Chinese New Year: Celebrate happiness and wholeness with a roasted chicken

Ming Tsai of public-television's 'Simply Ming' shares an East-West recipe and other food traditions to honor the Year of the Horse.

© 2014 Ming Tsai
Celebrate Chinese New Year with a roasted cranberry-glazed chicken with a sweet potato-fennel fricassee.

It's the Year of the Horse and what better way to kick off the Chinese Lunar New Year than with a steaming plate of home cooked food? Even if you aren't a knowledgeable cook when it comes to Asian dishes, the holiday is a fun occasion to be festive and forward-looking at a dull time of year.

Ming Tsai has a talent for harmoniously combining traditions of the East and the West. The award-winning chef runs two Boston restaurants, Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon, and is the host of "Simply Ming," produced by WGBH, on which the charismatic Ming teaches home cooks how to master their own East-West innovations.

Stir It Up! turned to Ming for suggestions on creating a delicious dish for Chinese New Year.

"Chinese New Year is always the favorite holiday for feasting. At home, tables are overflowing with a multitude of delectable dishes," says Ming. Characteristic of his talent for creating Asian dishes that are grounded in Western comfort, he suggests home cooks try a roasted cranberry-glazed chicken with sweet potato-fennel fricassee (see recipe below).

"Chicken symbolizes happiness and prosperity, and the wholeness echoes the prosperity sentiment, while also signifying a good beginning and end to the year," he says.

Chinese traditions place great emphasis on the symbolism behind each food item on a plate. So even if you aren't up to making your own Chinese meal, you can mix and match from this list provided by Ming to create a banquet spread with meaning. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • dumplings – look like ingots of gold therefore symbolize wealth
  • egg rolls/spring rolls – symbolize wealth
  • noodles – symbolize longevity
  • whole chicken – family togetherness
  • clams – wealth
  • lettuce – rising fortune
  • whole fish – served at the end of the meal symbolizes a wish for abundance in the upcoming year
  • sticky rice cakes (Nian gao), made from glutinous rice flour, sugar – a homophone in Chinese for "a more prosperous year" and symbolizes a rich, sweet life
  • broccoli and cauliflower look like blossoming flowers – blossoming prosperous new year
  • green vegetables, such as bok choy – signify wealth because of their color
  • Red Roast Duck – red is the color of happiness, which is why it is served at wedding and New Year's banquets

Once you have designed your spread for Chinese New Year – and don't panic, you have 15 days to pull something together – dig in with this tasty East-meets-West meal that celebrates the wealth of family togetherness.

Roasted Cranberry-Glazed Chicken with Sweet Potato-Fennel Fricassee (© 2014 Ming Tsai)

Serves 4-6

1 6-pound whole organic or free-range chicken, rubbed with oil and seasoned well at least 20 minutes before cooking if you did not have time to *brine it properly

1/2 cup smashed garlic cloves

2 large sweet potatoes, 1-inch dice

2 large fennel, 1/2-inch slices

1 large red onion, sliced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 cup Oceanspray cranberries

2 small disks palm sugar, chopped finely with a knife

1/2 cup Shaoxing wine or sherry [editor's note: substitute cooking wine if you prefer]

Canola oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Pre-heat the oven to maximum, usually 550 degrees F., with roasting pan pre-heating.

2. In a large bowl, combine garlic, potatoes and fennel and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little canola oil and toss to coat.

3. When oven is preheated, dump mixture in roasting pan and top with chicken, breast side up. Turn pan once, back to front, until browned, about 15-25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan coated lightly with oil, combine onion, ginger and cranberries and sweat. Add palm sugar and deglaze with Shaoxing, stirring; allow to reduce by half.

5. Transfer mixture to a blender and blend smooth, drizzling in just enough oil to bring everything together and emulsify. Take care in allowing any steam to escape through the top center of blender cover, using a folded kitchen towel and your hand to cover the opening in the center. Season and check for flavor. 

6. After 15-25 minutes of cooking, start to glaze the chicken with cranberry mixture and reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. Stir the veggies. Roast for 45-55 minutes more, glazing periodically, until a wing can be moved back and forth with ease. Alternatively, place a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone – when it registers 160 degrees F., it's done (carry-over cooking will take it to 165 degrees F.).

7. Serve roasted veggies and glazed chicken family-style on a platter.

*Brine method: Use sweet sea water ratio: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup kosher salt to 1 quart water, multiply as necessary to fully submerge protein in a large container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Rinse under running water before cooking.

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