Year of the Rabbit

Today, January 22, refreshes the Chinese lunar calendar, inaugurating 4721, the Year of the Rabbit.  Rabbits are considered to be thoughtful, friendly, and fathomless.  A pretty good description of this blog’s readers, right?  Thus, before you is a Taiwanese Lunar New Year feast, prepared in your honor

Most of the dishes, including the Pork Wontons (center-left), Soy-Braised Chicken Wings (center-right) and Scallion-Oil Noodles (top-center) were featured in the December 2019 Bon Appetit.  In that issue Lisa Cheng Smith describes the first Taiwanese New Year’s party she and her sister hosted, and the skills they’ve gained since.

Completing the festivities are three servings of Ginger Custard (upper left corner), as included in Fine Cooking‘s February/March 2020 issue.  Equally comforting is the chrysanthemum tea in the cups placed before each diner, a special recommendation from a university roommate, American, though of Chinese descent.

Before embarking on the adventure, careful attention to detail (or pretentiousness, more likely) calls for assembling authentic ingredients:

Taiwanese PantryFrom left to right, rock sugar, sesame paste, dark soy sauce, chrysanthemum tea, chili crisp and finally, below that, in the lower right corner, Taiwanese wheat noodles.

Appropriately supplied, let’s start with the Scallion-Oil Noodles.  The secret lies in slicing the scallions, two whole bunches of them, into thin strips:

Scallion StripsLots of work.  Man, wouldn’t you hate to be the sous-chef in that kitchen?  Oh, wait…

After the greens are prepped, they’re simmered in oil for half an hour, imparting a deep flavor, which later bathes the noodles.  The process also crisps the scallions, which ultimately top the noodles and impart a finely-flavored crunchiness.  It’s scallions two ways, doubling the experience.

Green onions also are present in the wonton filling.  When combined with rice wine, soy sauce and ginger, they give the pork a character that’s light, yet packed with flavor.  Steaming them, instead of boiling them as the recipe suggests, allows them to keep their shape.  Finally, drizzling them in a special sesame-chili sauce adds that special flourish.

Soy-Glazed Chicken Wings complete the dinner, dark soy imparting a rich lacquer and ginger, Szechuan peppercorns and chilis (among many, many other enhancements) giving them a rich, tingly, sophistication.  Here are wings just coated with soy marinade, which is about to do wonders for them:Soy Basting

Oh, and don’t forget dessert, which in this case is Steamed Ginger Custard.  Only four ingredients – cream, sugar, eggs and ginger – combine to create a creamy silkiness with a touch of  bite.  Subtly delivered, of course.  It’s just like Taiwanese chefs, considerate enough to conclude the meal with a final treat, delighting the palate and soothing the stomach.

Indeed, thoughtfulness is one of Rabbit’s traits, isn’t it?  So too is friendliness, savoring a feast shared with others, and reading a blog shared with them.  The Year of the Rabbit is only hours-old at this point and already you honor it greatly with your company.  You bring it much Fortune, and so may that gift be returned to you tenfold throughout the coming year!


Pork Wontons

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 scallion, finely-chopped
  • 1 teaspoon soy paste (*1)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely-grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine (*2)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 48 wonton wrappers

Using your hands, mix, in a large bowl, pork, scallion, soy paste, sesame oil, vegetable oil, ginger, wine, salt  and pepper.  Crack egg into center of mixture and stir vigorously in one direction with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, until mixture is shaggy and lightened in color, about four minutes.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, up to 12 hours.

Fill a small bowl with cold water   Take a wonton wrapper and lay it in your palm.  Press about a teaspoon of the pork mixture into the center of the wrapper.  Dip a finger into the water and run it along the edges.  Fold wrapper in half along the diagonal and press edges together tightly to seal.  Dip your finger into the water again and dampen the two bottom corners of the wonton.  Bring corners together and press to seal.  Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Fill a large pot 2/3-full with water and bring it to a boil over a medium flame.  Working in batches of ten at a time, gently lower the wontons into the water.  Cook for three minutes, until the wontons are slightly puckered and are wrapped lightly around the filling.  Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the wontons to a serving platter. (*3)

Drizzle with Sesame-Chili Sauce (recipe below) if desired, and sliced scallion greens.


1 – Soy paste is a condiment used frequently in Taiwanese and in southern Chinese cuisines.  You can pick up some at an Asian market, or by ordering it online.  Barring that expedient, make your own by combining equal quantities of soy sauce and oyster sauce.  Not quite as good, but close enough.

2 – If you don’t have rice wine, a shot of mirin or sherry is a good fill-in.

