Prosperity Pen Cai: A Must-have Recipe for Chinese New Year

2 min read


By Wing Joo Loong Team

Key Takeaways

  • Pen cai is a traditional recipe often served at communal events like weddings and Chinese New Year celebrations.
  • It typically has three to four layers: common vegetables at the bottom, braised ingredients in the middle, and luxurious foods like abalone and oyster on top.

At the heart of every Chinese New Year celebration lies pen cai, also known as poon choi or peng cai. This Hakka-originated dish, packed with layers of premium ingredients and simmered to perfection, symbolises unity, abundance and harmony. Traditionally featured at communal events like weddings and festivals, poon choi is now a staple of modern-day CNY gatherings.

Despite its seemingly extensive list of ingredients, pen cai is not a difficult dish to make. Read on for a step-by-step guide.

How to layer your pen cai

A typical pen cai consists of three to four layers, assembled based on available ingredients. Start with the common vegetables, which will absorb the rich broth for better flavours. In the middle, layer the braised and flavourful ingredients before topping your pen cai with luxurious, drier items arranged with aesthetic appeal.

While there's no strict formula for arrangement, consider these suggestions:

  • Bottom layer: white radish, cabbage, Chinese yam
  • Middle layer: mushrooms, tau pok, meats, sea cucumber, fish maws 
  • Top layer: abalone, oysters, prawns, broccoli

Prosperity Pen Cai Recipe

Servings: 4 to 6
Preparation time: 1 hr (excluding soak time)
Cooking time: 30 mins

Ingredients (rehydrate to soften the dried goods):
2 pieces of sea cucumber
6 pieces of dried fish maw (how to rehydrate fish maw)
6 pieces of fried fish maw
6 pieces of flower mushrooms
12 pieces of dried oyster

Other ingredients:
3 stalks of spring onion
6 pieces of abalone
6 pieces of big prawns
6 pieces of tau pok, or tofu puff
6 pieces of deep-fried Chinese yam (sliced)
6 pieces of ginger slices
Half a white radish (blanched)
Half a broccoli (blanched)

50g of oyster sauce
30g of light soy sauce
20g of dark soy sauce
30g of sugar 20g of cooking oil
30g of Hua Diao Jiu (cooking wine)
1 can of abalone stock

  • Fry ginger slices and spring onions in hot oil until fragrant. Then add water and bring it to a boil.
  • Add in the rehydrated and softened dried goods (flower mushrooms, sea cucumber, dried and fried fish maw, dried scallops, dried oysters), abalone and tau pok.
  • Add oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sugar and cooking wine. Let the ingredients simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Boil the abalone stock and add starchy water to thicken the sauce.
  • Blanch the white radish in water and deep fry the yam slices before laying them on a claypot.
  • Lay the braised ingredients, followed by deep-fried prawns and blanched broccoli.
  • Pour in the abalone sauce and let your pen cai simmer for 5 minutes before serving.

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