Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chinese New Year Special: 5 plus 1 Festive Menu

This year's Chinese New Year seem to set in quickly and in two days' time, it is the 15th day of the 1st month or yuan xiao festival (元宵节), which marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebration.  

Last Sunday, I invited my in-law family over for CNY gathering cum dinner. Here is my dinner menu for 13 pax:

1)   万寿果薏米排骨汤 (Papaya Pork Rib Soup)
2)黄金麦片虾 (Cereal Prawns)
3)焖冬菇蠔豉海参 (Braised Mushrooms with Dried Oyster and Sea Cucumber)
4)腐乳蒸鸡 (Steamed Chicken with White Fermented Bean Curd)
5)芦笋炒带子 (Stir Fry Asparagus and Scallops)
6)南乳芋头扣肉 (Braised Chinese Yam and Roast Pork with Fermented Red Bean Curd)

万寿果薏米排骨汤 (Papaya Pork Rib Soup)
I have prepared a similar papaya soup recipe, using  fish head for the stock.  Over here, I used pork ribs and pork tail bones instead.  Other ingredients for the soup: barley, almond kernels (南北杏), white fungus (雪耳) and dried figs.

黄金麦片虾 (Cereal Prawns)
The recipe is from Kitchen Tigress, and it works very well even for home kitchen.  Two important things to note:  (1) Use low heat to pan-fry the cereal (use Nestum instant cereal, not oats) and stir frequently, as the cereal burns easily.  (2) Use high heat to deep-fry the prawns.  When you combine the pan-fried cereal and prawns together, the cereal helps to absorb any extra moisture from the prawns, which give the prawns a crispy texture plus fragrance.   Depending on the size of your wok/deep-fryer and the amount of oil used, it is better to deep fry the prawns in batches if you are preparing a large serving of this dish.  This is to ensure you do not overcrowd the wok (which will lower the oil temperature).  

焖冬菇蠔海参 (Braised Mushrooms with Dried Oyster and Sea Cucumber)
This is a typical Cantonese dish for all those important festive meals.  My personal favorite and definitely one of those nostalgic heirloom dishes that I will pass down to my daughter and the future generations.  Recipe is available here.

腐乳蒸鸡 (Steamed Chicken with White Fermented Bean Curd)
This dish is not my first choice when I'm planning for this dinner menu.  Ideally, it should be steamed fish, done HK style.  Not just that eating fish during Chinese New Year carries the auspicious meaning of  年年有余, but having steamed fish would give this menu a more balanced overall (my personal view).  I did not buy any fish, but I do have a few chicken legs in my fridge which I wanted to clear.  So, my practical side wins!  But in any case, no ones complain of having this steamed chicken dish, as it was wiped clean, especially the gravy!

You will need:  3 chicken legs (cut into bite-sized), 3 to 4 cloves of garlic (chopped), 1 to 2 tbsp grated ginger, 2 pieces of fermented bean curd + 2 tbsp sauce from the bottle of fermented bean curd, 1 tsp sugar, 3 tsp soy sauce, a little sesame oil, corn starch and pepper, 2 - 3 tbsp water.  Mix all ingredients together and leave it to marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Steam the dish over high heat for about 12 minutes or till cooked.  I added some wood ears/snow fungus for extra crunch to this dish (optional).

芦笋炒带子 (Stir Fry Asparagus and Scallops)
Another festive menu favorite!  Not only does this dish looks presentable when you are having guests over for dinner, it is fairly quick and easy to prepare too.  I wanted to say "easy" to prepare, but on a second thought, you do need to have basic stir fry skills for this dish to taste good (with wok hei).  Recipe can be found here.  Tip: Fresh scallops releases lots of fluid during cooking.  To minimise this (the extra moisture could dampen the aromatic wok hei during stir-frying), blanch the fresh scallops in boiling water briefly before stir-frying with asparagus over high heat.  A dash of cooking wine will up the aroma factor ^_^

南乳芋头扣肉 (Braised Chinese Yam and Roast Pork with Fermented Red Bean Curd)
Another of my family's favorite dish.  Similar recipe can be found here.  For this dish, I used roast pork instead of fresh pork belly.  Roast pork gives a richer aroma and flavour to this dish.  After steaming the prepared yam, roast pork and fermented red bean curd sauce in a deep bowl, let it cool slightly.  When ready to serve, cover the bowl with your serving plate and carefully flip the dish onto the plate.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chinese New Year Special: Poon Choi (盆菜)

Poon Choi

盆菜, or poon choi in Cantonese, has been gaining popularity in Singapore as the Chinese New Year dish.  Originally from Hong Kong, poon choi is an indulgent dish consisting layers of ingredients, separately prepared and cooked, before combining in a casserole or metal basin.  

While restaurants in Singapore have been quick to roll out their colourful festive poon choi for dining in or take-away, I have not tasted poon choi before.  My family traditional CNY feast is either a spread of Cantonese delicacies or steamboat. The thought of spending a few hundred bucks for food stacked together in a pot does not seem money-worth to me.  After all, why eat them stacked together when you can actually savour the separate dishes on their own? And if you were to buy them as a take-away dish from a restaurant/eatery,  I wondered just how long have the food been prepared, frozen, before we reheat them at home???  But, as eating poon choi is slowly becoming a trend here, my mum is eager to try it too.  And so, I started to google for beautiful bowls of poon choi and reading up the preparation process.  

Preparation of the various dishes within the poon choi stretched over two days.  This excludes time taken to purchase the various ingredients.  While it is possible to prepare poon choi within a day, I find that the flavours of each prepared dishes, especially the braised dishes, needed longer rest time for the flavours to develop.    

I will not be elaborating on the detailed recipe for the poon choi.  Instead, you can refer to here for the preparation process and recipe, which I have used as a reference to prepare this dish.

For me, I do not start with preparing the superior stock.  Instead, I braised the Chinese dried mushrooms with: chicken breast meat and bones, extra chicken feet and fatty pork for the rich collagen, dried oysters (added in at the last hour of braising) and smoked ham for extra flavours. Simmer the dish for a few hours over low heat, cool completely and let the dish rest overnight in the fridge.  The next day, the mushrooms have fully absorbed the essence of the various braising ingredients and taste simply heavenly.  Carefully remove the braised mushrooms and oysters from the pot.  Sieve the gravy and pour the remaining meat/bones back into the pot.  Add some more water, bring it to boil and simmer for another 20 minutes.  This will give you extra stock to impart wonderful flavour to the other ingredients, such as the pork skin, fried bean curd and radish.  With the reserved braised gravy, I used it to cook the sea cucumber.  Other prepared dishes for the poon choi include:  braised yam with pork in fermented red bean curd sauce, braised pork with lotus roots, homemade meatballs, steamed chicken drumstick with ginger and wine, abalone, pan-fried prawns, cooked pork skin, radish and fried bean curd skin.

If you plan and prepare the various dishes ahead, you find that making poon choi at home is not mission impossible.  The final step is gathering all dishes together and stacking them up beautifully.

Wishing all a prosperous Lunar New Year.  May the Year of Horse brings good health, fortune and happiness to everyone.

I am submitting this post to Asian Food Fest: Hong Kong + Macau, hosted by Annie from Annielicious Food.  

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