3 – Or, use a bamboo steamer if you have one.  Though the cooking time increases to ten minutes, you’ll more than double your capacity, as steamers have two sections, each of which holds at least a dozen wontons.   Better yet, the wontons retain their shape in the steamer, instead of boiling water tossing them about and ripping open the seals,

Learned this lesson the hard way, as this is exactly the violence that befell the first batch.  Henceforth, the steamer cooked them in a gentler, more refined manner.  Alas, “(e)xperience extracts a steep tuition, yet some will learn in no other school.”  That 18th-century knowledge applies even to Chinese cooking!


Sesame-Chili Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (*4)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili crisp (*5)

Put oil, sesame paste, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Whisk in water, a tablespoon at a time, until you can drizzle the sauce easily, but it’s not watery.  Stir in the chili crisp, then drizzle over wontons.


4 – Sesame paste is another Chinese condiment more readily available at Asian markets or online, than it is in general supermarkets.  If you don’t have any you always can substitute tahini, which is more commonly available, but, of course, isn’t Chinese.

5 – More obscure yet is chili crisp.  Either special-order it, or make your own by combining three parts sriracha with one part crushed peanuts.


Scallion-Oil Noodles

  • 10 scallions
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound Shanghai or lo mein noodles (*6)
  • 1/2 cup soy paste (*7)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Cut scallions crosswise into thirds, separating the white and light green parts from the dark green sections.  Slice lengthwise into very thin strips, keeping the dark green parts away from the other two.

Pour the oil into a wok or a high-sided skillet.  Add the lighter two sections of the scallion to the oil, and set vessel over a medium-low flame.  Cook for about five minutes until the oil begins to bubble.  Add the dark green bits and cook, stirring occasionally, until the scallions are crisped, about twenty minutes.

Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer scallions to a paper towel to drain.  Allow the oil to cool, then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl.  Discard any solids.

Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water, per the manufacturer’s instructions, adding a tablespoon of the scallion oil when you tip the noodles into the boiling water.   Reserve half a cup of the cooking water, then drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water.  Return the noodles to the original cooking pot.

Add the rest of the scallion oil and toss to coat.  Add the soy paste and toss to combine.  Add the soy sauce and toss yet again, adding reserved cooking water, as needed to loosen sauce.

Transfer noodles to a platter and top with the crisped scallions.


6 – Both types of noodles are round in shape, similar to spaghetti.  In any other situation, trying a new dish would call for authenticity, mandating one of the two varieties specified.  However, a good supply of Taiwanese flat noodles already was in the pantry, left from an earlier recipe.

As this is a Taiwanese feast, after all, why not?  Worked out well, actually, as the broad noodles give the flavors more surface area to inundate.

7 – As mentioned in a previous Note, soy paste is available in Asian supermarkets, or by mail-order.  You also can make a reasonable facsimile thereof by mixing equal parts soy sauce and oyster paste.


Soy-Braised Chicken Wings

  • 2 (3-inch) pieces of ginger, sliced thinly and divided
  • 1/2 cup dark soy sauce, divided (*8)
  • 2 teaspoons five-spice powder
  • 20-24 chicken wings (about 2-and-1/2 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 red finger chili, halved lengthwise (*9)
  • 3 ounces Chinese rock sugar (*10)
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns (*11)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine (*12)
  • cucumber, sliced thickly, then quartered, for garnish (optional)

Mix half of ginger, 1/4 cup of the dark soy sauce and one teaspoon of the five-spice powder in a medium bowl.  Add the wings and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to eight hours.

Place a wok over a medium-high flame and add the oil.  Add the shallot, scallion, garlic, chili and remaining ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about three minutes.  Add the rock sugar, star anise, cinnamon, white pepper, Szechuan peppercorns and the remaining teaspoon for five-spice powder.  Stir to combine.

Pour in the soy sauce, the remaining 1/4 cup of the dark soy sauce, and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.

Lift the chicken wings from the marinade and discard the marinade.  Add the wings to the wok and pour on the wine.  Stir gently and bring to a simmer.  Cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes.

Lift lid and stir gently, then cover again and cook for another 15 minutes.  Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate.

Pour liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, then discard the solids.  Return strained liquid to the wok and turn the flame to medium-high.  Cook until sauce thickly coats a spoon, about 10-12 minutes.  Return chicken to the sauce and toss to coat.

Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a platter and garnish with cucumber, if using.


8 – Dark soy sauce may or may not be available in a general market.  Other more likely sources include Asian supermarkets or mail-order.  You also can substitute regular soy sauce, though it won’t coat the chicken as thickly, or impart as rich a flavor.

9 – No need to seed the chili.  The slight addition in heat enhances the other flavors, rather than overwhelms them, and the solids ultimately are strained out anyway.

10 – If you can’t find rock sugar, use regular granulated sugar.  “Regular” sugar isn’t quite as subtle or as mellow as is Chinese rock, so a lesser quantity is needed.  If you’re using granulated, 1/4-cup will do.

