The Chinese Lunar New Year is upon us – start celebrating the Year of the Rabbit today, February 3rd. From what the horoscopes dictate, Rabbit years tend to be peaceful, a welcome change from all the chaos. I have never cooked a Lunar New Year feast, but tried for the first time this year. Dishes that supposedly bring luck in the new year include fish, chicken, pork (specifically slow-cooked with lettuce) and dumplings. I worked out a special recipe below that you can try with your locally sourced pork.
In the spirit of this holiday, to gather the Asian sauces and condiments you need to prepare your food, make sure to check out the new Grand Asia Market at 4400 Potters Rd. in Stallings (corner of Pleasant Plains Rd. and Potter Rd.). It’s about five minutes from downtown Matthews. The original store hails from Raleigh, and this Charlotte-area sister location is bright and clean, with a food court, in-house bakery, meat department, seafood department and more. Don’t be shy – almost everyone who works there speaks at least some English, and I’ve seen customers of all ethnic backgrounds enjoying the store.
But here’s where the local part comes in: they have fish for those of you who like it really fresh – live NC-farmed fish swimming around in tanks! You pick out your fish (the day we went, there was catfish, tilapia and striped bass available in separate tanks), the fishmonger nets it for you, weighs it and quickly cleans it to your preference. I’ve heard you can even ask the food court to cook it for you at extra charge. Other fresh seafood is available, but mostly on ice.
Pick up a fresh fish (about 1.5 lbs) and steam it covered in a heat-proof dish on a rack over simmering water (for 15 minutes or until cooked and flaky) with some soy sauce, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, scallions, ginger and garlic, and you’ve got a great dish for the Lunar New Year. Here’s a pic of our terrific fish so you can see how fresh it is (it’s considered more lucky to leave the head on, but you don’t have to):
Next dish: Pork Shoulder with Greens. I used Ossabaw. What is it? It’s a slow-growing heirloom breed of pork well-suited for sustainable and pastured production. Officially termed “Ossabaw Island Hog,” it’s a feral breed that is found on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia near Savannah.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy classifies the breed as “critical,” given there are currently efforts to control the feral population to save the island ecology, and there may be some diseases beginning to affect the Ossabaw population. This is an important breed to preserve not only for heirloom farming – it is genetically the closest to historic stocks brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 1500s – but, Ossabaw’s biochemical make-up and survival adaptation could help with scientific research into non-insulin dependent diabetes in humans.
I must thank Sammy Koenigsberg of New Town Farms for the education on this breed and his email a few weeks ago alerting me to a small quantity of Ossabaw that was bred and raised on the forested land on his farm. His pre-order supply sold out quickly, but I managed to get a package of bratwurst and a pork shoulder. The brats were delicious! I prepared this special pork shoulder with some Asian spices from Grand Asia to add to our Lunar New Year feast.
Fresh Recipe: Lunar New Year Pork Shoulder with Greens
This is CF’s original take on a traditional Cantonese (Southern Chinese regional) dish. It is super easy to make. I’ve taken liberties to modernize the spices quite a bit (no offenses intended). I am told the lettuce should be added because the Cantonese words for lettuce, “sang choi,” sound very much like the words meaning “to bring about wealth and riches.” And who doesn’t want that? Hubby said that of all the pork shoulders I’ve made in the crock pot, this is his favorite recipe. So, please enjoy!
- One 3 lb. pork shoulder (I used New Town Farms Ossabaw Hog)
- 1/4 C vermouth
- 2 Tbs oyster sauce*
- 2 Tbs low sodium soy sauce*
- 1 TBS crushed Sichuan peppercorns*
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 3 star anise pods
- 3 crushed garlic cloves
- salt to taste
- One handful of Bibb lettuce leaves, the greener the better, torn in large pieces (I used Tega Hills Farm)
- 1/2 lb. baby bok choi,* stem ends cut off
*Most of these items can be found in Asian markets like Grand Asia Market, or even sometimes at your local Harris Teeter. Some of your farmers may be greenhousing bok choi this winter, or at least will have it available in the spring to fall seasons.
Place the pork shoulder in the slow cooker fat side up. Place garlic cloves in the cooker. Pour vermouth over the shoulder and sprinkle the other ingredients on top of the shoulder, reserving the lettuce and bok choi for later. Slow cook for 8 hours according to your slow cooker’s directions.
In the last 10 minutes before serving, add the lettuce and bok choi and let simmer until softened. Serve immediately.
Signing off for now. Wishing everyone peace in the new year!