Shanghai Chao Nian Gao 上海炒年糕

This was my dad's favorite dish. My mom likes to tell the story of how she fell in love with my dad when she saw him eating Shanghai Chao Nian Gao.

They were two of a dozen passengers on a freighter from Taiwan to the United States, most of them in their mid-twenties, journeying to America to attend graduate school. Along the way, the waters were pretty rough, so most of the passengers got seasick.

Now, my dad was from Ningbo, a port city about 140 miles south of Shanghai across the Hangzhou Bay. Ningbo is one of China's oldest cities, dating back to 4800 BC. And being a seaport city, Ningbo people were famous for being skilled seafarers who contributed to its long history of maritime commerce.

On the freighter, my dad made friends with the cook who was also from Ningbo. As part of their Ningbo "fraternity", the cook often prepared some of my dad's favorite foods. One night, he made Shanghai Chao Nian Gao. Everyone else was too seasick to eat it, but my dad had no problems with the rolling and tossing and happily ate as much as he liked. My mom said that was when she really took notice of "this guy" and was "very impressed" by his ability to eat under such debilitating conditions. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Anyways, I love this dish as well, with its soft but chewy rice cakes and savory meat and stir-fried greens. Back in the old days, it wasn't easy to find in Chinese restaurants as most early Chinese immigrants were from Guangdong (Canton) and Taiwan. Not until the 1990's, with the influx of Chinese from all parts of the Mainland, did Americans have more opportunities to sample other Chinese regional fare.

Another reason I love this dish is it's pretty easy to make at home! You'll find the main ingredient, rice cakes, in most Asian groceries in the refrigerated section where they sell tofu and fresh noodles. I remember in the old days, they only came in logs and my dad would have to slice them himself. These days, they're sold pre-sliced.

Next time you're at a Chinese restaurant, I hope you'll give this dish a try. You might like it so much, you'll want to make it at home!

Shanghai Chao Nian Gao  上海炒年糕
Serves 4-6

Note: Since this is a stir-fry dish, make sure to prep all the ingredients and have ready to throw into the wok before you fire up the stove. Also, the stir-frying times given are based on my gas range (23,000 BTUs). Your mileage may vary based on how hot you can rev up your stove.

Place in a large bowl and separate any stuck together slices:
1 - 32 oz. bag of pre-sliced rice cakes
Add water to completely cover the rice cakes. Let soak for 30 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together:
10oz or half of a 20oz package of ground turkey
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper
2 tablespoons Xiaoxing wine or cooking sherry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
A drizzle of canola oil
Set aside and let marinade while you prepare the other ingredients.

Slice up:
1 yellow onion 
1/2 head Napa cabbage
1/2 lb fresh Shiitake mushrooms

Also have on hand:
3-4 heads of garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 scallions, chopped
3 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves, or larger spinach leaves chopped up

In a small bowl, mix together and set aside:
1/3 cup oyster sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil

Now we're ready to start cooking!

Heat the wok over the highest stove setting. Add a tablespoon of canola or peanut oil, heat briefly then add meat and stir fry just until no longer pink. Remove meat from wok; set aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil to heated wok. Then stir fry sliced onions and shiitake mushrooms 3-4 minutes or until vegetables are softened but still holding their shape. Add a bit of water if necessary to keep from sticking to wok. Add minced garlic, ginger and scallions. Stir fry 30 seconds. Add napa cabbage and cook another 2-3 minutes or until cabbage has wilted a bit. Remove wok from heat; empty vegetables from wok (add to meat) and set aside.

Drain the nian gao. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in wok. Toss in drained nian gao and stir fry 3-4 minutes or until nian gao has softened. It should be soft and pliable, but not mushy. Again, add a little bit of water if necessary to prevent excessive sticking and burning.

Add the oyster sauce mixture to the nian gao and stir fry a minute or two to evenly distribute. Add the spinach and stir fry a minute. Return the ground turkey and veggies to the wok and continue stir-frying for another minute or two or until spinach is cooked to your liking. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

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From Woo to You said…
Hi! Do you have any idea how to cook this dish the night before and serve it the next day for a lunch potluck? I want to make sure the rice cakes don't stick together...Thanks!
Pearl Chow said…
Hi Woo to You,

I've heated leftovers in the microwave oven, adding a little bit of water to keep them moist. However, they never taste quite as good as directly from the wok and they definitely stick together more. My feeling is Shanghai Chao Nian Gao is one of those dishes best eaten straight away. If you do discover a way, please come back and let us know!
Thanks for visiting!


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