Chinese New Year Celebrations Start With Bottled Sauce
Linda, an accomplished Chinese cook and a long-time member of the Sunset magazine food editorial staff, reflected, “I used to cook mostly Asian food at home and I found making the sauces took most of my time. In 1983 there weren’t many sauces available that were very good.” So she and her husband Terry took the plunge.Special Fork food editor Linda Lau Anusasananan found herself in the Chinese sauce business quite by accident. She happened to sit at a food professionals’ meeting next to a food manufacturer who produced food products for other company’s brands.
“I was always pretty good at making sauces at work,” Linda recalled. So she made small batches of sauces in her kitchen that were scaled up for manufacturing and Jade Asian Sauces was born. Today, the sauces are sold at Williams-Sonoma and other gourmet and specialty stores around the country.
Linda never did quit her day job. She worked at Sunset for 34 years; her last position was as recipe editor of the popular Western magazine. Now she is working on another big project, writing a cookbook about Hakka cuisine. Linda’s family is Hakka, one of the ethnic groups of China. Her book is scheduled to be published soon by UC Press.
Linda grew up in Paradise, California, 10 miles east of Chico in the Sierra Foothills, the only Chinese-American family in town. Linda’s maternal grandfather emigrated from Guangdong Province in 1870. Linda’s father, who emigrated from the same area of China as her mother’s family, owned and operated a Chinese-American restaurant next to their home.
Chinese New Year was a time of feasting, Linda recalled, “We would have a family banquet and Chinese sweets – coconut candy, sugared fruits and watermelon seeds in a compartmented dish. My grandmother used to make a special dish of potatoes and fried pork, steamed with soy sauce and five-spice. As kids we used to love that dish."
“I didn’t cook, but I remember washing a lot of dishes. I always liked to eat,” Linda added. “That’s really important because if you really like to eat, you will be interested in how to eat well, and you will be motivated to be a good cook.”
Planning a Chinese New Year Party
“A lot of Chinese cooking is about the prep more than anything else,” Linda explained. “If you get ingredients all ready, cut up, and prepped, cooking goes pretty fast. When I entertain, I look for the easiest dish I can do. I find it’s very difficult to cook once people arrive. They come into kitchen and are always standing in the wrong place.
“With Chinese cooking, as in any kind of cooking, think through each dish – don’t plan on cooking everything at the last minute. Pick something you can steam, a stewy dish that you can make ahead and reheat, a cold dish, and one that you prep in advance to stir-fry when guests arrive. You don’t have to have as many dishes as a restaurant – it’s perfectly acceptable to have a stewy dish, a stir-fried vegetable, rice and one other dish.”
Here’s a simple appetizer from Linda, suitable for a Chinese or Western meal. It’s a take-off on the Chinese banquet favorite, minced chicken or squab in lettuce leaves. It uses one of Linda’s Jade sauces.
Linda’s Chinese Ginger Chicken in Belgian Endive Leaves
You can substitute 1 cup peeled and chopped jicama for the water chestnuts. The tan-skinned bulbous jicama root has a sweet, crunchy white flesh similar to water chestnuts.
5 to 6 large heads Belgian endive
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, rinsed, drained, and chopped
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/2 cup Jade Mekong Ginger Sauce
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Rinse endive and trim off root ends. Separate leaves.
- Set a nonstick 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add oil and rotate pan to spread oil. Crumble turkey into pan and stir until meat is crumbly and lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add water chestnuts, green onion, and JADE Mekong Ginger Sauce. Stir until hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro.
Fill each endive leaf with the turkey mixture and arrange on a platter. Serve warm or cool.
Or for more casual service: Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and surround with endive leaves on a platter. Diners spoon the hot mixture into endive leaves to eat.
Makes about 4 dozen, 12 to 16 appetizer servings