Our Chinese New Year Tradition
I am the first to admit that while I claim my Chinese ethnicity, I am far removed from the language and culture of my ancestors. My main connection to cultural celebrations is food. As we approach Chinese New Year (February 10th this year), I am making one of my mother’s dishes – deep-fried oyster rolls.
Growing up, this dish was something I remembered my mom making for new year’s get-togethers with family. It’s only recently, long after she left us, that I heard from different family members about how much they enjoyed this dish.
I don’t know where she got the recipe. I’ve done some internet sleuthing and the closest recipe I found was this one but it is not quite the same. It’s possible that there is a different dish in Chinese that doesn’t translate to “oyster rolls.”
This dish was a labor of love for my mom, although I don’t know that she saw it that way. She enjoyed feeding people and this was something people enjoyed. In memory of my mom, I pulled this recipe from our family cookbook so we could add it to our new year’s feast.
Foods for Chinese New Year
The foods eaten for Chinese New Year are highly symbolic – dumplings for wealth, noodles for longevity, nian gao for increasing prosperity, and whole fish for good luck or good fortune. For Cantonese, dried oysters are popular during Chinese New Year because its name sounds like the word for good deeds, good fortune, or prosperity.
What is an oyster roll?
An oyster roll is like a dumpling without the wrapper. It is like a short, fat sausage without the casing. It is the addition of dried Chinese oysters that gives the dish its name and flavor. Once formed, the roll is steamed. Then it is coated in an egg and cracker crumb breading and deep fried. It is served as is, without any additional garnish or sauce.
There are two ingredients that are essential to this recipe – dried oysters and fresh (raw) Chinese fishcake (also called fish paste). In Hawaii I can purchase both ingredients in Chinatown and in some local supermarkets. Unless you have a store nearby dedicated to Asian ingredients, you can order the oysters online.
The fishcake, on the other hand, is a different story. I can’t think of an appropriate substitute that could be found in a western supermarket. And because it is a fresh, raw product, it can’t be mail ordered. My great-uncle was an avid fisherman and he and my great-aunt would make fresh fishcake. It is a laborious undertaking. If you are so inclined, here is an article and video of how it can be made.
I was surprised to find that there are no additional seasonings – no soy sauce or sesame oil or white pepper. The flavors come from the ingredients themselves, primarily the dried oysters.
This recipe is deeply rooted in our family’s collective memories. While it may not be for everyone, it will always have a special place in our hearts (and our bellies). Kung Hee Fat Choy!Print
These oyster rolls have a delicate, deep-fried crust encasing a savory filling of seafood, ground pork, and vegetables. They were traditionally served as part of our Chinese New Year feast.
For the oyster rolls
1 pound dried oysters, soaked overnight, chopped
1½ pounds fresh Chinese fish cake
1½ pounds raw shrimp, minced
1½ pounds ground pork
1 cup diced ham
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, minced
1 15-ounce can bamboo shoots, minced
¼ cup sliced scallions
For the breading:
½ cup flour
7 eggs, scrambled
105 Ritz crackers, finely crushed (about an 11.8 ounce box)
Thoroughly combine the oyster roll ingredients. The mixture should be homogenous but will be a little sticky. Form into rolls about 1½” long.
Place the rolls in a bowl and set in a steamer basket to steam for 20 minutes. If you are using a two-leveled steamer basket, rotate the baskets halfway through the steaming process. Set aside to cool slightly. (At this stage, the rolls may be cooled completely then frozen and kept for several months. They can be defrosted overnight to be fried the next day.)
Using a standard breading method, place the flour, egg, and cracker crumbs in three separate bowls. Completely coat each roll first in flour, then in egg, and then cracker crumbs. Set aside.
Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Deep fry each roll to a golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Oyster rolls are best served fresh but can be reheated in an air fryer.
When chopping the ingredients you want to make sure they are all about the same size. Everything should be relatively small so you don’t have large chunks in the dumplings.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Seafood
- Cuisine: Chinese
- Serving Size: 1 roll
- Calories: 109.99
- Sugar: 0.63 g.
- Sodium: 203.18 mg.
- Fat: 4.81 g.
- Saturated Fat: 1.14 g.
- Carbohydrates: 7.85 g.
- Fiber: 0.33 g.
- Protein: 9.53 g.
- Cholesterol: 56.71 mg.
Keywords: dried oysters, Chinese raw fish cake, ground pork