Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

INTRODUCTION

Pen Cai (Mandarin 盆菜) or Poon Choi (Cantonese) is a traditional dish for the Hakka and the Cantonese. I am not going to write more about this auspicious dish as Wikipedia has a very detail and extensive write up in English pertaining to this dish. Possibly I will just highlight some points that I think is interesting to share in the blog. As Per Wikipedia (Source: Poon choi – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia)

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

  • Poon choi (pronounced: pun4 coi3), also spelled pun choi, is a traditional Chinese dish once common throughout China. It first spread to the walled villages in New Territories, Hong Kong, and then to the rest of the territory.

  • It is a Cantonese cuisine served in large wooden, porcelain or metal basins due to the communal style of consumption. The Chinese name, transliterated as Poon choi, has been variously translated as “big bowl feast”, “basin cuisine” or “Chinese casserole”.

  • As Poon choi is a large dish portioned to be suitable for a communal meal, it was served whenever there were celebrations connected with rituals, weddings, festivals, ancestor worship and other local events as an expression of village dining culture.

  • Poon Choi includes ingredients such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, abalone, ginseng, shark fin, fish maw, prawn, crab, dried mushroom, fish balls, squid, dried eel, dried shrimp, pigskin, bean curd and daikon (Chinese radish).

  • Attentive layering of the ingredients contributes to the taste of the whole dish.

  • Poon choi meals are becoming more and more popular, one of the reasons being promotion by mass media, which widely publicise Poon choi events, such as the 1997 large-scale Poon choi banquet, and the Poon Choi banquet held by Heung Yee Kuk. Another reason is the economic downturn. Since Poon choi contains a large amount of many ingredients, Hong Kong people think the cost is lower than other types of restaurant meals. Poon choi also represents Hong Kong’s food culture and creativity. Although it is a traditional cuisine of Hong Kong walled villages the ingredients have changed over the past decades and become more diversified to suit peoples’ varying palates and tastes .

  • Traditional Poon choi is served in a big wooden basin. There is one on each table and every person at the table takes food from the basin, layer by layer, from the top to the bottom.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

I am unsure when Poon Choi become popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Definitely not when I was young where Chinese New Year reunion was usually a table of different dishes being served after ancestor praying. It subsequently developed into having steamboats for reunion dinner. However, in recent years, it is very easy to spot Poon Choi advertisements by  restaurants in the newspapers of the regions .  In fact, it become a trend that to have a poon cai with friends and relatives during Chinese New Year period. Prices can be steep too. Of course, during Chinese New Year, the most expensive ingredients were used for the dish.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

As far as I am concerned, this is a free and easy dish with no fixed and fast rules as to what should be included. It very much depends on family’s taste buds. What I am sharing here today definitely cannot be claimed to be authentic but is what I think my family will like. For purpose of this illustration, I have tried to use the more common ingredients that were  usually served in the ingredients. I have to be frank that if not because of the blog post, I will not spend so much on the dish of which half of the expensive ingredients have nobody in the family will appreciate . These include abalones, dried oysters, dried scallops and etc. Basically what my family were eating are those below the expensive ingredients. They truly enjoy the vegetables, bean curd sheets, some pork, chicken and prawns.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

This recipe is very difficult to give an exact quantity as it will depend on individual family’s preferences and also the size of the pot that your have. Feel free to add a bit more or less but you must fill the ingredients to the brim of the pot or basin used. What I have prepared suits my family’s taste buds and I hope it will suit yours too. The intention of this post is to share my method of preparation and you can use this as an inspiration to prepare your very own version.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

It cost me about S$100 dollar to prepare this meal that can serve –8 person (About 10 inches diameter big and deep clay pot). I believed that the ingredients are rather standard when compared to those that were sold in the restaurant . But for restaurant, it can range from S$388  – S$788  (for 10 persons) depends on the type of ingredients used and the status of the restaurant.  The major breakdown of my S$ 80 meals are :

  • 8 Abalone – About S$40 (medium size canned abalone)
  • 8 Dried Oysters – About S$12
  • 8 Dried scallops – About S$18 (biggest handpicked dried scallops)
  • 8 big prawns – About S$ 5
  • Roast Pork – About S$8
  • 1/2 Roast Chicken – About S$6
  • Vegetables – About S$10

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

Preparation to me is very easy . Most of the time is spend on the assembly and buying the ingredients. I am using as little seasonings and sauces as possible and the method of preparation is also being simplified. Therefore, it took me about 3 hours to get everything done though traditionally as per Wikipedia, it took 3 days to prepare.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

I have to tell readers that you can always alter the method of preparation that you think it will make a certain ingredient more delicious in terms of  taste and texture. For example, my illustration prefer to use blanched prawns, a one step preparation. But you can always use tomato sauce to cook your prawns before adding to the treasure pot. It is not necessary to have roast chicken, deep fried chicken mid wings or blanched chicken can also be used. I steamed the dried oysters and mushrooms but you can always to sauté the dried oysters  and mushrooms before adding to the pot. What I am trying to say is to convey the message that there is no fixed and fast rule in the preparation method and ingredients. Do what you think is suitable for your families. Don’t like abalone, just omit it.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)


