Year of the Dragon

I'm baaaaack! HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!! It's the year of the dragon, which just sounds really intense, so I have high hopes for this lunar year. It's my fourth year in a row away from home at Chinese New Year, which is just depressing. In my family, Chinese New Year is pretty much a bigger deal than all the other festive holidays combined. It's literally weeks of preparation. And the food is THE BEST. There's so much of it that I can't even tell you what we usually eat. Also, instead of presents, you get money from, well, everyone. I told you Chinese New Year was good.

One tradition that most people do is Lo Hei, on the first day of the New Year. That basically refers to the tossing of a raw fish salad called Yu Sheng while saying auspicious things to one another. We always have Yu Sheng at restaurants, and I don't really know anyone who makes it at home, so I Googled what was supposed to be in it. There was a bunch of stuff which I couldn't get easily without going to an Asian supermarket, so I had to improvise. Thus, my sort-of Scottish fusion Yu Sheng was born. I found some Lapsang Souchong Tea Smoked Salmon on offer, and thought that it was completely appropriate. This version is missing out on quite a lot of the 'authentic' ingredients, but on the bright side, everything can be bought at a relatively good supermarket. Excuse my boasting, but I actually thought my version was better than some I've had in Singapore.

We also had a dish I'm going to christen 'Double Happiness Pork Belly'. Double happiness is just something that pops up during Chinese New Year loads, because it's luckier for things to come in two. And this dish is a combination of two dishes - Roast Pork Belly and my mum's Guinness and Soy Pork Belly Stew.

Oooh that picture makes it look like an old woman hitting the tanning oil a little too hard. Whatever, I'm really proud of that crackling - it's my most successful yet. I've always had a little block around doing crackling but it worked! It's the perfect topping for the soft, flavourful fatty meat underneath. My mother is very proud of her Guinness pork stew, and it regularly features at family dinners. I was planning to cook the original as well as Chinese-style pork belly, with the crisp skin and all that but then in a bid to save effort, I thought what better way than putting it all in one? The Guinness is the perfect addition, because it adds a touch of bitterness and kind of amps up the spices already in the mixture. This one is a winner.

'Scottish' Smoked Salmon Yu Sheng Salad
Serves 4

300g smoked salmon
3 carrots, peeled and finely julienned
1 long cucumber, finely julienned
1 red pepper, finely julienned
Iceberg or other lettuce, torn into small-ish pieces
3 spring onions, finely shredded
A bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
Prawn crackers or wonton wrappers, or both

For the dressing:
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, finely grated
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons Hoi Sin sauce or Plum sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Prepare the vegetables, and arrange them and the smoked salmon on a platter. If using wonton wrappers, heat up about 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a saucepan. Get it hot enough so that a wonton wrapper puffs up and sizzles immediately, and gets golden brown in about 30 seconds. Set aside to cool on a sheet of kitchen paper.

Next, make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. When you're all sat and ready to eat, grab a pair of chopsticks each, pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Garnish with the prawn crackers or wonton wrappers and eat!

Double Happiness Pork Belly
Serves 2-4

500g pork belly, cut into two pieces, and skin scored in a grid pattern
500ml Guinness or other stout
75g brown sugar
50ml soy sauce
3 star anise
2 teaspoons five spice powder
1 big knob ginger, thickly sliced
4 spring onions, cut into thumb-length bits
4 cloves garlic, peeled

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Lay the spring onion lengths in the bottom of a baking dish - They'll act as a trivet for the pork. Place the pork belly pieces skin side up on top of the spring onion. Rub a pinch of sea salt and ground white pepper into the skin.

Combine the Guinness, sugar, soy sauce, five spice, star anise, ginger and garlic cloves in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn to a simmer and let it reduce by half.

Pour the reduced Guinness mixture into the baking dish, until it comes halfway up the pork. Be careful not to wet the skin of the belly. If there is any moisture on the belly skin, wipe it with a kitchen paper.

Place in the oven and cook for two and a half hours. After that, turn the grill on and let the pork cook until the skin crackles and crisps up. Serve with white rice.

ps. Sorry about the photos, they were all taken at night, with a flash and in a rush, so they're not the best.