How to cook Chinese New Year Pen Cai

Posted by Divine Chef on

The ultimate CNY challenge for any home chef I guess. This really put my time management and culinary skills to the test. Churning out pen cai is ALOT of preparation work.  

First, is the sourcing for the ingredients. Next is the soaking, yes I literally mean the soaking of dried ingredients to rehydrate them for cooking. The sea cucumbers took me almost two weeks of daily soaking, cleaning and boiling with ginger to get them to get rid of the fishy smell and become soft enough to be melt-in-the-mouth when I cooked them.  Honestly actual amount of ingredients will depend on your pen cai pot.  Mine is quite deep while not too width at the mouth.

My bottom layer was lined with cabbage, radish, yam, lotus slices. Next layer was sea cucumber, I had quite a lot because I under-estimated the ballooned size of sea cucumber after they got rehydrated, I think we are going to have sea cucumber every festive season this year haha.  Sea cucumbers were lined in this layer along with fat mushrooms and oysters cooked in a broth of oyster, shao xing, soy sauces. My top layer was lined with roasted meat, abalone, fish maw, prawns (no shells), flower-shaped carrot slices, dried conpoy (scallops), and braised stomach (haha, I had these left from a meal previous day and decided to cook and add them).  Actual cooking took about 3-4 hours. Prep work was 2 weeks ahead ...

How to cook Chinese New Year Pen Cai

Ingredients (bottom layer) 

  • Chicken stock in a pot (About 1 litre Note: depends on pot size)
  • Cabbage (enough leaves to line your pot)
  • Lotus thinly sliced
  • Yam (pre air-fried) to prevent the yam from coming apart
  • Radish slices
  • 1 garlic
  • 1 shallot

Directions (bottom layer)

In a pot of chicken stock, blanched cabbage, lotus slices, yam, radish.  Stir fry the vegetables briefly with garlic and shallots, then lined the bottom of pot with these vegetables.


Ingredients (middle layer)

  • Sea cucumbers in slices (they should be soft to touch) Pre-soaked, boiled with ginger to remove the fishy smell, usually days ahead of actual preparation
  • Dried chinese mushrooms pre-soaked and softened
  • Dried oysters pre-soaked and softened
  • 2 garlics
  • 2 shallots
  • Ginger juice (1/2 young ginger)
  • Oyster sauce 1 TBSP
  • Shao xing wine 1/2 TBSP
  • Soy sauce 1/2 TBSP
  • Dark soy sauce 1 TSP
  • Fish sauce 1 TSP
  • Corn starch


In a hot pan, saute the garlic and shallot until fragrant. Put the sea cucumbers and oysters into pan and add the sauces. Braise. Add mushrooms last then the corn starch to thicken the stew. Line these in the pot as the middle layer and drizzle the sauce over the lined layer.


Ingredients (top layer)

  • Prawns (de-veined, shells removed and I mixed tiger and grey prawns because of differing preferences at home)
  • Fish maw pre-soaked, cleaned, boiled with ginger if needed to remove fishy smell
  • Dried conpoy (or scallops) soaked and softened
  • Mix all the soaking water to the pot of stock used to blanch vegetables in bottom layer
  • Roasted meat cut into thick pieces
  • Corn starch to thicken stock


  • Once the stock comes to boil, quickly add the prawns, fish maw, conpoy, abalone, carrot slices and quickly remove once they are cooked
  • Line them on top of the pot 
  • Drizzle the thicken stock over the abalone

Before serving, I sliced the abalone into thin slices. To serve, I used my thongs to serve every diner to ensure everyone gets to taste every ingredient.  This also ensure the pot is eaten neatly without becoming "rojak".







Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.