Thursday, February 3, 2011

Classic Penang Chinese New Year Dish: Fried Jicama-Carrot with Cuttlefish

For as long I remember, growing up in Penang, I've always tasted the dish, jiu hu char (jiu hu means cuttlefish and char means fried) every Chinese New Year. It is one of those staple foods that my mother would cook in honor of the biggest celebration of the year. And the best thing is, it is not the hardest thing to make and it is one of those dishes that gets better as it sits overnight. As the name implies, the main ingredient is of course, cuttlefish and for this dish, we usually use the dried kind, which gets hydrated before using. So, here are the ingredients that you'll need to make this flavorful festive dish:

1 medium-sized jicama (peeled and shredded)
3-4 carrots (peeled and shredded)
2 leeks (julienned; can be substituted with an onion)
4 cloves garlic (fine dice)
4 dried shiitake mushrooms (hydrated and stems removed; julienned)
2-3 Chinese chives (small dice)
4 dried cuttlefish (hydrated and julienned)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce (ABC brand kicap manis)
Light soy sauce and black pepper (to taste)
Iceberg lettuce leaves to serve the dish on
Sambal (the recipe can be found here) as a spicy condiment

Before you start, you'll need to hydrate the cuttlefish first. Put the cuttlefish in a small pot of water and bring it to a boil and then bring the heat down to a simmer. Let the cuttlefish cook in the pot of water until soft. That usually takes about an hour or so. As for the shiitake mushrooms, soak them in hot water and remove them when they become soft and pliable. Save the liquid from the pot that you cooked the cuttlefish in as it can be used as a flavorful stock for the dish.

Using a wok, start by sautéing the leeks until soft and fragrant. Next, cook the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add the jicama, carrots, mushrooms and cuttlefish into the wok and mix everything thoroughly. Season the ingredients with black pepper, oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce, sugar and a little soy sauce. Also, add in about 3-4 tablespoons of the cuttlefish liquid that you saved from earlier. Turn the heat down and let the ingredients cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring and mixing them regularly. Taste and season again if needed. This dish needs to have a good balance of sweet and salty flavors. To serve, scoop some jiu hu char onto a washed iceberg lettuce leaf and topped it off with a thimble of spicy sambal.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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