Festive favourites: 6 chefs share their traditional Chinese New Year recipes

While newfangled Chinese New Year goodies are in abundance, it is also important to remember the classic dishes. Six chefs share their traditional recipes for the festive season

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Retiree Soh Lee Chin shares her mother's Chinese New Year recipe for a Hakka pen cai, which includes ingredients such as fish maw, dried oysters, pork tendon and shiitake mushrooms. The ingredients are braised in a homemade chicken and pork stock.

Teochew steamed phoenix prawn rolls

Cheng Fa Kwan, 54, executive chef of Paradise Teochew Restaurant at Scotts Square

The filling for chef Cheng's steamed phoenix prawn rolls is made by hand. Prawns and pork are mashed, chopped and kneaded to achieve a springy consistency.

The versatile filling can also be used for fried prawn rolls (hae choh), says the chef, who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in a Teochew household.

He says in Cantonese: "When I started as a chef at the age of 18, I kept getting scolded for not making it properly. When sliced and plated, the rolls look like a flower, which is good for Chinese New Year."


For the filling

  • 300g prawn
  • 300g minced pork belly
  • 3 egg whites
  • 150g water chestnut, skin removed and diced
  • 80g cornstarch
  • 80g wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 6g salt
  • 6g chicken powder
  • Sugar to taste
  • Sesame oil to taste
  • 20g dried conpoy
  • 450ml chicken stock
  • 12 mustard green leaves
  • 250g broccoli
  • 75g Chinese celery

For the egg crepe

  • 10 eggs, separated
  • 75g cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp chicken powder
  • Sugar to taste
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  1. For the prawn filling: Mash the prawns with a knife and mince till you get a smooth paste.
  2. Add the minced pork belly and continue to mince till fine.
  3. Mix in the egg whites, followed by the remaining ingredients. Knead the mixture till you get a springy consistency.
  4. Divide into two portions and set aside.
  5. Bring water to a boil in a wok. Place the conpoy in a dish and steam for three hours over low heat.
  6. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a pot. Blanch the mustard greens and broccoli, then slice into pieces.
  7. In the same stock, blanch the Chinese celery and set aside. Set aside the remaining stock.
  8. For the egg crepe: In a bowl, beat 10 egg yolks, five egg whites and 10g of cornstarch. Mix well and separate into three portions.
  9. Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan, preferably 25cm wide. Add one portion of the egg mixture. Ensure the mixture is spread evenly in the pan and cook for a few minutes until the underside is golden brown. Remove gently and cool. Repeat for the other two portions of egg mixture.
  10. To assemble the wrap: Lay an egg crepe on a dish and spread a layer of the prawn filling on it.
  11. Slice another egg crepe into thirds lengthwise. Place one strip over the centre of the first crepe.
  12. Shred the steamed conpoy and place it in a line on top of the cut egg crepe. Then add a piece of Chinese celery on top.
  13. Roll the egg crepe into a tight roll, taking care not to break the crepe.
  14. Repeat steps 10 to 13 to make the second roll.
  15. Steam rolls over medium heat for eight minutes until cooked. Slice evenly into desired thickness and lay in a circle on a serving plate.
  16. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok, saute mustard greens and broccoli and add 75ml of stock. Cook for about five minutes or till desired softness. Place the mustard greens around the prawn rolls and broccoli in the centre.
  17. In the same wok, add the remaining stock, fish sauce, chicken powder and sugar. Thicken sauce with remaining cornstarch.
  18. Pour sauce over the rolls and vegetables. Serve hot.

Makes two rolls

Cantonese Jade Flower Chicken

Chung Lap Fai, 54, masterchef of Hua Ting restaurant at Orchard Hotel

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According to this Hong Kong-born chef, you cannot have a festive meal without the meaty trinity of chicken, duck and pork. With Jinhua Yu Shu Ji (yuk lan gai in Cantonese, or Jade Flower Chicken), you nail down two of those ingredients.

