Dragon Yee Sang
Chinese New Year is coming up in a few days and I so I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite CNY dishes.
Yee Sang is a very popular Chinese New Year dish around Malaysia and Singapore (Do people eat this in China or Hong Kong? I really don’t know), and my family usually eat this on the eve of Chap Goh Meh, which is the 15th and final day of the new year festival.
Yee Sang is a colourful salad of prosperous ingredients, which are tossed together with a sweet dressing. Everyone around the table puts their chopsticks into the salad and tosses it high in the air. The superstition goes that the higher the salad is tossed, the more luck that will come in the new year. It’s can get a bit messy, but tossing the yee sang are some of my favourite memories of my childhood.
There are lots of recipes for Yee Sang around, and most of them use raw salmon or smoked salmon but I thought that this year, because it is the year of the Water Dragon, I would use lobster sashimi instead. Of course, if you want a more traditional yee sang, just substitute the lobster sashimi with another raw fish.
Chinese new year foods are full of symbolism – Fish symbolise wealth because ‘yu’, the Chinese word for fish, is synonymous with the words for wealth and abundance. Long noodles signify a long life. Oranges signify good luck, and pomelos or grapefruits also signify wealth and prosperity. One of the most popular areas of symbolism is the balance between yin and yang, or the dragon and phoenix. In food the dragon is often symbolised by lobster or prawns, and the phoenix is often symbolised by pheasant or chicken. In this year of the Water Dragon, what could be more fitting than a celebratory dish paying homage to the symbolic Water Dragon, the lobster.
Dragon Yee Sang
- 1 live lobster
- 6 wonton wrappers
- Oil for deep frying
- 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
- 1 carrot, peeled and julienned
- ½ Continental cucumber, peeled, deseeded and julienned
- ½ daikon white radish, julienned
- 6 leaves Chinese cabbage (hakusai, lombok), shredded
- 1 cup pomelo or grapefruit, torn into small pieces (peel, pith, seeds and any membrane removed)
- 1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked
- 2 tbsp Japanese red pickled ginger (benishouga)
- 150ml plum sauce
- 2 tbsp honey
- juice of 2-3 limes
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp peanut oil
- ¼ tsp five spice powder
- Slice the wonton wrappers into thin strips and deep fry in batches in hot oil until crispy, then set aside to drain. Don’t fry too many at one time or they will stick together. Also, it’s best not to slice the wrappers all stacked together, or they may clump on the board. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frypan until golden brown and then set aside to cool.
- Julienne the cabbage, daikon, carrot and cucumber. Arrange these on a large platter and separately place on the pickled ginger, coriander and wonton crisps around in separate piles.
- To prepare the lobster, chill the lobster in the freezer for about 2 hours until it is asleep. Kill it quickly with a spike through the head and separate the meaty tail from the head. Cut down either side of the soft underside of the lobster and remove the flesh from the shell using your hands, and using a paring knife if necessary. Remove the vein from the lobster as neatly as possible and wipe away any residue. Although I don’t recommend this, if the lobster meat is very dirty and you feel that you have to, you can rinse the meat very quickly in a mixture of iced water and salt (using enough salt to give the mixture the saltiness of seawater).
- Heat a large pot of water until boiling and add the lobster head and tail shell to the pot and boil until the shell changes colour. Clean the shells and remove any meat that was clinging to the shell, reserving it for another purpose (an egg white omelette with cream and spring onion is perfect, or you can just dip it in a little yuzu kosho tabasco – but that’s a recipe for another time…)
- With a very sharp knife, slice the lobster into very thin slices and arrange over the centre of the salad.
- If you would like to use the tail for presentation, clean it well with a paper towel and, if it’s looking a little dull, polish the outside with a small amount of oil.
- For the dressing, mix together all the ingredients.
To serve, gather everyone together and give them a pair of chopsticks each. Pour over the sauce and scatter with sesame seeds. Everyone reaches in with their chopsticks to toss the salad. Toss it as high as you can for good luck!
I love your recipes!
Hi Adam … This looks great. My mum makes a similar version except with salmon and uses the juice of pickled ginger as the sauce. So, yes, they do yee sang in china
I’m an amateur cook but strive to create new dishes with new flavors. Family and friends always pick on me for making “big productions”.
Anyway, being from Portugal where we have the best fish and seafood of the universe… and we DO know how to cook it to bring the best out of it, have one question for you: we were always told that lobster (in this case) how dreadful it may sound, should be put alive in boiling water. The result is an extremely firm and tasty meat. Tried pre-asleep or semi-killed lobsters in other countries, and the flesh tastes like cardboard. Not as firm and tasty as we do it here. Can you please confirm if your technique fills the humanitary aspects as well as the gourmet aspects?
