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How to make Hong Kong’s Poon Choi for the Lunar New Year

BECAUSE of the Philippines’ large Filipino-Chinese community, the Lunar New Year is celebrated as a special non-working holiday and traditional Chinese activities such as preparing tikoy (glutinous rice cakes) and giving ampaos (red envelopes) are practiced. While Chinese New Year is just around the corner, the lantern festival and dragon dance may not be celebrated along the streets of Binondo because of the current circumstances. The next best way to celebrate it is celebrating with family over Chinese dishes — the usual pancit, dumplings, and tikoy. But how about trying to whip up a dish of Poon Choi?

Poon Choi, which literally translates to “casserole in a basin,” is an auspicious dish found at many tables in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year. The dish features around 10 to 20 ingredients served in a large claypot.

Traditionally, the Poon Choi is an important element of the Walled Village culture in New Territories, Hong Kong, appearing whenever there are auspicious celebrations such as weddings and festivals. Poon Choi’s origins are traced to when the emperor of the Song Dynasty, escaping the invading Moguls, went to Hong Kong and the Guangdong region. As tradition goes, when the imperial army travelled to the New Territories, villagers were eager to host them but were bound by certain limitations, so they put all their best ingredients they had together, cooked them and presented the dish in a large wooden basin – hence the birth of Poon Choi.

Poon Choi has existed in Hong Kong for more than seven centuries, but is no longer confined within the brick-walled village. Thanks to immigration and the proliferation of media, the popularity of the dish has spread far and wide, especially in South East Asia where many Cantonese immigrants reside.

Poon Choi is highly modifiable; the ingredients are not set in stone, unless your heart is set on making a traditional version. Ingredients can be easily replaced and substituted, even a vegetarian rendition is possible. Here is a basic recipe:

Ingredients

10 small/medium braised abalone

10 dried oysters

10 medium/large dried scallops

10 prawns

10 Chinese mushrooms

20 pieces of roast pork

1/2 roast chicken

½ Chinese cabbage (cut into small sizes)

½ radish (cut into small slices)

1 carrot (cut into small slices)

½ broccoli (cut into small pieces)

1 small bundle of black moss vegetable

Chicken/vegetable broth

3 tablespoons of oyster sauce

Some garlic and ginger

Procedure

In a pot of water, blanch the prawns until cooked. Clean the dried oysters, scallops and soak the shitake mushrooms. Steam these three ingredients for about 15 minutes until the oysters are soft.

Steam all the vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, radish and carrots) for 10 minutes.

In your selected claypot, put a few tablespoons of cooking oil, sauté the ginger and garlic until fragrant. Turn off the heat and add about one bowl of chicken/vegetable broth. Add the oyster sauce and stir until well combined.

Start the layering the ingredients as follows:

First layer – radish

Second layer – carrots

Third layer – cabbage, dried oyster, black moss vegetable

Fourth layer – roast chicken, roast pork, mushrooms, broccoli, prawns

Fifth layer (top layer) – abalone and dried scallops

Add the remaining broth, but do not submerge the ingredients. Bring to boil on medium heat for at least 20 minutes.

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