5@5 - Spice up your holiday soiree
December 20th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Holiday food traditions exist for a reason: they're as feel-good as a Nora Ephron movie and keep the past alive for future generations.

But after 15 years of Aunt Betsy's (in)famous casserole, sometimes change is appreciated.

Chris Yeo, the chef and owner of the Straits Restaurant Group, recommends five spicy additions to make this year's holiday dinner one to remember - in a good way.

Five Spices to Make Your Ordinary Holiday Dishes Extraordinary: Chris Yeo

1. Ginger
"A wonderful spice that can add heat and delicate flavor to meat, vegetable and fish dishes. It is sold fresh, powdered and pickled. Once you've stripped off the outer layer of the root, the light yellow, fibrous flesh can be chopped finely and added in cooked or cold foods. Be bold this holiday season and try making a gorgeous ginger glaze for that Christmas ham. Or make my ginger fish recipe below - a great way to kick off the Chinese New Year on January 23!"

Steamed Ginger Fish

Steamed Fish Sauce Ingredients

  • 4 ounces light soy sauce
  • 6 ounces seafood or vegetable broth (low sodium)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 ounces fish sauce (I prefer the Three Crabs brand)
  • 1 ounce Maggi's seasoning sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • small pinch of white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine

Steamed Fish Ingredients

  • 8-10 ounces sea bass
  • 2-inch piece of ginger (peeled and cut into thin strips)
  • 1 stalk scallion (cut into thin threads)
  • A few cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine

Cooking Directions

  1. Clean the fish properly and pat dry. Mix the soy sauce mixture in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Lay the fish on a plate and drizzle 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine on top of the fish. Top the fish with 1/2 of the cut ginger strips.
  3. Heat up a wok with enough water for steaming. Wait for the water to boil. A soon as it boils, place your fish inside the wok, propped up with a small inverted bowl or a couple of wooden blocks (meant for steaming). Cover your wok tightly and set your kitchen alarm for 8 minutes.
  4. As soon as the fish is done steaming, transfer it out from the wok. Discard the fish water and ginger strips. Lay the remaining ginger strips on the top of the fish.
  5. Heat up a pan over high heat and add 2 teaspoons of cooking oil, whirl around until it's hot. Pour the hot oil over the steamed fish. Put the pan back on the stove, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well. As soon the sauce bubbles up and boils, pour the soy sauce over the fish.
  6. Top with scallions and cilantro leaves and serve the fish immediately.

NOTE: If you don't have a steamer, you can wrap the fish in foil and bake in a preheated 425º Fahrenheit oven for 5-8 minutes depending on the thickness of fish. Do not use fish stock, rather use vegetable stock sparingly as more liquid is produced naturally from the fish with this method.

2. Yellow curry
"This antioxidant-rich spice is a made from a mix of elements. One includes the deeply hued spice, turmeric, that has a concentrated source of antioxidants like berries - and curcumin, the bright yellow compound in turmeric, has shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and reduce inflammation.

Curry will make a statement on your lamb with a honey-curry glaze. Or try lightly dusting popcorn, snack mixes, or deviled eggs with curry powder for a new holiday song to dance on your guest’s tongues."

3. Five-spice
"A delightful spice that includes all five flavors - sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty.

The five spice breakdown: Cinnamon, sweet with a spicy undertone; Szechuan peppercorns, a reddish-brown berry that comes from the prickly ash bush and at first gives off a peppery (spicy) taste, then hints of anise and ginger, and lastly, a lemony (sour), salty and hot sensation will rest on your taste buds; ground cloves, pungent and sweet; star anise: similar to licorice, with a more bitter undertone; and fennel, similar to anise but sweeter and less pungent, without so much of a licorice taste.

Five-spice will add a kick to dry rubs or marinades for meat, fish or poultry. Or, instead of making the usual green bean casserole, try stir-frying vegetables and adding this compound spice."

4. Lemongrass
"A tall tropical grass with stalks and leaves that have a clean lemonlike odor as they contain an essential oil that is also found in lemon peel. The lower portion can be sliced or pounded and used in cooking.

As a spice, fresh lemongrass is more popular for its vibrant flavor, but can also be found in its dried, powdered, or oil form. Try squeezing some in your salad for a holiday appetizer or try my lemongrass Chardonnay clams below to make a holiday statement!"

Lemongrass Chardonnnay Clams


  • 1 1/2 pounds live Manila clams
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 8 leaves Thai basil
  • 3 fresh Thai chilies (split)
  • 2 ounces fresh galangal, julienned
  • 1 ounce lemongrass, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup your favorite Chardonnay
  • 1 cup chicken stock, seasoned
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • For garnish: chopped green onions and lemon wedges

Cooking Directions

  1. In a medium size sauce pan, bring all the ingredients to a boil except for the clams and Thai basil.
  2. Once you seasoned stock is at a rolling boil, add the clams and cook until they are all to open.
  3. Add the Thai basil.
  4. Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with chopped green onions & lemon wedges.

5. Cumin
"A perfect spice for your holiday dinner with the one you love. Did you know the combination of cumin, black pepper and honey is considered to be an aphrodisiac in certain Middle Eastern countries? Whether or not Cupid will strike, it is a tasty concoction that can be used to flavor veggies, lentils, rice, chicken or fish dishes.

It’s also known to be a cancer preventer. If you’d like your guests to warm up to the fire with a cozy drink, boil cumin seeds in water and then let them steep for 8-10 minutes. Here’s to good health and holiday cheer!"

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Christmas • Holidays • Make • Recipes • Think

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. neepsandtats

    This article = good stuff.

    December 21, 2011 at 10:14 am |
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