A big fan
Luisa (from Cascais, Portugal)
There’s no truth the the rumour that putting a lobster alive in boiling water will make it taste better. When I kill lobster, I first put it in the freezer for an hour or 2 until it is “asleep”, then I spike the lobster with metal spike through the shell just behind the eyes so that it is killed immediately. Then I put it straight into the boiling water, or better yet a nice shellfish nage.
If the flesh is tasteless or like cardboard in other countries it may be that it has just been cooked badly. Overcooked lobster is terrible. Alternatively, it may be that it is a different species of lobster. I find that lobsters from cold or temperate waters are much tastier than tropical lobsters. In places like Cuba or Thailand where lobsters are relatively plentiful people can be seduced by the name, but find the taste and texture to be lacking. I find it’s much better to go for delicious tiger prawns or river prawns that have a much nicer taste and texture.
Hope that helps.
Do agree with you about the tasteless tropical waters shellfish. Had some really bad experiences in Cuba and in the Caribbean….
We do have cold water products…. the best as you say….
I will be more “humane” and next time will try your method for killing the poor things.. meaning lobsters….
Thanks for your quick repply,
I think you will really love my familys food journal 🙂
check it out, btw looking forward to more cny recipes and idea’s we are in singapore and will enjoy cny here with lots of good food!
Hi Adam, thanks for sharing this great recipe! I will make it at home for CNY reunion dinner this coming Sunday as I don’t really like the ones in chinese restaurant here in Perth. (or maybe I haven’t tried a good one yet!) But definitely will make them this sunday. 🙂 Happy chinese new year to you.
I Adam!!! I’ve posted a comment in your page of facebook! I love your food and your philosofy of life! I’m a bad bad bad cook!!!!!! LOL despite I’m just nineteen years old…I’d love to cook like you!!! Please come to Guarda, Portugal!! I’d love to meet you!!! Kisses, Congratulations and Good Luck!!!! please answer =P
Thanks so much for your message. There’s no such thing as a bad cook. There are only people who haven’t learned yet.
I believe that everyone should be able to make at least ONE meal that they love. Until they can do that, they should never stop trying. And if they can do it now, they are already a good cook.
Best wishes for the future!
Thank you so much for the answer. you’re so different from the other public figures! You are very honest and I love that!
Thanks again and I wish the best for your life!!!
And please… I’ll say this again: COME TO GUARDA, PORTUGAL!!!
Hi! I’m Portuguese and I live in Braga, I love your food. I don’t have a good english but I want tell you that I love see you cooking and I like the presentation of your dishes….
I love cook…. I love cook fondant of chocolate and make my eggplant lasagna. I love cook all the dishes and one day I want to be like you. I’m just 15 years old but I want to have a restaurant one day I want to be a great chef when I grow up.
Do you already have your restaurant?
Kisses (beijos (in portuguese))
And good luck (boa sorte)!!
Please answer! 😛
Thank you for your attention (Obrigada pela tua atenção)
Thanks for your lovely message. It made my day!
Dear Adam, love to see you cooking on Masterchef. It’s my favourite tv show.
Sorry to ask you this but do you suggest any recipe of Spaghetti ai fruti di mare?
Best Regards and the best of luck from Portugal.
You are amazing, your attitude are fantastic.
Best wishes for the future.
Hi Adam! I’m brazilian and I just think you’re an inspiration! I would like to ask if have you cooked any brazilian dish already? I would love to see your version of any brazilian food! You’re great! You’re a legend!
Traditionally Yee Sang was much simpler in Guangzhao province where the fishermen consume to celebrate their harvest. The dish has since been modernized in Singapore and then now enjoyed pretty much everywhere. (Many Japanese restaurants now do it, even a Mexican restaurant in KL!) Using Lobster is fabulous! One of the restaurants in KL also uses ‘dragon fish’ which I thought is quite interesting.
Happy Chinese New Year!
Yum.. love yee sang!!! Will have to try and make this. Anyone recommend restaurants which do this in Adelaide?
Not only looks delicious but I found your back-story intruiging too! Good work!
so far i know my mom [hong kong nationality, i have dual citizenship] never made this dish probably because our family are hakka side so mostly during CNY we would make traditional cantonese-hakka dishes. Aniways it looks delicious, someday i will make this dish too, btw they are re-broadcasting masterchef australia 2010 here in holland, Your dishes are amazing other too! haha ooh well kepp up the good work =]