11 – Szechuan pepper has a uniquely fruity, tingly profile that also numbs the mouth and tongue ever-so-slightly!  The flavor really can’t be replicated, though you always can use conventional peppercorns.  At least you still will be getting 30-35% of the flavor.

12 – In a different recipe, I suggested using mirin or sherry if you don’t have rice wine.


Steamed Ginger Custard

  • 1-and-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 teaspoons minced crystallized ginger (*13)

Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil, a little over 10 inches in length

In a 4-cup liquid measure, whisk the cream, eggs and sugar until well-blended.  Divide the custard into 1/2-cup ramekins.  (*14) Gently stir a teaspoon of the ginger into each cup.

Fill a wok or a large pot with enough water to allow a bamboo steamer to rest on the cooking vessel, without the water touching the steamer. Bring the water to a boil over a high flame, then reduce to medium-low, just enough to maintain a low simmer.

Load the bamboo steamer with the ramekins, distributing them evenly between the two layers, and keeping them apart on each level.  Loosely drape the foil over the top layer, yet beneath the lid.

Place the steamer on the cooking vessel and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the custard mostly is set.  Add ass necessary to the water in the cooking vessel.

Remove the steamer from he heat and allow custards to cool.  Garnish each with another teaspoon of the minced ginger, and serve.


13 – This works out to a little less than a bag.

14 – The ramekins featured today are bit over half a cup, and thus, they yielded only four servings.  Just as well, as the meal was meant for three (plus the cook!).  However, if you are using more conventional 1/2-cup ramekins, you probably will get six servings.


12 thoughts on “Year of the Rabbit

    1. Much appreciated, my friend! Taiwanese remained cloudy for me too, at least until creativity flowed last Saturday.

      After all, neighborhood “Chinese” joints serve Cantonese, mostly, with maybe a few feints in Sichuan’s direction. Taiwanese merely intrigued, though, until last weekend’s discovery.

      As for the recent proclamation for sous-cheffery, pity. I really could’ve used your help Saturday afternoon. Tell you what, Crystal – I’ll overnight some dough and some oranges. Knead and roll out the former, zest and juice the latter, please!


      1. Great! You’ll find it launches unanticipated creativity, Crystal. After all, experts started as amateurs too. Every last one of them.

        Recall the language’s Latin ancestry. “Amateur” signifies not inexperience, but love. As in that which motivates most to explore – a zest for learning, not a paycheck.

        Let’s go!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. My, my. So very much to consider. I’ll start by admiring your dedication: your special acquisitions seem like they might’ve taken some time and a bit of effort. And let’s not get into how far in advance your plans go — I couldn’t plan out yesterday if I had charts and a time machine, so I mentally tip my hat to you every time I realize just how much preparation you put into everything.

    I don’t know much about the Chinese New Year, really; though, I do appreciate a bit of symbolism, and the description of “fathomless” makes me smile — especially when applied to the readers of a food blog. 😝😋

    As for the food itself, hunger-inducing as ever. The wontons and the noodles in particular caught my eye; though, as for me, I’d probably have to make an exchange or two.

    And on a tangential note: have you ever eaten rabbit, Keith?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What wonderful compliments, Rachel – thank you!

      You’re familiar with the planning, of course. If nothing else, a year in lockdown yielded plans through spring 2028. Some of the more ambitious projects involve Pan Am, Versailles, Nero Wole, Saigon and housecats. Recipes call on the patio garden to produce much, including a few “curiosities.” Puff pastry is involved, along with chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. To list just a few coming attractions…

      It’s good Lunar New Year captured your interest. After all, what else inspires the imagination in the long winter stretch between Christmas and springtime? And just like that, February is here. Nearly so, at least.

      Oh, and I haven’t tried rabbit yet. How about you, Rachel?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure.

        Heh, I would fully expect to see some more Nero Wolfe recipes. And chocolate, of course. Though “housecats” being in the list does surprise me — I immediately think of meat pies…

        We get rabbits sometimes in our backyard, and I confess to being somewhat partial to them. Though not yet in a “with a good sauce” kind of way — I quail when my sister suggests it. Rabbit would be interesting to try one day, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, Rachel, housecats (or a housecat in particular) should animate an upcoming entry, though more so in inspiration than for any other reason. Travel still fascinates, of course, though we’ll trade in a train ticket and upgrade to air travel. Fights on Pan Am and Air France each are scheduled to depart from this terminal.

        My first pet as a toddler was a rabbit, actually, and he used to follow me around the yard. For that reason, I have a sentimental attachment, regardless of culinary adventure. Given that, and rabbit being fairly uncommon, I likely never will try it.

        It sounds to me as though your sister tries to annoy you with her talk of sauces. Your opinion of hoppers probably is well known, and she won’t pass up an opportunity to irritate you. Sibling rivalry, and all.


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