everyone wants to strike it rich and what's more fun than eating your way to prosperity?

I decided to tweak this traditional Chinese practise of fishing for luck through food by playing a pun on the couplet, Nian Nian You Yu. I still had a segment of lotus root left over from my Sea Bass Soup with Lotus Root and Red Dates and I knew I had to use it before it decided to take root in my refrigerator. Then it struck me ... the Chinese word for lotus is "lian", which sounds awfully like "nian", the Chinese word for year. Wouldn't it be punny if I made a dish out of lotus roots to signify Lian Lian You Yu, which to a half deaf person would sound like Nian Nian You Yu?

Yes, I am a sad, sad person. But if it gets rid of that lotus root before it festers, it's all good. So, my under-equipped kitchen became a weird science laboratory as I began experimenting. Warning: Do not ask for proportions for all recipes in this post as I was experimenting and so reverted back to training where we cook by throwing in, dashing, pinching and tasting instead of measuring.

I had the idea of making lotus root sandwiches but in the style of how the Scots would deep fry everything from Mars bars to rude English footy hooligans. Deep fried lotus root sammiches aka Lian Lian You Yu! Brilliant! I was inspired!

I began by slicing half the lotus roots into rings and pickling them in a mixture of Chinese black vinegar, Chinese wine (hua tiao chiew) and a little sugar.

I was inspired by the ginger and black vinegar dipping sauce paired with guo tie or potstickers as well as the Japanese lotus root pickles. By pickling the lotus root, I was giving it a tartness that will counteract the deep frying yet highlight the richness of the dish.

I also decided to give a twist to the classic Pork Ribs with Lotus Roots Soup by making one of the fillings from pork. My take on the Chinese New Year celebratory and auspicious dish would be a lotus root with fish and lotus root with pork sandwiches. The pork filling sandwich cannot really be dubbed Lian Lian You Yu but I had a trick up my sleeves - I would add dried squid to the filling. The name for dried squid in Chinese is "you yu", and thus it fulfills the "yu" in the equation. I was pretty pleased at my own cleverness. Modest, aren't I?

Lian Lian You Yu Pork Filling
I seasoned the mince pork with salt and black pepper powder. I took about a teaspoon of this mixture and spreaded it onto a pickled lotus root ring. I then sandwiched another lotus root ring on top, dipped it in a beaten egg before coating it in flour I had seasoned with salt and pepper. Finally I deep fried this till golden brown

This sandwich was fairly tasty but as I had been rather conservative with the pork filling (it measured approximately 0.5 cm high), I felt that the filling was not succulent enough. So, I made another lotus root sandwich, ensuring that this time I spread a thicker pork filling. The result was much more satisfying with enough crunch and texture to make it a fairly tasty treat. I gave it a 7/10 rating.

However, I had another idea that I wanted to explore from the previous night of contemplation after the Galbi Tang debacle.

Lian Lian You Yu with Pork and Red Dates Filling
Finely dicing some red dates which I had soaked to soften earlier, I added these to the minced pork. I knew the honeyed red dates would complement the pork. Again, I sandwiched these in the pickled lotus root rings, dipped it in egg and flour before deep frying it.

This was more like it! As predicted, this lotus root sandwich now acquired a new complexity that elevated it from a tasty treat to delightful dish, which deserved a 7.5/10 rating. But I still was not satisfied. I had another idea.

Lian Lian You Yu with Pork, Red Dates and Dried Squid Filling
Yes, you read right. Dried squid. And why not? Pork ribs and Lotus Root soup's secret is the addition of dried squid which gives it that ambrosiac taste of the sea. The sweetness imparted by this should give the pork filling an added dimension. So I diced some dried squid which I had soaked hours before to soften it. I added this to the pork and red dates and mixed well.

I repeated the procedures for deep frying the sandwich. What can I say? It was totally delicious and absolutely amazing paired with a dipping sauce I made with julienned ginger and Chinese black vinegar just like the guo tie or potstickers dipping sauce. This was now a 8/10 delight.

