Recipe: Poon Choi/Pen Cai (盆菜) – Method I

Reunion dinner is usually an important occasion for Chinese family members to get together for a big feast. (Sad to say some times due to the busyness the whole family only get to meet up once a year.) This year I have decided to bring forward our Chinese New Year celebration. Why? Because my daughter will not be with us during the Chinese New Year period. To make it special for us I decided to cook this popular dish, Treasure Pot also known as Poon Choi / Pen Cai (盆菜) which contains a good variety of ingredients which I believe will cater for all palates.

According to tradition, Pen Cai was invented during the late Song Dynasty. When Mongol troops invaded Song China, the young Emperor fled to the area around Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. To serve the Emperor as well as his army, the locals collected all their best food available, cooked it, and because there were not enough serving containers available put the resulting meal in large wooden washbasins. (Adapted from Wikipedia). In Chinese Pen Cai literally means basin (for Pen) vegetables (Cai).

It is so much cheaper to make your own Pen Cai then to buy it. Moreover you get to choose your own favourite ingredients from vegetables to pork, chicken or duck or you may fill it entirely with seafood such as fish maw, sea cucumber, scallop, prawns and most importantly abalone. What is more important is how you arrange the ingredients on each layer. Traditionally, the bottom layer was always stuffed with vegetables. The middle layers were usually pork and Chinese dried mushrooms. On the upper part of Pen Cai, seafood and luxurious ingredients such as abalone, oyster, scallops and sea cucumber were placed.

You will not regret making this dish as each layer of cooking will cause you to drool as the aroma will permeate the whole house. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into this sumptuous and flavourful dish soon!!

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Serves 8 to 10 persons:


  1. A Large Claypot/Pot
  2. A Wok
  3. A Cooking pot


Cooking oil

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2 tablespoon garlic

20 thin slices of ginger

1 1/2 tablespoon of superior lightsoy sauce

6 tablespoons Chinese wine (Shaoxing wine (Shao Hsing Jiu, 绍兴酒, 紹興酒)

3 cups homemade chicken stock or 2 chicken cubes mixed with hot water.

1 tablespoon sesame oil

White pepper

Sea salt

Corn starch for thickening the sauce (optional)

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400g Napa Cabbage, washed and cut into 4 sections

100g red carrot, peeled and slices into ½ cm wedges

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½ a roasted duck. Cut into pieces (As we prefer duck instead of chicken or pork, I bought it from the hawker centre.)

Dried ingredients:

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200g Fish maw, washed and cut into 2cm

A handful of black moss or fat choy (发菜), soaked in water (Once it is soft set aside.)

12 pieces of dried scallops (Rinse and soak for 15 minutes.)

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10 pieces of shitake mushrooms (Washed and soaked overnight. On the next day, remove the stem and set aside.)

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300g sea cucumber (Wash and cut into 2cm.)

8 pieces of fresh abalone (Cleaned)

10 large Tiger prawns (Washed and trimmed)


  1. Boil a pot of water
  2. Blanch the cabbage and carrots and set aside.
  3. Blanch the sea cucumber and set aside.
  4. Blanch the fish maw and set aside.
  5. Then in a wok, heat oil and add 1 tablespoon garlic & 6 slices of ginger, sauté until fragrant.
  6. Put mushrooms; stir-fry for a couple of minutes and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Add sea cucumber and seasoning (1 tablespoon of Chinese wine, 1 tablespoon of light soya sauce and a dash of pepper). Simmer for another 10 minutes and then set aside.
  8. In a wok, heat oil and add 1 teaspoon of garlic & 6 slices ginger, sauté until fragrant.
  9. Add in the blanched carrots and then the Napa cabbage and stir fry for 3 minutes.
  10. Next add seasoning (a pinch of salt and pepper) and set aside.

How to layer the Pen Cai:

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  1. Layer 1: Napa Cabbage and carrots with all the juices from the stir fry.
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  2. Layer 2: Roasted duck, sea cucumber and mushrooms. Add in some chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
    Photo 5-01-2016, 8 10 19 PM
  3. Layer 3: Scallops, fish maw and fat choy and then add in some chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Layer 5: Prawns and Abalone. Pour in the rest of the chicken stock, Chinese wine, ginger slices, a dash of pepper and salt. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Before serving, add in the sesame oil, and if you like you can add an additional tablespoon of Chinese wine and salt. You may also thicken the sauce with a little corn starch.



The above seasoning is a guide only. Seasoning differs from person to person so you might want to add or reduce.

I minimised the amount of salt because I wanted to taste all the natural goodness of the ingredients.

Mummy's Kitchen

Hi! My name is Josephine Go. I blog at in a segment called Mummy’s Kitchen. I love to use fresh and natural ingredients in my cooking to promote healthy eating. Some of my recipes may not be in line with the traditional methods of cooking to the extent that some of the ingredients are different, but hopefully new recipes are being created in my style. I certainly hope that what I do will help guide kitchen first-timers on how to cook their first meal as well as further equip kitchen veterans with new recipes. My loving husband and two wonderful children are my best guinea pigs and critics. They have enjoyed (or endured) the food that has been served to them for all these years. Mind you, I did not know how to cook or ever knew that I could cook till I got married. So there is hope for everyone. If I can cook, you can cook. You will not know how good or talented you are until you put your hand in the plough.

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