Level up your Lunar New Year feast with these impressive recipes filled with wonderful, familiar flavours and “good luck” ingredients.
As a child, Pamelia Chia dreaded the Lunar New Year. The author of Wet Market To Table shares, “I used to dislike the Lunar New Year when I was younger because I considered it an excruciating frenzy of dressing meticulously and socialising with people just for propriety’s sake.”
However, being away in Melbourne, the 28-year-old who now works part-time in Ima Café as she writes her next book, has changed her views. “Having lived overseas for close to two years, I view it from a different lens now. It is such a blessing to have a holiday where the whole family gathers for a meal and catch up with one another! Last year, I celebrated by having a mediocre meal at a Chinese restaurant. While back in Singapore, my family and friends were having amazing celebratory feasts. It made me think about how, in Chinese culture, one communicates love and kinship through food.”
Pamelia, who used to helm the curry and charcoal grill sections in the Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, recently launched Wet Market To Table, her “love song to the markets”. She understands that preparing a meal for the whole family can be daunting, and shares a few tips to stay sane:
• Don’t veer too far from tradition. “Definitely keep your menu CNY-appropriate. There are some recipes in the book that are particularly festive, such as the Cantonese Roast Duck and Prosperity Claypot.”
• Serve dishes you feel confident about. Pamelia shares, “If you can, I would recommend either practicing before the CNY meal or falling back on the recipes in your own repertoire.”
• Aim for high impact, low effort. “When preparing a multi-course meal, it is crucial to not be too ambitious with your menu. Keep to a maximum of one labour-intensive dish, and keep the rest easy.
One high-impact, low-input dish from the book is the Clams With Laksa Leaves. It is one of the quickest yet most gratifying recipes in the book!”
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR: Pen cai (loosely translated to “basin dish”) is a pot filled with delicacies to usher in an auspicious year. The components of this claypot dish are said to bring prosperity and wealth. “Fatt choy” directly translates to “strike it rich”, and tatsoi translates to “prosperity vegetable” in Mandarin. Fish maw, made from bladder that keeps fish afloat in water, is believed to symbolise resilience and tenacity in difficult times, allowing one to soldier on in all areas of life. But the centrepiece of this pot is probably the moneybags which are tedious to make, but are delicious and beautiful enough to make all-year around.
Prep 30 mins | Cook 1 hour | Serves 6
BRAISED FISH MAW & FATT CHOY
30 g fish maw
250 ml homemade chicken stock (see larder recipes, page 282 of Wet Market to Table)
¼ tsp salt
5 g fatt choy o r dried sea moss, soaked in hot water for 15 mins to rehydrate
2 L oil for deep-frying
3 tubes egg tofu
50 g dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked for 20 mins in hot water until soft, stalks removed, caps diced finely
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tsp light soy sauce
¼ tsp salt
A small bunch of chives
1 large tatsoi, rinsed
100 ml chicken stock
1 tbsp corn starch mixed with
50 ml water
1 tsp of goji berries
1. Begin by preparing the fish maw. Place it in a large colander and pouring hot water over liberally. The fish maw should shrink and soften. Cut it into thin strips and place in a small pot, along with the chicken stock and salt. Set to high heat. When the stock comes to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer.
2. Cover the pot and allow the fish maw to braise for half an hour or until completely tender. Remove the fish maw from the chicken stock, and set aside.
3. Add fatt choy to the chicken stock in the pot. Cook it for 5 mins uncovered over medium-low heat, or until all the liquid has evaporated. Set it aside until ready to assemble.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the moneybags. Pour oil into a wok set to high heat. Slice the tubes of egg tofu neatly in half - you will have 6 halves in total. Place a dry wooden chopstick in the oil to test if the oil is hot enough. When it is ready, oil will stream from the chopstick.
5. Prepare an ice bath and a kitchen spider. Carefully lower the egg tofu halves into the wok and cook over medium heat for about 5 mins until they turn a beautiful golden brown. It is crucial to cook the egg tofu slowly. If you skimp on the frying duration, the moneybags will break easily when you stuff them. Once ready, lift the egg tofu, put them into the ice bath and allow them to cool until easy to handle.
6. Cut one end of the egg tofu and carefully remove the soft tofu within with a teaspoon; we will only need the brown “skins” for this recipe.
7. Pour away the oil from the wok and set the wok on high heat. Add the diced mushrooms, wine, soy sauce and salt, and sauté until fragrant.
