Cooking for the coming Chinese New Year (2021)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

So, what are you cooking for this coming Chinese New Year? With the guests restrictions, the menu should be paired down, either in variety or quantity. Added to that, crossed-causeway family reunion is also not possible and that may change your plans.

The reunion dinner will still be special, especial for the older folks - as each reunion dinner continues a chain of tradition that stretches back as far as they can remember.

Eating out will not be a practical option for larger families. Remembering these may help as we prepare our cooking. The reunion dinner is always about family favourites. Each family have their own "festive dishes" that everyone grew up with. These will be in line with your heritage; may it be Hakka; Nonya or Hokkien. In fact, when I ask a family what is usually tabled for their reunion dinners, I can guess the cultural background of the matriarch of the family.

I detail here some of the dishes I am planning to cook for our reunion dinner and the rest of the CNY.

Stir Fry River Prawns in Black Bean Sauce

I can hardly think of a Wong Reunion dinner without this dish. This is one early recipe which I have posted on my blog. In the earlier days, river prawns were wildly caught and it is sweeter compared to farmed ones. These days, we have to make do with the latter. Try to buy them as fresh as possible and put them into the freezer immediately once you reach home. NTUC do sell them too during this period along within some wet markets. If you can get river prawns, sea-farmed ones like crystal prawns or wild-caught Angka will worked well too. Or the large imported frozen ones. 

Lo Han Chai or Chap Chye

This is a family favourite. There are different versions of this, depending whether you are Nonya, Hokkien or Cantonese. My mum like to use white fermented bean curd (Fu Yi) and wongbok instead of cabbage for this. Wongbok has a firm texture which holds well and won't absorb the stock the way cabbage will do, which makes for a soggy dish when eaten the next day. 

This is an all-day dish and you can easily cook new batches by adding fresh ingredients to the leftovers.  You can find the recipe here. Best eaten with sambal belachan on the side. 

Steamed Chicken

Rub into the whole chicken with some salt and steam for about 40 to 45 minutes. Then served it with fresh red chilli sauce and a beautiful ginger garlic sauce (recipe here). Get the best chicken you can lay your hands on. Anxin or another type of "Kampung chicken" will work. The fattier and meatier large chicken broiler will work too. If you have leftovers, fry it up with some garlic, soy sauce and thick black sauce. If there is still leftovers after this, add to your Chai Buay. :) You can see why my Mum always make this for reunion.

Treasure Dish or Pencai

While it is easier to just order this in from restaurants, it is not difficult to prepare this at home if you are an experienced cook. It will also cost a lot less. You will have better control over the freshness and assemble it a la minit and serve it warm. I will normally steam my own egg tofu (recipe here) and to that add mushrooms, clams, abalone, sea cucumber and green veg. Some prawns will a nice orange hue to the dish. Be flexible and use your imagination. 

As for the stock or sauce, prepare it beforehand a few days before the dinner. Use one whole chicken and some lean pork to prepare the stock. Check out this post on preparing the superior sauce and how to prepare the abalone.

Prepare each ingredient beforehand. Then just before dinner, assemble and pour in the warmed sauce. 

Jiu Hur Eng Chye (Braised turnip with dried cuttle fish)

This is another favourite reunion dish. It pairs very well with fresh iceberg lettuce and sambal belachan. It also keep very well for the next few days when fridged. I will be blogging the recipe soon. 

Deep fried Hakka Pork ("Char yoke")

This was another perennial favourite and is probably the only dish that reveals our secondary Hakka roots. For some reason, Hakka culture is normally eclipsed when it collides with Hokkien or Cantonese and it was certainly our experience of that living in West Malaysia. Check the recipe here.

Waxed Meat Platter

Cantonese waxed meat is easy to prepare, whether steamed or pan fried. It keeps well for nibbles in the next few days. 

Chai Buay (lead photo)

No CNY is complete in our family without Chai Buay or Choi Keok. It is the essential "leftover dish" cooked with the Mustard Green veg which is rare and expensive come CNY. And so, please book your mustard greens early. It may be hard to find fresh ones given the difficulties of this season. An alternative is to used the salted mustard greens ("Ham Choy"). You need to soak them a few times to remove the salt. 

Check my recipe here

Nonya Curry Chicken

Curries are also family favourites for the 1st and 2nd day of CNY. Curries keep well and cna be served all day. 

Check the recipes for Curry Chicken and Beef Rendang.

Another of my Mum's favourite dish is Braised Pork Knuckles (Yin Tai). Check out this post.

Have fun planning and cooking and may you have a wonderful family reunion and a great CNY celebration in the midst of the restrictions.

Photo from a previous CNY Reunion in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. 

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