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Happy Chinese New Year! What a beautiful cultural celebration. I love the vibrant reds and golds everywhere. There are several dishes that are considered auspicious to eat at this time of year in Chinese culture. One of the most popular is nian gao (Mandarin for “sticky cakes”).
This is because it shares its pronunciation with the words year (nian) and long (gao). These homophones give the meaning of reaching higher every year, making this a very auspicious Chinese New Year dish. There is a sweet version, as well as a savoury, stir fried version (chǎo niángāo 炒年糕) that we are making today – it’s delicious and so easy to make!
There are one or two parts of my chao nian gao recipe that can take some time: soaking the rice cakes (if necessary) and marinating the chicken. Luckily, both of these can be done earlier in the day or the night before, making this stir fry super quick and easy to make!
How to make Chao Nian Gao:
preparing the rice cakes
Nian gao, or rice cakes (not to be mistaken for the crunchy and devastatingly dry, healthy snack), are tender and chewy, fat noodles. They are made from glutinous rice flour and a bit of regular rice flour. Flavourless on their own, they soak up the flavour of the sauce they are cooked in. Used in both Chinese and Korean cuisine, you can use either variety as they are very similar.
You can buy them refrigerated and fresh, frozen, or dried. The frozen ones need to be soaked in cold water for an hour before cooking. The dried ones should soak for at least three hours to overnight. To soak, simply place them in a bowl of cold water and check in about thirty minutes to make sure that they are not sticking together.
marinating the chicken
For my version of this dish I chose to use boneless, skinless chicken breast. Chicken thighs or pork are also popular options; you can use whichever protein you prefer. Clean the chicken breast and slice it into thin strips.
Add all of the marinade ingredients into a small mixing bowl (soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch, and sugar) and stir until the cornstarch has completely dissolved. Mix the chicken pieces into the bowl. I like to mix by hand for this part to ensure that all the pieces are nicely coated. Cover and refrigerate, allowing the chicken to marinate for at least thirty minutes, or overnight.
What does cornstarch do to chicken? A layer of cornstarch on the chicken will protect it from the extreme heat of the wok. This allows the chicken to cook more evenly; browning nicely on the outside, yet staying tender and juicy on the inside.
Shortly before you are ready to begin stir frying, it’s time to prep the vegetables. You should chop the napa cabbage (also known as nappa or Chinese cabbage) or cut it into thin slices. Mince the cloves of garlic. Separate the baby bok choy leaves from each other (I chop off the very bottom of the stem to make them fall apart easily). And remove the shiitake mushroom stems then slice the caps into thin slices.
Baby bok choy vs. Shanghai baby bok choy: You’ll notice in the photo below that the Shanghai variety (pictured) has wide, vibrant green leaves with green stalks. This differs from the regular variety’s crinkled green leaves and white stalks. The flavours differ as well. The regular has a more mineral flavour, while the Shanghai is a bit sweet and milder. However, they can be used interchangeably in most recipes, like this chao nian gao.
The big fry
Like all stir fries, once you get started things will move very rapidly. I recommend having all of your ingredients measured and prepped before starting to cook, or at least have them all arranged handily nearby.
Heat your wok over high heat (you could alternatively use a large skillet). Once you see plumes of heat begin to whisp from the pan, add one tablespoon of oil. Spread the marinated chicken over the bottom of the pan and stir fry it until it is cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set it aside until you need it later.
If anything has stuck to your pan, give it a wipe before returning it to the heat and adding in the other tablespoon of oil. Add your minced garlic to the pan and sauté for about fifteen seconds. Next you will cook the cabbage and mushrooms. Stir fry them together with the garlic for just a couple minutes.
Add in the separated baby bok choy leaves. Stir fry for an additional minute.
If your rice cakes have been soaking, strain them now. Add your rice cakes to the wok, along with all of the sauce ingredients (chicken broth, shaoxing, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and white pepper). Stir everything together well, then cover it with a lid and let it cook for three minutes. The rice cakes will get nice and soft. You might want to check to make sure that they don’t start to stick together while cooking. Nobody likes a tough rice cake.
What is shaoxing?
Shaoxing is a traditional Chinese rice wine that is widely used in Chinese cuisine. Not similar to sake, it tastes more like dry sherry (its best substitute) and has only a slight sweetness.
Uncover your wok and give everything a good stir. Return the chicken to the wok and stir everything once again. Taste and add more soy sauce to your preference.
Your chao nian gao is now ready for devouring. Serve it family style – a big serving plate in the middle. And make sure to serve it right away – hot and fresh! The rice cakes need to be hot to stay soft and sticky.
For garnish, I used green onion. Cut the green ends thinly and on a sharp angle for the most appealing shape.
Gong hei fat choy! (恭喜發財 – ‘May you be prosperous and happy.’)
For another spectacular Asian cuisine dish check out my Thai Crying Tiger Steaks. They do not disappoint!Print
Tender and chewy rice cakes cooked in a savoury chicken stir fry. This traditional Chinese dish is considered very auspicious to eat during Chinese New Year celebrations, but it’s delicious enough to eat year-round!
16 ounces (454 g) rice cakes *
2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
8 ounces (227 g) boneless chicken breast **
3 cloves garlic
3 cups (228 g) napa cabbage (aka nappa or Chinese cabbage)
2 cups (140 g) baby bok choy (Shanghai or regular variety)
1 cup (75 g) shiitake mushrooms
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp oyster sauce
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) chicken broth
1 tbsp shaoxing***
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
green onion, thinly sliced
First you must soak the rice cakes if you are using frozen or dried. See the note* below.
Cut the chicken into thin strips. Stir all of the marinade ingredients together in a small mixing bowl until the cornstarch has completely dissolved. Mix in the chicken slices by hand, ensuring that each piece is well coated. Cover and refrigerate, marinating for at least 30 minutes to overnight.
Prep the vegetables: Mince garlic. Chop cabbage or cut into thin strips. Separate baby bok choy leaves. Remove mushrooms stems and thinly slice caps.
Heat wok (or skillet) over high heat. Once wok is hot, add 1 tbsp of oil. Add marinated chicken in thin layer over the bottom. Stir fry until cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside. If anything is stuck to wok, wipe clean before returning to the heat.
Add remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the wok. Sauté minced garlic for 15 seconds. Add cabbage and mushrooms and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Add baby bok choy, stir fry 1 minute.
Strain rice cakes if they have been soaking. Add them to wok along with all sauce ingredients. Stir and cover with lid. Cook for 3 minutes, checking once to make sure that rice cakes haven’t stuck together.
Uncover the wok, stir, add chicken, stir again. Taste test and add more soy sauce to taste.
Serve family style, garnished with thin, diagonal slices of green onion. The rice cakes must be served hot to stay soft and sticky.
* Nian gao (“sticky cakes”) are rice cakes made from glutinous rice flour and some regular rice flour. Used in both Chinese and Korean cuisine, you can use either kind as they are very similar. You can buy them refrigerated and fresh, often in a log shape that you must cut into 1/4″ even slices. You can also buy them pre-cut and frozen or dried. The frozen variety should be soaked in cold water for an hour before cooking. The dried variety should soak for at least 3 hours to overnight. To soak, simply place them in a bowl of cold water, checking about 30 mins in to ensure they are not sticking together.
** I used boneless, skinless chicken breast for my version of this dish. Other popular proteins are chicken thigh or pork. You can use whichever protein you wish.
*** Shaoxing is a traditional Chinese rice wine that is widely used in Chinese cuisine. It tastes most similar to dry sherry, which is its best substitute.
Keywords: chao nian gao