Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No! My Fan!

As we all prepare to sit down with our families and friends and various other loved ones, we ponder on all for which we are thankful. At least that's what we're supposed to be doing. However I'd put my money down that most people are not doing that this Thanksgiving Eve... and instead are doing what I am doing: frantically cooking and baking.

My task for this year is the Naw Mai Fan sticky rice stuffing which is basically a staple at Chinese-American Thanksgivings. You'll often find naw mai fan stuffing [roughly: "no my fon"] wrapped inside chicken and crispy chicken skin and touted as a "house special" at big Cantonese restaurants - typically something you must order 24 hours in advance. But most of us Chinese-Americans also make a big pot to serve instead of (or in our case, in addition to) American stuffing made with bread.

Fan, means "rice" in Chinese ~ An important word!

After my Pau-pau died in the 1960's, my Auntie Frances stepped up and took her place; in quite a few ways, really. But one small way was in making the naw mai fan stuffing at each Thanksgiving over the last 40 years until her final one, last year. I had already planned to make the stuffing this year, though was planning on sharing the responsibility with Auntie Frances, not instead of. *sigh* But life goes on and we go on with it.

These are the rices I use. The Calrose is my "regular ole bok fan".

I can't believe how large these hom-mai (dried shrimp) were!

I believe I've mentioned our family Thanksgivings to you before. But if not, I'll give you a refresher... My mom is #11 of 12 children. 10 of those children lived to adulthood; got married; had families, etc. Our family has celebrated Thanksgiving together for basically all the years the family was aware of Thanksgiving (being Chinese immigrants this likely did not happen until the oldest kids were in elementary school learning about American holidays). These days we have our Thanksgiving celebrations in a church in the Central Valley of California. We outgrew Auntie Frances' home almost 20 years ago (I remember eating dinner in one of the bedrooms that year).

The fastest way to cook lop cheong is to steam it
with your rice after the water boils down

The slicing and dicing seem to always take the longest in any Chinese cooking

Somehow our Thanksgivings evolved nicely into "On" Years and "Off" Years. In the Off Years, those who juggle their in-laws will spend the holiday with them. And in the On Years everyone tries to come together in a sort of biennial reunion.

The dried shrimp [hom-mai] were so large, I chopped them up

Green onions don't need cooking, add great flavor and a beautiful color

What I'm basically trying to get to here, is the QUANTITY of people at our Thanksgivings each year. And we're talking just my mom's siblings, their spouses and offspring. In the Off Years we run in the 60's. In the On Year we're more like 80's. This is why we rent the hall at the local church.

Just keep chopping and adding to the pan

Having enough food for 80-some people is nothing to wave a hand at. But my 2 cousins and I have been the force behind the event for the last 5 or more years and it oddly gets easier as the years go by. Once you're engaged to be married or 25 years old - you are considered an "adult" (even if you don't act like one). And all adults bring something to Thanksgiving. Since I've been an "adult" for.... a few years, I happily bring salad or bread stuffing or yams or pies or... Naw Mai Fan stuffing, like I'm doing for the first time this year.

I scrub my rubber gloves with hot water and soap and then
"stir" with my hands. It's really the best way!

Folks, that is my large turkey roasting pan - FILLED!

Just like bread stuffing, each family makes it differently. Each family has favorite flavors and different reasons for putting specific items in the stuffing. I made Auntie Frances' recipe, which may or may not be my Pau-pau's recipe (tho likely very close to it, if not spot on). It's not a complicated or glamorous recipe, which is why I'll leave it with you here. As is so often the case with Chinese cooking - you sorta put in as much as you want of each ingredient, until it tastes right to you.

My aunties writing to each other 11 years ago with the recipe proportions

Auntie Betty brought me this recipe photocopied from an email Frances had written Betty for Thanksgiving 1998. And here it is in all its vagueness:

7 cups regular rice
7 cups sweet rice

2 pounds lop cheong

3 1/2 pounds pork sausage

~1 pound of dried shrimp
3 bunches of green onions

1 bunch of cilantro

I cooked everything separately and then combined them together (in my largest roasting pan, no less) in the same way I make regular fried rice.

It's good just by itself...but even better with turkey and gravy!

Can I just tell you how satisfying it is to work for a couple of hours on an [expensive] dish that lots and lots of people will be eating, only to finally sample the finished product and discover that it tastes exactly like... it's supposed to?! I was pretty pleased and happy with myself! And I know my auntie would be so proud. We'll miss her an incredible amount tomorrow, but she'd be happy to know that we're eating well.

Happy Thanksgiving!! Be thankful. One can always find something for which to be thankful.


  1. Thanks for explaining-I bet this is what my sister-in-law means when they say they are having fried rice today!

  2. That looks so scrumptious! A tasty dish!



  3. Enjoyed the post, Lise. This was my very first Thanksgiving away from the family. It was nice to read about all the preparation and to know that everyone in our family shares similar feelings about the importance of our family Thanksgiving.

  4. wonderful bowl of rice, lovely photos too, cheers from london