Chinese New Year Must: Sweet Nian Gao, Egg-dipped and Pan-fried

  • 01 of 06

    Nian Gao: Colors, Shapes, Flavors

    Nian Gao for Chinese New Year
    IMAGEMORE Co., Ltd./Imagemore/Getty Images

    Nian gao is a sticky rice cake considered traditional fare during the Chinese New Year. It is made by pounding sticky rice into a powder, mixing the powder with water and cooking the mixture until firm. The mixture is either poured into molds and steamed or stirred in a pot until thickened then poured into molds to allow the cake to become firm as it cools.

    The most common shape of nian gao is round. But since it has become a popular item for gift-giving, nian gao is now sold in various shapes. Nian gao shaped as a carp (koi) is considered doubly lucky.

    Nian gao can be savory or sweet. Savory nian gao is often added to stir fried dishes and soups. 

    Called tikoy in the Philippines and Burma, sweet nian gao is sliced, dipped in beaten eggs and pan fried, Guangdong style. Tikoy comes in many colors and flavors. White tikoy is sweetened with white sugar, amber-colored tikoy has brown sugar, green tikoy is flavored with pandan while purple tikoy has ground purple yam mixed in.

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  • 02 of 06

    How To Slice Sweet Nian Gao

    Sliced sweet nian gao
    © Connie Veneracion

    The more recently cooked it is, the softer and stickier the nian gao. It is a good idea to let the rice cake sit for a day or two in its original wrapping to let out some of the moisture. A drier nian gao is easier to slice.

    To slice the nian gao, use a long, sharp, non-serrated knife with the blade wiped with a little cooking oil. Place the knife above the rice cake and push downward. No see-saw motion; just one clean stoke to prevent the sticky cake from sticking to the knife. Cut the rice cake into half inch slices. 

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  • 03 of 06

    Dip the Sliced Nian Gao in Beaten Eggs

    Nian gao dipped in beaten eggs
    © Connie Veneracion
    Beat one to two eggs in a bowl. You don't need a lot, really, because the egg just needs to coat each slice of nian gao
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  • 04 of 06

    Pan-frying the Nian Gao

    Pan frying nian gao
    © Connie Veneracion

    Two things are crucial when frying nian gao. The first is the temperature of the oil. The second is not overcrowding the pan.

    Pour enough cooking oil in a frying pan to reach a depth of a quarter inch or half of the thickness of the nian gao slices. Heat the oil to about 300F or the same temperature you'd fry an egg in (see the smoking point of different cooking oils).

    Dip a slice of nian gao in beaten egg and slide into the hot oil. Repeat until the bottom of the pan is covered with nian gao slices without the slices touching each other.

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  • 05 of 06

    Flip the Nian Gao Slices During Frying

    Fried nian gao
    © Connie Veneracion

    You're not really cooking nian gao when you fry it because nian gao is already cooked. You're only heating it to reach that stage of softness that gives off the ideal mouthfeel. So, the pan frying is a quick process. When the underside browns (and it will brown in less than a minute), flip the nian gao slices to brown the other side.

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  • 06 of 06

    Drain the Fried Nian Gao in a Stack of Paper Towels

    Sweet Nian Gao, Egg-dipped and Pan-fried
    © Connie Veneracion

    The fried nian gao is very soft by the time the frying is done. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to lift the nian gao slices off the pan. Move them to a plate covered with a stack of paper towels to remove excess oil.

    Serve the fried nian gao at once.