Stir-Fried New Year Rice Cake with Smoked Bacon
Every year, in the last lunar month, many Hunanese households make their own New Year rice cakes. A mixture of rice and glutinous rice is soaked for two or three days, steamed and then pounded to a paste in a heavy mortar made of grey stone, with a pestle as tall as a broomstick. (You can still see these mortars in the yards of most farmhouses.) The paste is then pressed into wooden moulds, which are usually carved with auspicious designs, and left out to dry. The finished rice cakes, immersed in cold water to prevent them from cracking, keep for some time and are eaten in various different ways.
In the farmhouse belonging to my friend Fan Qun, I have sat around a basin of glowing wood embers in midwinter, toasting slabs of ci ba on a long pair of iron tongs until they are crisp and golden, and then hollowing them out with chopsticks and stuffing them with white sugar that partially melts inside. But my favourite recipe is the one below, which another friend, Xiao Hong, showed me how to make with ci ba and intensely flavoured bacon she had brought back to Changsha from her village. It’s a typical New Year’s holiday dish, drawing as it does on two of the traditional preserved products of the last lunar month.
You can buy ci ba in good Chinese supermarkets, vacuum-packed and ready to cook.
|400 g/14 oz||New Year rice cake (bought ready to cook)|
|200 g/7 oz||thickly cut smoked streaky bacon rashers, with rinds|
|2||fresh red chillies|
|2 tsp||sesame oil|
|2 tbsp||groundnut oil for cooking|
1. Cut the rice cake into slices about 0.5 cm/¼ in thick; set aside. Remove the rinds from the bacon and cut the bacon into slices to match the rice cake. Cut the spring onions at a steep angle into long slices, separating the white and green parts. Thinly slice the chillies, discarding stems and seeds as far as possible.
2. Heat the wok over a high flame until smoke rises, then add the oil and swirl around. Add the bacon rinds and stir-fry until they have released their flavour, rendered their fat and are golden; remove from the wok and discard.
3. Add the bacon to the wok and stir-fry until opaque, separating the slices. Add the rice cake and spring onion whites and stir-fry until the rice cake and bacon are both fragrant and the rice cake is tinged with gold. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the chilli slices and salt to taste.
4. Add the green spring onions and stir a few times so they are barely cooked, then, off the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.