8. Correct the seasoning with more salt if necessary before transferring the mushrooms into a small bowl.
9. Fill a wok half full with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Blanch the chives for about 10 secs or until they appear wilted. Do not pour away the water in the wok. Stuff the tofu “skins” with the mushroom filling and seal each moneybag by tying a double knot at the top with the chives.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR: “Before being offered a kitchen job, a cook is typically asked to go to the restaurant for a trial. I was lucky enough to trial at one of Melbourne’s best restaurants, Lee Ho Fook. One big takeaway for me was being able to taste their dishes and to question the cooks on how they are prepared. The Lee Ho Fook roast duck looked like a typical Peking duck on the outside, but boasted juicy, pink flesh rather than the usual dull grey at most Chinese restaurants. Armed with tips from a very helpful cook, I set about replicating the duck at home. This recipe is the happy result.”
CANTONESE ROAST DUCK
Prep 15 mins + 36 hours brine and chill time | Cook 1 hour | Serves 4–6
2 L water
90 g salt
3 tbsps honey
3 tsps five spice powder
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
25 g sand ginger, smashed with the back of a knife
25 g ginger, smashed with the back of a knife
3 spring onions, roots removed, smashed with the back of a knife
3 tbsps hoisin sauce
1 duck weighing about 2 kg, feet and wing tips removed, with the neck left intact
2 tbsps honey or maltose
1. Prepare the duck at least 2 nights before cooking or up to 4 days in advance. In a wok or large pot, stir together all the ingredients for the brining, except the duck, over high heat. Remove the brine from the heat as soon as the salt and honey dissolve. Allow the brine to cool completely.
2. Add the duck, breast-side down, ensuring that it is completely submerged in the brine, weighing it down with a heavy plate if necessary. Allow to brine in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
3. The next day, retrieve the duck from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Discard the brine.
4. Bring a wok filled with water to a rolling boil over high heat. Gripping the duck’s neck firmly in one hand, ladle the boiling water over the duck, about 2 mins per side. Your goal is for an even shrinkage of the duck’s skin to be accomplished.
5. Pat the scalded duck dry with paper towels. Heat the honey or maltose briefly until runny. With a brush, glaze the duck thoroughly with the honey or maltose, and set the duck on a wire rack.
6. Place the duck and the wire rack on a large oven tray, and allow the duck to dry uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to 3 days.
7. Remove the duck from the refrigerator an hour before cooking, and preheat the oven to 175 C. Roast the duck on the wire rack, and oven tray for about 45 mins, or until a thermometer registers 55 C when inserted into the duck’s breast. Start checking at the 40-min mark. When the duck is done, allow it to rest for at least 30 mins.
8. Fill a wok half-full with oil and heat until smoking. Gripping onto the duck’s neck as before in one hand, ladle the hot oil onto the duck, focusing on areas that are not a rich golden colour yet. The duck is ready when it boasts an evenly-browned skin. Carve and serve while the skin is crispy.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR: “I am convinced that lard is magic. It boasts a rich, savoury aroma that makes everything taste better. Though it does take some time to render pork fat at home, it really is worth your effort in this dish. The smoky rendered fat emulsifies into the most delicious sauce when the clams release their briny juices.”
FRAGRANT STIR-FRIED CLAMS WITH LAKSA LEAVES
Prep 15 mins (+ 30 mins soaking) | Cook 15 mins | Serves 4
1 kg clams
1 tbsp plain flour
150 g pork fat, cut into 1cm cubes 1/2 tsp salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 2 lemongrass stalks, white part only, minced
3 chilli padis, stems removed, minced 3 tbsps fish sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsps Shaoxing wine
A large handful of laksa leaves
1. Begin by preparing the clams. Rinse the clams thoroughly with water and scrub the shells, if necessary.
2. Place the flour and clams in a large bowl and fill the bowl with enough water to cover the clams liberally. Swirl the clams around the water until the flour has dispersed. Soak the clams at least 30 mins. Transfer the clams into a clean bowl, lifting them from the murky water. Rinse thoroughly once more and set them aside until ready to use.
3. Meanwhile, place the pork fat and salt into a large, cold pan set over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally, until the fat renders and only crispy cubes remain. This should take about 5 to 10 mins.
4. Remove the crispy pork cubes from the pan and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Add the garlic, lemongrass and chilli padis to the pan and increase the heat to medium. Be extra watchful to not let the garlic burn.
