One of the must-haves alongside yu sheng and steamed fish at every Chinese New Year dinner is pen cai. Such dishes can be expensive when ordered at restaurants, and while the exquisite taste does make up for the money, cooking it on your own is entirely possible and cost efficient.
To celebrate CNY( as well as local talent), this recipe was selected from Wet Market to Table: A Modern Approach to Fruit and Vegetables. For chef and author Pamelia Chia, “‘pen cai‘ (loosely translated to ‘basin dish’) is a pot filled with delicacies to usher in an auspicious year. The components of this claypot dish are said to bring prosperity and wealth. ‘Fatt choy’ directly translates to ‘strike it rich’, and tatsoi translates to ‘prosperity vegetable’ in Mandarin. Fish maw, made from bladder that keeps fish afloat in water, is believed to symbolise resilience and tenacity in difficult times, allowing one to soldier on in all areas of life. But the centrepiece of this pot is probably the moneybags which are tedious to make, but are delicious and beautiful enough to make all-year around.”
BRAISED FISH MAW & FATT CHOY
- 30 g fish maw
- 250 ml home-made chicken stock
- ¼ tsp salt
- 5 g fatt choy or dried sea moss, soaked in hot water for 15 mins to rehydrate
- 2 L oil for deep-frying
- 3 tubes egg tofu
- 50 g dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked for 20 mins in hot water until soft, stalks removed, caps diced finely
- 1 tsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- ¼ tsp salt
- A small bunch of chives
- 1 large tatsoi, rinsed
- 100 ml chicken stock
- 1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 50 ml water
- 1 tsp of goji berries
Begin preparing the fish maw by placing it in a large colander and pouring over hot water liberally. The fish maw should shrink and soften. Cut it into thin strips and place in a small pot, along with the chicken stock and salt. Set the pot over high heat, and when the stock comes to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer.
Cover the pot and allow the fish maw to braise for half an hour or until completely tender. Remove the fish maw from the chicken stock and set aside.
Add the fatt choy to the chicken stock in the pot. Cook it for 5 mins uncovered over medium-low heat, or until all the liquid has evaporated. Set it aside until ready to assemble.
Meanwhile, prepare the moneybags. Pour the oil into a wok set over high heat. Slice the tubes of egg tofu neatly in half – you will have 6 halves in total. Place a dry wooden chopstick in the oil to test if the oil is hot enough. When it is ready, oil will stream from the chopstick.
Prepare an ice bath and a kitchen spider. Carefully lower the egg tofu halves into the wok and cook over medium heat until they turn a beautiful golden brown, about 5 minutes. It is crucial to cook the egg tofu slowly. If you skimp on the frying duration, the moneybags will break easily when you stuff them. Once ready, lift the egg tofu, put them into the ice bath and allow them to cool until easy to handle.
Cut one end of the egg tofu and carefully remove the soft tofu within with a teaspoon; we will only need the brown “skins” for this recipe.
Pour away the oil from the wok and set the wok on high heat. Add the diced mushrooms, wine, soy sauce and salt, and sauté until fragrant.
Correct the seasoning with more salt if necessary before transferring the mushrooms into a small bowl.
Fill a wok half full with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Blanch the chives for about 10 secs or until they appear wilted. Do not pour away the water in the wok. Stuff the tofu “skins” with the mushroom filling and seal each moneybag by tying a double knot at the top with the chives.
Wet Market To Table (published by Epigram), $44.90, is available at leading bookstores and shop.epigrambooks.sg.
Photos and recipes: Epigram Books