The classic Cantonese dish comprises poached chicken arranged on a plate with Jinhua ham and vegetables. The dry-cured ham is named after the city of Jinhua in Zhejiang province, eastern China, where it is produced. It is often used in stews and soups and can be bought at Yue Hwa Chinese Products in Chinatown.

The dish is relatively simple to prepare, but the challenge is in ensuring that the pieces of deboned chicken, ham and mushrooms are of a similar length and size. It is best to eat all three items together as the ham can be very salty on its own.

The dish is not commonly found anymore, although some traditional Cantonese restaurants still serve it. It is not on the menu at Hua Ting, but chef Chung can cook it upon request. It is priced at $80 and needs to be ordered in advance.

He says in Mandarin: "With the Jinhua ham in the dish, you get more flavour and fragrance. The dish was common for weddings, but you would need many chefs to debone and plate the chicken for hundreds of guests. It's easier to manage at home."


  • 1 whole chicken (about 1.8kg)
  • 60g dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 100g Jinhua ham
  • 600g kailan
  • 800ml chicken stock
  • 1/2 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch


  1. Rinse the chicken, then place it in a pot with enough water to cover.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook for 40 minutes over low heat.
  3. Remove the chicken from the pot and place in a bowl. Pour ice water over the chicken - this helps keep the skin intact.
  4. Debone the chicken and slice into 6cm-long pieces. Place on a serving platter.
  5. Soak the mushrooms in hot water, remove the stems and slice thinly into 6cm-long pieces. Set aside.
  6. Slice the Jinhua ham to about the same size as the mushrooms. Set aside.
  7. Trim the ends of the kailan from the stem. Rinse and set aside.
  8. Place a slice each of Jinhua ham and mushroom between each piece of chicken.
  9. Pour the chicken stock into a wok. Bring to a boil and add the kailan and blanch for a few minutes. Remove and arrange on the sides of the dish.
  10. Add the oyster sauce, salt and sugar into the stock. Stir in the cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
  11. Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and serve hot.

Serves eight

Deluxe Hakka fortune pot

Then Chui Foong, 45, technical chef at gourmet food and beverage supplier Euraco Finefood

Chef Then Chui Foong and her mother Soh Lee Chin with their lighter version of Hakka pen cai.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

Chinese New Year is always a family affair for Then and her mother Soh Lee Chin, 73, a retired hawker.

From baking pineapple tarts to preparing pots of pen cai (one-pot meal) or steamboat for reunion dinner, they make sure everyone is well-fed through the festive season.

Their version of Hakka pen cai does not come with the usual rich braising sauce. Instead, it comes with a light broth flavoured with seafood and meat.

Madam Soh says in Mandarin: "This version is lighter, suitable for those who are more healthconscious. The flavour of each ingredient is not masked by a thick sauce."


  • 300g dried sea cucumber

For the stock

  • 100g soya beans
  • 250g chicken bones
  • 200g chicken feet
  • 2 litres water
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 300g napa cabbage (wong bok), washed, each leaf sliced into three or four pieces
  • 300g yam, skin removed, sliced into 1cm-thick slices, quartered and deep-fried
  • 80g dried shiitake mushrooms, washed, soaked (save soaking liquid for stock), stems trimmed
  • 200g steamed chicken, chopped into chunks
  • 200g roast duck, chopped into chunks
  • 200g roast pork, sliced into 1cm-thick pieces
  • 200g fish maw, soaked in hot water and blanched
  • 300g prawns, washed, feelers and legs trimmed
  • 80g dried oysters, washed, soaked and drained dry
  • 80g fresh scallops
  • 300g pork tendon, boiled and sliced into 8cm-long pieces
  • 150g abalone or about eight pieces (save liquid in the can for stock)
  • 20g black moss, soaked and strained


