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 a variety of meats to 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. Well… I did not arrange it the traditional way but my pen cai still tastes delicious!!
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:
A Large Claypot/Pot
2 Cooking pots
15 to 20 thin slices of ginger
7 to 8 pieces of garlic (skin off)
6 stalks of spring onions cut into half
2 tablespoons of superior light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
4 tablespoons Chinese wine (Shaoxing wine (Shao Hsing Jiu, 绍兴酒, 紹興酒)
10g of rock sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Some sea salt
3-4 cups homemade chicken stock or 2 chicken stock cubes mixed with hot water
Corn starch for thickening the sauce (optional)
400g Napa Cabbage, washed and cut into 4 sections
1 large red carrot, peeled and slices into 1 cm wedges
100g broccoli florets
10 to 12 pieces crispy roasted pork (I used homemade roasted pork. Click the link above to find out how to make yours.) (You can also use roast duck or chicken.)
200g Fish maw (Soak in water for 15 minutes, rinse and cut into 2cm)
8 to 10 pieces of shiitake mushrooms (Soak in the water till soft. Remove the stems, wash and set aside)
A handful of black moss or fat choy (发菜) (Soak in water till soft and set aside)
300g sea cucumber (Wash and cut into 2cm.)
8 to 10 pieces of fresh abalone (Cleaned) – You may also use canned abalone.
8 to 10 large Tiger prawns (Trim and wash)
8 to 10 pieces of fresh scallops (or 12 pieces of dried scallops. Rinse and soak for 10 minutes.)
Mushrooms, sea cucumber and abalone
- In a pot, heat up 2 tablespoon of oil.
- Add in ginger, garlic and spring onions and fry till fragrant.
- Add in mushroom and stir till it is well mix with the ginger and spring onions.
- Stir in the light soya sauce and oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons of Chinese wine, some white pepper, rock sugar and sesame oil. Mix well with the mushrooms.
- Add in enough water to cover the mushrooms. Bring it to boil and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add in the sea cucumber and braise for another 10 minutes.
- Top with a little more water if necessary.
- Add in the fresh abalone and dried bean curd sticks and braise for another 5 minutes.
- If necessary, add a pinch of salt.
- Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove.
- After about 30 minutes, dish out the mushrooms, sea cucumber, abalone and bean curd sticks and set aside.
Vegetables / Fish Maw / Prawns
- In another pot, add in 4 cups of chicken stock and bring it to boil.
- Add in a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of Chinese wine.
- Add in the carrots and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. Dish out and set aside.
- Bring the chicken stock to a boil again and blanch the Napa cabbage. Dish out and set aside.
- Blanch the broccoli florets in the chicken stock, dish out and set aside.
- Blanch the fish maw, dish out and set aside.
- Blanch the prawns, dish out and set aside.
- Reserve the stock for the pen cai.*
How to layer the Pen Cai:
Layer 1: Napa Cabbage and carrots
Layer 2: Bean curd sticks with some of the gravy.
Layer 3: Sea cucumber and mushrooms and fish maw. Add in half of the stock that you used to blanch the vegetables and fish maw and prawns and simmer for 10 minutes.
Layer 4: Roasted Pork, Scallops, Prawns and Abalone, Fat Choy. Pour in the rest of the chicken stock, Chinese wine, a dash of pepper and salt. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
Before serving, you may add in the sesame oil, 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.
If you are adding chicken and yam you might put it on the Layer 3 which I have omitted because I prefer more seafood.