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Yu Sheng (CNY Raw Fish Salad)

   

Yee Sang
DIY Yu Sheng 鱼生 – Chinese New Year Raw Fish Salad

This recipe was first posted on 4 Feb 2010, and re-posted for the Lunar New Year holiday season.

Note: The following post comes with a detailed recipe for making your own Yu Sheng, history and how to Lo Hei (prosperity toss).

“Yúshēng” (鱼生, aka “Yee Sang” & “Yu Sang”), literally means “raw fish” in Chinese but since it sounds like Yúshēng (余升) which means an increase in abundance, Chinese living in Singapore & Malaysia (especially businessmen and working people) love to eat this dish during the Chinese New Year (CNY) season as it is a symbol of abundance, prosperity and good fortune. For those unfamiliar with this dish, I will describe it as an Asian-style salad with various shredded vegetables and served with assorted toppings, a sweet plum sauce and slices of raw fish (usually salmon sashimi or mackerel). Each ingredient added is well thought of because there is a corresponding auspicious greeting with it.

Eating Yu Sheng during CNY is a cultural activity for Chinese living in Singapore and Malaysia, but not so much in other Chinese-populated countries such as Hong Kong, where the practice is almost unheard of. This may be due to the origins of the dish, which was created by 4 master chefs in a Singapore restaurant kitchen way back in 1964. I’m proud to say that Yu Sheng is one of those few local foods born and popularized in Singapore.

Chinese New Year Yu Sheng
My home-made Yu Sheng

Today, this dish is usually served as an appetizer to raise ‘good luck’ for the new year. It is consumed throughout the 15-day CNY celebrations, especially on the seventh day which is known as Ren Ri 人日 (commonly known as “every person’s birthday”). My family even consume it on CNY eve as part of the reunion dinner.

This year, as part of my CNY cooking, I decided to challenge myself and recreate this popular Singapore dish. Yu Sheng has always being charged a premium price when ordered at restaurants during the CNY festive season, but to me, it’s just some shredded vegetables and often, a few measly pieces of thinly sliced raw fish thrown in. If you buy a prepacked box from the supermarket, you have to grate your own vegetables and purchase your own fish too, so why not make it all on your own? After trying out/tweaking my recipe a few rounds, I realised that it is possible to re-create this dish at home, and with extra slices of salmon sashimi and perhaps some abalone too, since one already save a lot by diy-ing. Now you can enjoy the dish throughout the year and not just during CNY :)

Yu Sheng (Yee Sang)
Yu Sheng: Singapore Chinese New Year dish

I had a hard time searching for a complete recipe for this CNY dish, unlike pineapple tarts where so many people are making at home and there are tonnes of recipes online. I relied a lot on photos, memory of the taste and snippets from recipes here and there to recreate the dish. I think I “pass” on my third attempt. Hope my recipe will be helpful to those trying to make this dish this year.

Recipe
Yu Sheng Ingredients

Ingredients
(Serves 2)

Note:
- The ingredients stated are for two, but it can easily serve up to 4 since it’s just an appetizer salad. Feel free to double up for 4, triple for 6, etc
- The amount of ingredients, especially the grated vegetables, is just a rough guide. Feel free to grate as much vegetables to your liking. Some Yu Sheng comes with a mountain pile of daikon, carrots and cucumbers.

(A) Main Cast – 8 main ingredients
1) 1 carrot, skin peeled
2) 1 white radish (daikon), skin peeled
3) 1 cucumber
4) 2 tbsp Japanese red pickled ginger (In Singapore, I buy them at Sakuraya/Cold Storage Taka/Isetan Scotts Supermarket)
5) Pomelo (I use the Ipoh Tambun variety), peeled and sacs separated, about 50g
6) 1 packet of Pok Chui crackers (I use store bought ones from NTUC)
7 & 8 ) Red and green yam strips which is made with
- 1 yam, remove the skin (wear disposable gloves when handling yam)
- red and green food colouring (I use Bake King’s Cochineal/Cherry Red and Apple Green)
- vegetable oil for deep frying

