Make, Jane, make!: Textural Goodness: Stir Fried Nian Gao with Napa Cabbage


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Friday, April 1, 2011

Textural Goodness: Stir Fried Nian Gao with Napa Cabbage

There may have been a napa cabbage shortage in Korea in the fall, but there's definitely no shortage of cheap napa cabbage here. Yesterday, I looked into the fridge and pondered about what I wanted to make with the rest of a huge head of napa cabbage. We'd used part of it for hot pot earlier, and another part of it in a stir fry, but it was just too massive... Then I remembered this dish:

There is a phrase in Chinese which refers to the texture of foods, 口感 (link to a site that will allow you to hear this phrase pronounced in Mandarin and Cantonese). And there are many Chinese dishes that are purely about enjoyment of textures - nian gao (or neen gow) is definitely one of those dishes. I've blogged before about the sweet version of this rice cake in my CNY cooking post, but this post is an ode to the savoury side of nian gow.

Savoury nian gow is made from non-glutinous rice and can be enjoyed in almost any dish where you would like to add some chewy goodness. I love it added to hot pot as a carb component or stir fried with veggies and meat to form a quick one dish meal.

Stir Fried Nian Gao with Napa Cabbage Yield: dinner for two + two small children with some leftovers 
1/2 - 2/3 lb pork, thinly shredded or ground
6 - 8 leaves napa cabbage, cut into medium pieces
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb nian gao, sliced into thin discs/separated
1 Tbsp cornstarch
soy sauce
oyster sauce

Marinate the pork in cornstarch and about 2 teaspoonfuls of soy sauce. Let it sit while you prepare the other ingredients.

Chop up your cabbage, mushrooms and garlic.

Check the nian gao you bought to see what kind of preparation is needed. Nian gao is usually found in the refrigerated section with fresh noodles and the soup meatballs. The supermarket I went to had this type and the long rod-shaped ones (which are better for soup/hot pot). This kind was pretty convenient since it was actually pre-scored into small thin rectangles which cooked really easily right in the wok. Although I kinda like thicker, chewier pieces - so if I can't find the thicker discs next time, I may cut up the rods myself to get even thicker, chewier slices of nian gao. If you are using thick slices of nian gao or really dry nian gao you may want to consider soaking them first in some warm water to soften them up.

Heat up your wok to medium-high, add some oil and throw your pork in. Cook until almost all traces of pink are gone. Don't worry about brown bits sticking everywhere as you cook. The veggies contain so much moisture, they will basically deglaze your pan for you later.

Toss in the cabbage, mushrooms and garlic. You could definitely also have green onions, julienned carrots, enoki mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms or whatever else you like. This is just what I had on hand. A lot of people will use Chinese mushrooms instead of button mushrooms, but I didn't want the nian gao to have any rivals in the texture arena of this dish.

While I waited for the mushrooms and napa cabbage to wilt and release most of their moisture. I separated my nian gao into its tiny slices.

Once the cabbage and mushrooms are basically cooked through to your liking. Add the nian gao and lower the heat to medium (if your burner is super hot like mine :)

At this point, you can add soy sauce and oyster sauce to taste. I probably added about 2 teaspoonfuls more soy and 2-3 tablespoonfuls of oyster sauce. It really depends on your taste and the types and brands of sauces you're using.

Whatever you do, keep turning and flipping the wok contents! Do not stop and try to take pictures of yourself adding oyster sauce! Because as you do, the nian gao starts to soften and, like any rice product, will start to stick. I had a few sticky spots form as I tried to get this picture... but usually if you keep stirring periodically, you should have no problem. Whenever the nian gao is soft enough and the flavouring is to your liking, the dish is ready!

Quick one dish meal for a lazy day dinner.

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