Long before Pen Cai, or Poon Choi (盆菜) in Cantonese, is all the rage, my family has been making this one pot delicacy on the first day of Chinese New Year for as long as I can remember.
These days, Pen Cai is served in restaurants and available for takeaway throughout the entire festive season. While eating out is a much easier and convenient option, part of the fun of making your own is that you get to decide what goes into the pot.
There are many versions of the same thing and it may seem kind of difficult to prepare but really there is no big secret to it, nor any secret recipe to making your own Poon Choi.
This year, ours consisted of 15 ingredients- Chinese cabbage, bean curd skin, fatt choi (sea moss), lotus root, tau pok, yam, pumpkin, broccoli, roast pork, salted chicken, roast duck, mushroom, prawns, scallops and abalone- sliced, sauteed and cooked separately before being layered and arranged in a large clay pot. The sauce, a combination of chicken stock and all the cooking juices, was ladled over the ingredients, allowing it to trickle down to the very bottom layer before cooking the whole pot over medium-high fire for about 30 minutes.