With Lunar New Year less than 2 weeks away, many Chinese families are busy getting ready for the most significant holiday season of the year. Originally a celebration of the coming spring in agrarian China, many still mark this festival with traditional cuisine laden with meanings and symbolism.
Poon Choy, a hearty festive pot hailing originally from Hong Kong is fast gaining popularity for folks celebrating the 15 days festival across Asia. Humble in background, it was once a communal feast for early settlers in New Territories escaping wars and invasions. Today it has taken on more luxurious forms brimming with traditional delicacies associated with good fortune and luck much desired at the start of the year.
A fan of this delicious and meaningful way of sharing festive regards, I have been serving Poon Choy to family and friends for years. As the recipe travel further from its place of origin, it is only natural to find variations across lands and culinary preferences. Here I am happy to share my version of the traditional favourite, which is a 3-layer recipe.
At the base of a good sized claypot are vegetables that add to the dish's sweetness and cut down the fattiness from the abundance of meat. Carrots, radishes and cabbages are my preferences and they signify luck and abundance respectively.
Above the greens (and bright orange) come the meats and braised ingredients. Carnivores rejoice for this is a dish with an abundance of meat. In the past, meat is rarely served so once a year over the spring festival people tend to indulge. Although times have changed, the indulge part has been retained. Roast and braised meats of your preference may be used. Personally, I make my own roast pork and wine chicken. Slow braised sea cucumber and shitake mushrooms are also my favourite ingredients for this layer.
At this stage the dish should be covered and simmered over low heat for 2-3 hours. The vegetables at the bottom would provide a good broth for the dish but do be mindful not to burn the bottom by keeping the heat low. Before serving the dish, I add the final layer of the dish, the 'golden crown' of deep fried goodies. Almost anything may go into this wonderfully practical and meaningful dish and I really enjoy making all the ingredients from scratch. In this version I've handmade abalone tofu, sweet potato balls, pork and dried oyster fritters and drunken prawns. To retain the crispy texture of the final layer, pile them on right before serving.
A pot of Poon Choy can serve between 10-20 people depending on the volume of the claypot. The general rule is to make sure the pot is brimming with tasty morsels that not only taste good but convey all the best wishes for the new year.
Have fun experimenting and keep the tradition alive with your own personal versions.