WHAT IS REQUIRED

Servings: 6-8 adults

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

  • 8 abalones (鲍鱼)
  • 8  dried oysters (蚝豉 = 好市)
  • 8 dried scallops  (干贝)
  • 8 pieces of roast chicken (鸡肉)
  • 8 pieces of roast pork (烧肉)
  • 8 pieces of big prawns (大虾)
  • 8 pieces of shitake mushrooms , soaked (香菇)
  • 8 pieces of tofu dried bean curd sheets  (腐竹,腐皮)
  • 8 pieces of broccoli (西兰花)
  • 8 pieces of sweet corns (玉米)
  • 1 radish cut into thin slices (菜头 = 彩头)
  • 1 carrots cut into slices (胡萝卜)
  • 1 medium to small napa cabbage (白菜 = 清清白白)
  • 1 can of button mushroom (蘑菇)
  • 1 small handful of dried fungus, soaked (木耳)
  • 1 small bundle of black moss vegetable  (发菜 = 发财)

 

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

  • Some meat broth of your choice (refer to recipe on the collection)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 5 cm ginger, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce

All the quantities listed here are estimated quantities and feel free to adjust to suit your family members and taste buds. The actual quantities will depend on the size of your pot and you must prepare an additional ingredients just in case the ingredients is not adequate.

 

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)


STEPS OF PREPARATION

  • Identify the basin or pot to be used for the dish. You must be able to use this pot to heat up and transfer to the table for servings. Preferably it is round that signify reunion. Suggested type of pot are big metal basin, steamboat pot or clay pot.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

  • Have a pot of water, blanch the prawns until cooked. Keep the prawn broth.

  • Clean the dried oysters, scallops and soak the shitake mushrooms. Steam these 3 ingredients for about 10-15 minutes until the oysters are soft. You can add some water to the tray to expedite the steaming. Keep the seafood broth if you add water.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

  • In another tray, put cut radish, sweet corns, black fungus and top with napa cabbage. Steamed at high heat for about 10 minutes. Drained and collect all the vegetable broth if any.

  • In a pot, heat up some water with pinches of salt and few drops of oil, blanch the broccoli and carrots until 70% cook. Drain and throw away the blanching liquid.

  • Open the canned abalone and canned button mushrooms, keep the canned liquid if you wish. It will help to flavour the dish later . If you do not have the habit of eating these canned liquid, just throw away the liquid. For abalone, if you wished, you can steamed together with the seafood above.

  • Gather all the broth (prawn broth, vegetable broth, seafood broth, canned liquid). Set aside. If it is not enough for later usage, you can either add more water and use chicken stock powder to flavour the dish or you can use the ready package chicken stock to fill up the pot.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

  • In your selected pot, put  a few tablespoons of cooking oil or lard, sauté the ginger and garlic until fragrance.  Off the heat and add about one bowl of broth collected above. Add the oyster sauce (or other sauces like scallop sauce) and stir until well combined.

  • Start the layering as follows:
  1. First layer – steamed radish, sweet corns
  2. Second layer – button mushroom, black fungus , carrots, bean curd sticks
  3. Third layer – napa cabbage, dried oyster , black moss vegetable
  4. Fourth layer – roast chicken, roast pork, shitake mushrooms, broccoli, prawns
  5. Fifth layer and top layer – abalone and dried scallops
  • Add the remaining broth collected until at least level 3. Bring to boil under medium heat for at least 15-20 minutes . Do not over fill the broth as it will burst out when it boils. Add the liquid gradually.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)


CONCLUSION

Of course we can’t finish such a big pot for my small families of four. I have debone the chicken, cut the roast pork into smaller pieces, add more vegetables and let it boiled and it become a much more flavourful soup dish today.

Poon choi preparation is not difficult at all. What it differentiate your poon choi from others is the presentation. Place some emphasis in the design and you will come out a Poon choi that is eye catching. As for the soup base, I have to stress that I found my humble way of preparation already resulted a delicious broth for the entire pot. Of course you can use tons of seasonings and sauces such as hoi sin sauce, scallop sauce etc. to flavour the soup base. Remember that most of the ingredients such as roast pork, chicken, prawns are already flavourful.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

Before I pen off, just to remind that when eating this dish together with friends and family members, there are ethics and table manner. You have to eat from top to the bottom layer and it is very rude if your kids use the chopsticks to dig out the radish or sweet corns at the bottom . Then the whole pot will be in a mess. What you can do is to have plates available, seek consent of other diners, take the top layers ingredients and placed in separate plates. This way of serving is not authentic but practical since most kids will not fancy the top few layers but the bottom sweet corns etc.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

Hope you like the post today. Cheers and have nice day. Should there be any imperfections in my blog layout, bear with me and I am trying hard to rectify it. In the event that you are a follower of Guaishushu at http://kwgls.wordpress.com, please do follow this new blog Guaishushu1 at http://www.guaishushu1.com.

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

 


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Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

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Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

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Poon Choi aka Peng Cai or Basin Dish (盆菜)

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