(B) Supporting cast
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp roasted peanuts, chopped finely (or crushed using mortar and pestle)
- 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- a small dash of Chinese white ground pepper
- 1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil

(C) Sauce
Note: Serves 2, feel free to double the quantities for 4, triple for 6, and so on
- 2.5 tbsp Chinese plum sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- a tbsp of hot water to achieve the consistency of sauce to your liking (adjust according to the brand you use)

(D) Raw fish
Suggestions
- raw fish slices 生鱼, usually salmon sashimi slices (traditionally raw mackerel used) and/or
- abalone slices

Shredding Cucumber
Salmon Sashimi and Abalone

(E) Tools
- a special vegetable peeler with “teeth” or julienne slicer or mandoline for shredding vegetables quickly and finely to long thin strips
- a round plate for assembling the main ingredients as roundness symbolises fullness
Using a vegetable peeler with “teeth” to julienne the vegetables effortlessly (that’s not my hands btw, I’m the photographer :x)

Directions
(A) Main Cast – 8 main ingredients
1) Pat dry carrot, daikon and cucumber after washing. Using a special vegetable peeler with “teeth” or a julienne slicer or a mandoline, julienne (slicing to long thin strips) 50g of each vegetable.
2) To prepare the yam (see photo step-by-step below), wear disposable gloves as the yam will “bite” our skin. Slice off the yam skin and then using a special vegetable peeler with “teeth” or a julienne slicer or a mandoline, julienne (cutting to long thin strips) 100g of yam. Divide yam into two equal portions in two separate bowls. Using a short straw, pick up a few drops of red colouring and dye one bowl of yam red. Use another straw, dye the other bowl of yam green. Leave to dry for a while. Heat up some vegetable oil in a wok (enough to cover the ingredients; I use about 500 ml), when the oil is hot enough turn it down to medium, add the red yam first and deep fry for about 3 minutes. Remove and drain on a plate. Repeat for green yam. It is important that the oil is hot enough but not too hot or else the yam will become too crispy. Set aside.
3) Arrange all the ingredients on a round plate.

Preparation of yam for making yee sang
Preparation of yam

(B) Supporting cast
1) To toast sesame seeds, heat up a dry pan or wok, then add sesame seeds. Use a spatula to stir the sesame seeds evenly and toast till the sesame seeds is a nice golden brown. Do not take your eyes off during the toasting process as it only takes a few minutes, and the seeds get from golden to burnt really quickly.
2) Arrange the ingredients in separate shallow dishes.

(C) Sauce & Raw fish
1) To prepare the sauce, just add everything in a small bowl and mix till evenly dissolved.
2) Arrange the raw fish on a separate plate. If using mackerel, you may want to marinade the fish slices with some ginger juice because some people find it more “fishy” than salmon.

How to eat Yu Sheng
Lo Hei - Tossing Yu Sheng

Lo Hei – Tossing Yu Sheng

In a ceremony known as “lo hei” (Cantonese 撈起 or 捞起), families, friends and colleagues gather around the table.

1) Say 恭喜发财 and 万事如意 when putting down the Yu Sheng on the table.

2) Say the auspicious greeting for each ingredient as it is added to the plate.

Here is the corresponding CNY greeting of each ingredient:

- red items (carrot, red yam, red ginger): 鸿运当头
- green items (cucumber, green yam): 青春常驻
- white radish (daikon): 风生水起/步步高升
- pok chui crackers: 翩地黄金
- pomelo: 大吉大利
- cinnamon powder: 招财进宝
- Chinese 5-spice powder: 五福临门
- plum sauce: 甜甜蜜蜜
- crushed roasted peanuts: 金银满屋
- roasted sesame seeds: 生意兴隆
- olive oil: 多多油水
- white pepper powder: 招财进宝
- raw fish slices: 年年有余
- abalone slices: 年年包有余

3) When all the ingredients have been piled on the plate, then everyone, on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes (吉祥话 Jíxiáng Huà) out loud to mark the start of a prosperous new year. It’s believed that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes!

