Ultimate Guide to Pen Cai (盆菜) for Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

Pen Cai or Poon Choi in Cantonese (also means food pot), is a pot full of decadent Chinese New Year delicacies that range from abalone and dried oysters to sea cucumber and fish maw. Chinese New Year is the time of the year for family reunions and  Pen Cai is the ideal a one-pot dish cooked and served on these special occasions. Pen Cai promotes the principle of “harmony taste”. Pen Cai originated from the late Song Dynasty and is a dish in Southern China during the festive occasions. In the past, traditional Pen Cai is served in wooden or antimony basins, a pot of vegetables consists of hundreds of dishes and flavours. 

Pen Cai (盆菜) for Chinese New Year reunion dinner

Pen Cai is becoming a popular dish among reunion dinners in Singapore during the Chinese New Year. To show the value of Pen Cai, restaurants now add a variety of seafood delicacies and high-value ingredients. At present, the potted vegetable banquet in Singapore has developed into an all-inclusive banquet, restaurant takeaway food, and all kinds of forms. Lately, many restaurants promote Pen Cai during Chinese New Year. In order to meet the tastes and requirements of consumers, seafood Pen Cai, curry Pen Cai, vegetarian Pen Cai, Continental Pen Cai, and Japanese Pen Cai, etc., the colour style is all available, the taste is different, the charm is still.

How to cook traditional Pen Cai 盆菜 for Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

The ingredients of Pen Cai pay attention to the combination of meat and vegetables. Of course, the most important thing is to choose the ingredients you like. Prepare these ingredients in advance.
Time Required:  2 days

1.  Prepare the fresh abalone in chicken broth the day before. Boil a pot of rich chicken soup, take three rice bowls to boil; add a small piece roasted pork, four fresh abalones, and simmer over low heat until the soup yields one bowl. Add a little oyster sauce and dark soya sauce together with rock sugar. Slow cook the food for about 3 hours.

2. Medium shrimp – use a toothpick to remove intestines of medium shrimp, rinse and set aside; Boil a half pot of water with ginger/scallion/cooking wine, add shrimps and boil for 90 seconds. Add ice water and drain it.

3. Hard-shell shrimp with fragrant wine – put a cup of Shaoxing wine, a cup of water, a pinch of salt, MSG, ginger and garlic slices in the soup bowl; Boil the hard-shell shrimp in the same way as the white-hot shrimp. Take out the ice water and put it into the soup. Put it in the refrigerator and let it soak overnight.

4. Prepare fresh squid by removing its film, spread its surface and shallow cut the squid, add a little scallion, ginger water, salt, cooking wine slightly salted, put on the stove to bake the appearance of light golden yellow, cut thick, squeeze a little lemon juice on the squid.

5. Stewed chicken gravy – Two cups of chicken soup, one cup of Hua Tiao Chiew 花雕酒, one cup of dark soy sauce, one cup of water, one portion of brine (including pepper, clove, geranium, cinnamon, star anise, liquorice, grass fruit), several slices of ginger, several grains of garlic, a handful of spring onion, three spoons of rock sugar. Bring all the marinade to a boil, turn to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Put in the chicken leg gravy for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes, eviscerate the meat, and cut it into pieces.

6. Braised pig’s trotter/braised egg – put in water and add onion, ginger, garlic, star anise, cooking wine and boil for 30 minutes. Remove and put in the oyster sauce and Hua Tiao Chiew(花雕酒)with low heat for 30 minutes. Boil eggs, peel and put in the Hua Tiao Chiew(花雕酒) for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and soak overnight.

7. Fried bean curd in deep Fried oil – remove 12 medium shrimps shell, chop intestines; Cut the fat pork into fine grains and chop it slightly. Add the minced shrimp, ginger, garlic, scallion, a pinch of salt, Monosodium glutamate(MSG), cooking wine, water, and stir it evenly. Then pour it into the oil tofu and fry it until it is cooked. Bring half a bowl of chicken soup to a boil, add tofu with oil, a little oyster sauce, and pepper and cook until the soup is dry. 

8. Braised Mushroom – soak soft mushroom, Slow cook together with boiled scallop sea cucumber, fish maw and cook with a bowl of chicken soup, a little light soy sauce and sesame oil until the soup is dried.

9. Stir-fry broccoli – One tablespoon of oil, three tablespoons of chicken stock, a pinch of salt and MSG and stir fry, until crisp and crunchy.

Placement of Pen Cai ingredient 

Then there is the most important step of Pen Cai is the placement of ingredients in the pot (打盆). There are many ingredients for Pen Cai. In order to retain the individual original flavour and yet achieve “harmony”, the placement of ingredient in the pot (打盆) is very important. Place Pen Cai dish according to your individual preference, and enjoy the dish aesthetic food placement process.

The bottom vegetables absorb the aroma of the juice, delicious. This sums up a sumptuous dinner for the Chinese New Year.

Pen Cai, symbolises harmony and prosperity during Chinese New year

During the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner table, it brings the family together. The home is instantly filled with the fragrance of Pen Cai when you heat it up inducing one’s appetite. The dish is to be eaten a layer at a time and the original flavour of the ingredients is complemented by a tint of abalone sauce and “harmony” taste.

Pencai is an important dish of the Chinese food industry, the diversity of its cooking methods, the structure of food materials can be changed at will, and ultimately bring about the blissful reunion atmosphere when enjoying the food together.

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