5. As soon as the mixture in the pan smells incredibly fragrant, add the clams. Quickly add the fish sauce, sugar, wine and laksa leaves before covering the pan with a lid.
6. Cook for 3 mins, shaking the pan from time to time. Remove the lid. The clams should have opened and their juices should have emulsified with the fat in the pan to form a luscious sauce. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning if necessary with extra fish sauce or sugar. Remove any clams that remain closed, scatter over the crispy pork cubes and serve immediately.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR: The secret ingredient in this soup is dried sole fish bones, also known as ti poh. When deep-fried and infused into broths, the crispy fish bones impart a deep umami flavour that is truly transformative. The fish bones can be found at dried provision stalls in the wet market.
TEOCHEW FISH SOUP WITH DEEP-FRIED TARO
Prep 15 mins | Cook 4 hours 15 mins | Serves 6
2 L oil for deep-frying
70 g dried sole fish bones (ti poh)
1 taro, topped and tailed, brown skin removed, cut into bite-size wedges
1 fish head from a large fish such as red grouper or Song fish, chopped into pieces
3 chicken carcasses, chopped into pieces
150 g ginger, sliced 2 cm thick
3 ½ L water
15 Chinese salted plums
60 g Solomon’s seal (yu zhu)
¼ Chinese cabbage, tough base removed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
4 tomatoes, each sliced into 8 wedges, core removed
1. Fill a large stockpot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, pour the oil into a wok and set over high heat.
2. Test the oil’s temperature by dipping a wooden chopstick into the oil. Bubbles should immediately stream from the chopstick. Add the dried sole fish pieces, and deep-fry for about 1 min until toasted and fragrant. Remove the sole fish from the oil and set aside.
3. Add the taro pieces to the oil and deep-fry for about 3 mins until slightly golden brown. Remove and set aside.
4. Finally, add the fish head, removing the pieces when they turn a lovely golden brown.
5. Once the water in the stockpot comes to a boil, add the chopped chicken carcasses and blanch for 1 min. Pour the contents of the pot through a colander set in a sink and scrub the pot clean.
6. Rinse the chicken pieces thoroughly to remove all traces of scum and return them to the pot, along with the deep-fried sole fish and fish head. Add the ginger and water, and bring the contents of the pot to a rolling boil over high heat.
7. Cover the pot with a lid and lower the heat to medium; you want the stock to be boiling quite vigorously to encourage the emulsification of fat and the stock. This will result in a milky, creamy stock.
8. Allow the stock to cook for 3 hours before straining it into a clean pot. By this time, the chicken carcasses and fish head should be tender to the point of disintegration. It is important to use a fine sieve for this to catch all the fine bones from the fish. Press against the solids caught in the strainer with a ladle to extract all the liquid before discarding.
9. To the stock, add the deep-fried taro, plums, Solomon’s seal, cabbage and tomatoes. Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow the stock to simmer for another hour on low heat until the taro fully softens. Ladle into bowls and serve with rice vermicelli or rice.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR: “This ice-cream was created based on the key components of rojak sauce. It is rich and luscious with the fragrance of ginger flower, its sweetness tempered by tamarind. I like infusing a couple of chillies into the ice-cream base for an unsuspecting warmth and spice that sneaks up on you as the ice-cream melts.”
Prep 5 mins (+ chill and freeze time 12 hours 30 mins with ice-cream maker) | Makes 1 litre
180 g smooth peanut butter
180 g sugar
330 ml milk
330 ml whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
125 g tamarind pulp
2–3 red chilli padis, stems removed, sliced thinly
50 g shrimp paste (hae ko)
2 bulbs ginger flowers, petals sliced thinly
Cucumbers, diced into tiny cubes, to serve
Peanut sprinkles, to serve
1. Combine all the ingredients in a pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir constantly with a whisk to incorporate the peanut butter into the mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the ice-cream so that it is well-balanced.
2. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl to get rid of the tamarind seeds, chilli, and ginger flower slices. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight, or until the ice-cream base is thoroughly chilled.
3. Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s instructions. If you do not own an ice-cream machine, simply freeze your thoroughly chilled ice-cream base, beating it well every 30 mins with a hand-held mixer until it is completely frozen.
4. Serve ice-cream with diced cucumbers and peanut sprinkles.
Wet Market To Table, (published by Epigram), $44.90, is available at leading bookstores and shop.epigrambooks.sg.
PHOTOS & RECIPES COURTESY OF EPIGRAM BOOKS