While newfangled Chinese New Year goodies are in abundance, it is also important to remember the classic dishes. Six chefs share their traditional recipes for the festive season.
Text: Eunice Quek/The Straits Times
Impress your guests with these handmade Teochew prawn rolls – when sliced and plated, the rolls look like a flower, which will look pretty for the Lunar New Year reunion dinner feast.
The filling for chef Cheng’s steamed phoenix prawn rolls is made by hand. Prawns and pork are mashed, chopped and kneaded to achieve a springy consistency.
The versatile filling can also be used for fried prawn rolls (hae choh), says the chef, who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in a Teochew household.
He says in Cantonese: “When I started as a chef at the age of 18, I kept getting scolded for not making it properly. When sliced and plated, the rolls look like a flower, which is good for Chinese New Year.”
This classic Cantonese dish comprises of poached chicken arranged on a plate of ham and vegetables. While it is simple to prepare, the challenge comes from ensuring the strips of meat are almost the same size. Give this traditional favourite a try!
According to this Hong Kong-born chef, you cannot have a festive meal without the meaty trinity of chicken, duck and pork. With Jinhua Yu Shu Ji (yuk lan gai in Cantonese, or Jade Flower Chicken), you nail down two of those ingredients.
The classic Cantonese dish comprises poached chicken arranged on a plate with Jinhua ham and vegetables. The dry-cured ham is named after the city of Jinhua in Zhejiang province, eastern China, where it is produced. It is often used in stews and soups and can be bought at Yue Hwa Chinese Products in Chinatown.
The dish is relatively simple to prepare, but the challenge is in ensuring that the pieces of deboned chicken, ham and mushrooms are of a similar length and size. It is best to eat all three items together as the ham can be very salty on its own.
The dish is not commonly found anymore, although some traditional Cantonese restaurants still serve it. It is not on the menu at Hua Ting, but chef Chung can cook it upon request. It is priced at $80 and needs to be ordered in advance.
He says in Mandarin: “With the Jinhua ham in the dish, you get more flavour and fragrance. The dish was common for weddings, but you would need many chefs to debone and plate the chicken for hundreds of guests. It’s easier to manage at home.”
Packed with a variety of different ingredients, pen cai is a great way to satisfy everybody’s taste buds. This version of the Hakka pen cai uses a light broth flavoured with seafood and meat instead of the usual braised sauce.
Chinese New Year is always a family affair for Then and her mother Soh Lee Chin, 73, a retired hawker.
From baking pineapple tarts to preparing pots of pen cai (one-pot meal) or steamboat for reunion dinner, they make sure everyone is well-fed through the festive season.
Their version of Hakka pen cai does not come with the usual rich braising sauce. Instead, it comes with a light broth flavoured with seafood and meat.
Madam Soh says in Mandarin: “This version is lighter, suitable for those who are more healthconscious. The flavour of each ingredient is not masked by a thick sauce.”
For a more child-friendly version of the fiery Sichuan mala fish, try one braised in the traditional Sichuan bean paste. More people in the family will be able to handle the heat and it will still be as delicious.
Shui zhu yu, or Sichuan-style boiled fish, may be all the rage these days, but the more homely, traditional braised fish in Sichuan bean paste is what Chef Zeng Feng recommends.
He says: “Not everyone can handle mala flavours and the braised fish dish is not too spicy. It is suitable for children as well as the elderly.” He serves it in the restaurant, priced from $10 for 100 g (Chinese New Year price $12 for 100 g) for sea bass.
The Sichuan native grew up having sumptuous homecooked feasts for Chinese New Year. The centrepiece was always Sichuan-style pen cai (one-pot meal) with pork knuckle. Other traditions include eating tang yuan (glutinous rice balls) on the morning of Chinese New Year and drinking tea
For a flavourful main dish, try this glutinous rice recipe which is a staple in most Hokkien families’ reunion dinner.
A staple for Hokkien Chef Louis Tay during Chinese New Year is fragrant glutinous rice with roast pork belly and Chinese sausages.
To ensure the rice grains remain whole and do not turn mushy, he recommends an overnight soak.
As he will be working on Chinese New Year Eve, he is having an early reunion dinner with his family today at Chinese restaurant Tasty Court in Figaro Street, run by his good friend, fellow Chef Pung Lu Tin.
On the second day of Chinese New Year, he will invite his friends to his home and whip up some dishes, including fish soup from a recipe by Chef Pung.
Besides eating glutinous rice, Chef Tay has other festive favourites. He says: “I love steamed rabbit fish as it has plenty of roe during the Chinese New Year period. For snacks, I must have bak kwa.”
Set the table with this homely dish of pork ribs which originated from Huaiyang cuisine from Jiangsu, China – it’s full of flavours and has a hearty sweetness.
Huaiyang cuisine from Jiangsu, China, is considered to be one of the “Four Great Traditions” representing the country’s culinary heritage and Chef Qi has been honing his craft in this tradition for more than 20 years.
The food tends to be on the sweeter side and a key ingredient is Zhenjiang vinegar from Jiangsu.
In this homely dish of braised pork ribs with sweet and sour sauce, the flavours come from the vinegar as well as sugar. Chef Qi prefers using ribs with a layer of fat in the middle so the meat remains tender and juicy throughout the cooking process.
- Chef Cheng Fa Kwan
- Chef Chung Lap Fai
- Chef Louis Tay
- Chef Qi Zhi Hai
- Chef Then Chui Foong
- Chef Zeng Feng
- chinese new year
- Euraco Finefood
- Festive Food Ideas
- Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel
- Hua Ting Restaurant
- Lunar New Year
- Paradise Teochew Restaurant
- Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant
- Swissotel Merchant Court
- The Straits Times