But I really wanted to lend an East meets West fusion to this dish to reflect my own ethnicity so I decided to go for broke.

Lian Lian You Yu with Pork, Red Dates, Dried Squid and Sage Filling
Repeat the process for making the pork filling as above but sandwich a thinner layer on one lotus root ring. Placing individual fresh sage leaves on filling, I spooned another layer on top of this before sandwiching this with another lotus root ring. You now had the sage leaves sandwiched between the pork filling, which are in turn sandwiched by the lotus root rings. This is worse than a porn movie! Did I just say that? How mortifying!

At first bite, I knew I had a winner. The sweetness of the red dates, the savoury pork, the intense flavour of the dried squid and the peppery fresh kick of the sage melded brilliantly against the backdrop of the piquant lotus roots. The burst of flavours in your mouth as you crunched through the layers were a delightful surprise. Yet you were left feeling like you had just tasted a long-forgotten childhood treat.

I was jubilant that my haphazard experiment worked so well. I gave myself a pat on the back, which is terribly difficult to do when you are trying to scribble down the score of 8.5/10 in your little notebook at the same time.

I was extremely pleased with this experiment so I set out to make the real McCoy - Lian Lian You Yu.

Lian Lian You Yu
Plain - Scrapping the flesh off a mackeral fillet with a spoon, I seasoned this with salt and ground white pepper, mashing it as I mixed. Do not overmash or your fish will become tougher than a Goodyear tire. Again, I dipped it in egg and flour before deep frying.

I was not blown away by this. The fish filling definitely needed something more.

With dried squid - Luckily, I had anticipated this and had already diced some dried squid which I now added to the fish colloid. This time, the fish filling tasted much more interesting in flavour. However, I realised that because the dried squid is so tough in texture, you had to be careful not to include too much of it no matter how finely diced they are. I detest fish cakes that are too bouncy and hard. If I wanted to take a bite out of Pamela Anderseon Lee's boobs, I would have turned gay now, wouldn't I?

With dried squid & red dates - Somehow, I still felt that the fish filling could be improved. Since I was so successful with the pork filling, I decided to add the red dates to the fish as well. That worked a treat too! I added a little more white pepper powder to give it a little more kick and this time, I was fully satisfied that the combination was just right. I gave this a rating of 7.75/10.

However, I felt that by deep frying the fish, it lost a lot of its natural sweetness. Next time I would like to explore another idea for the fish colloid and lotus root - another take on Lian Lian You Yu. I can see that I will be exploring this idea for a little while more.

So the final selection for Lian Lian You Yu was the lotus root sammich with the fish, dried squid and red dates filling and the lotus root sammich with the pork, red dates, dried squid and sage filling.

I was happy puppy. But I had a lot of ingredients left over. And limited space in the fridge now. Oh dear, I guess I just have to cook something else to use up all these then.

Categories - Meat Me For Dinner, VeggieMight, Call Me Others


Blogger michelle said...

Hi MM! Wow, I'm so impressed by your creativity (especially in how you came up with the dish!), and that it came out so well. I recently saw another recipe for lotus root and I'd really love to try it; I wonder if the asian market near my house would have it? It sounds delicous!

1:50 am  
Blogger MM said...

Hi Michelle, yeah .. er, again this dish was actually an attempt to use up ingredients I already had on hand. A friend had been cooking and for some reason bought way too much stuff so I carted home some of the extras. And wondered what to do with them ... so voila!

You can probably find lotus roots at your local Asian market. It may come fresh or vacuum packed. But they should have it.

7:10 am  
Anonymous Craig said...

Damn - that looks good - whould love to try it. I just wish that we had lotus root here in South Africa. I will have to think about a substitution.

3:25 pm  
Blogger MM said...

You know, you might try to substitute it with turnip or jicama. In fact, the sweetness of the turnip with the tartness of the vinegar might give it an added dimension. Another interesting substitute could be Chinese snow pears but they might be too porous and absorb too much vinegar which means you would have to only pickle it for a short time.

Well, I'd try to think of some other stuff you guys can use. Good luck!

5:04 pm  

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