Recipe tweaks

Vegetarian version
- Replace raw ingredients with mock fish and/or mock abalone slices

Extra Sides (optional/not shown in photos)
- preserved jellyfish
- preserved papaya & melon strips
- lime slices and a bit of lime juice
- lobster sashimi slices

Ingredients substitution
- red capsicum for red yam
- green capsicum for green yam
- deepfried wonton skin wrappers for pok chui crackers
- grapefruit for pomelo

References, sources & further reading
- Wiki: Yu Sheng
- NLB: What is the meaning behind the ingredients of “Yu Sheng”?
- RMIT article: Yu-Sheng Chinese Lunar New Year Dishes
- Foodie Passion: Yu Sheng ‘Toss Up Luck’ For Abundant Propsperity

                                           

Leave a Comment





88 Responses to “Yu Sheng (CNY Raw Fish Salad)”

  1. food-4tots — February 4, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

    I love Yu Sheng but never know that it is such a tedious task to prepare. Don’t think I have the time to do all this. Can see all the efforts you put for this post. Kudos to you!!

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:17 am

      haha only the yam part is tedious, if you substitute the yam with other ingredients like bell peppers, making the yu sheng is actually quite a breeze, much easier than baking all those CNY goodies I would say :)

      Reply

  2. Marysol — February 4, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

    No question NC, you’re very patient and dedicated to your craft.

    This lovely dish looks like an artist’s paint palette, only healthier and delicious!

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:18 am

      Hee artist’s paint palette! Yes it turns out to be quite colourful, so I guess it looks appealing as an appetizer. Thanks for your kind words!

      Reply

  3. Ching — February 5, 2010 @ 12:04 am

    Wow, thanks for this, now I know it’s actually not too difficult to make it at home. Question is, would I take the trouble to make it myself since auntie Lily prepare this every CNY. :P

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:18 am

      Lucky you to have someone make it for you :-)

      Reply

  4. Bob — February 5, 2010 @ 12:56 am

    It looks gorgeous, but wow that’s a lot of work!

    Reply

  5. Janet@ Gourmet Traveller 88 — February 5, 2010 @ 1:51 am

    Excellent post For Chinese New Year! I have not had this before. Chinese actually eat raw fish in the past but now it’s said that it’s not safe to eat. I like the Crunchy fish skin serves with hot oil, ginger and spring onion. Can only eat this in some places.

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:20 am

      I only use sashimi grade salmon and I think that’s safe to eat as long as you consume it soon after buying. I don’t really like the traditional white fish used in the past because I also think it’s not very fresh, haha

      Reply

  6. Sean — February 5, 2010 @ 6:36 am

    I don’t like fish at all, but I have to say that I really love the way the plate is laid out and love the colors of each different food and how it pops on the plate, it is an artistic dream in food form.

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:21 am

      The fish is a small part of the salad :) I like your description about it, sounds so dreamy! Thanks for your kind words!

      Reply

  7. mycookinghut — February 5, 2010 @ 8:06 am

    Fantastic!! I really want to eat yu sheng but the resto that has this on the menu is fully booked. :( I need to make it at home.. thanks for sharing this recipe!

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:22 am

      Have fun making it at home! Hope you like it :)

      Reply

  8. jo — February 5, 2010 @ 8:28 am

    Oh yum and you actually make your own yu sheng .. unbelievable! I’m way too lazy and will just buy from outside (which I’m obviously paying at a premium). I can’t wait to have my first yu sheng .. hopefully soon!

    Reply

  9. Edith — February 5, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    Brilliant job! I love your write up and the details of the recipe. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:13 am

      glad you like it. Thanks! :-)

      Reply

  10. tigerfish — February 5, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    The process is so tedious! :O Are they any substitutes for the red and green strips of yam – was thinking maybe can find some red and green veg/plant and avoid those coloring steps ?

    Reply

    • wiffy replied: — February 5th, 2010 @ 11:12 am

      yes I mentioned about ingredients substitution right at the end. A lot of people substitute the red and green yam with red & green bell peppers (capsicums). You can use other similar bright colour veggies I guess. Actually the bulk of the work is the yam so if you substitute that, the process is not so tedious, it’s just like making a normal salad hehe :-)

      Reply

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