  1. To prepare the sea cucumber: One day before cooking the pen cai, wash the sea cucumber and leave to soak overnight. The next day, wash again and continue soaking.
  2. When the texture becomes soft enough to be cut, use a pair of scissors to snip down the length of one side.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil and boil the sea cucumber for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and continue soaking. Repeat this procedure three times.
  4. Clean out its intestines and portion into 8cm-long pieces. Set aside.
  5. To make the stock: Place the soya beans, chicken bones and chicken feet in a deep pot. Pour water in and bring to a boil.
  6. Stir in the oyster sauce, salt, sugar and sesame oil. Boil for at least one hour and set aside.
  7. To assemble the pen cai: In a large claypot, place a flat steaming tray at the bottom. This is to prevent ingredients from getting burnt. Place the napa cabbage, yam, and mushrooms at the base of the pen cai as these ingredients take longer to cook.
  8. Add the chicken, duck, roast pork, fish maw, sea cucumber, prawns, dried oysters, scallops, tendon, abalone and black moss.
  9. To the stock, add the liquid from the canned abalone and the water the mushrooms were soaked in. You should end up with about 2 litres. Then, pour the stock into the claypot. There should be enough stock to cover all the ingredients. If it is insufficient, add more water.
  10. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Ensure the liquid does not dry up. If necessary, add more stock or water.
  11. Season to taste and serve hot.

Serves eight to 10

Braised fish in Sichuan bean paste

Zeng Feng, 50, executive chef of Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant at Parkroyal on Beach Road

Braised fish in Sichuan bean pasteST PHOTO: LEE JIA WEN

Shui zhu yu, or Sichuan-style boiled fish, may be all the rage these days, but the more homely, traditional braised fish in Sichuan bean paste is what chef Zeng Feng recommends.

He says: "Not everyone can handle mala flavours and the braised fish dish is not too spicy. It is suitable for children as well as the elderly." He serves it in the restaurant, priced from $10 for 100g (Chinese New Year price $12 for 100g) for sea bass.

The Sichuan native grew up having sumptuous homecooked feasts for Chinese New Year. The centrepiece was always Sichuan-style pen cai (one-pot meal) with pork knuckle. Other traditions include eating tang yuan (glutinous rice balls) on the morning of Chinese New Year and drinking tea on the seventh day.


  • 1 whole sea bass
  • 150ml oil
  • 50g bean paste (Pi Xian doubanjiang from Yue Hwa Chinese Products)
  • 20g ginger
  • 10g spring onion
  • 20g garlic
  • 400ml water
  • Soya sauce to taste
  • 30g sugar
  • 20ml huatiao wine
  • Salt to taste
  • 20g cornstarch
  • 20ml vinegar


  1. Wash the fish and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. In a wok, heat the oil over high heat. Place the fish in the wok, frying on each side till it is cooked and the skin is golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. To the remaining oil in the wok, add the bean paste, ginger, spring onion and garlic. Stir-fry for a few minutes until fragrant. Then add water, soya sauce, sugar, wine and salt. Finally, add the fish to cook in the sauce for a few minutes.
  4. Remove the fish and place on a platter. Add cornstarch to the sauce so it thickens, then stir in the vinegar.
  5. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve hot.

Serves four to six

Festive Hokkien glutinous rice

Louis Tay, 53, executive chef at Swissotel Merchant Court

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A staple for Hokkien chef Louis Tay during Chinese New Year is fragrant glutinous rice with roast pork belly and Chinese sausages.

To ensure the rice grains remain whole and do not turn mushy, he recommends an overnight soak.

As he will be working on Chinese New Year Eve, he is having an early reunion dinner with his family today at Chinese restaurant Tasty Court in Figaro Street, run by his good friend, fellow chef Pung Lu Tin.

On the second day of Chinese New Year, he will invite his friends to his home and whip up some dishes, including fish soup from a recipe by chef Pung.

Besides eating glutinous rice, chef Tay has other festive favourites. He says: "I love steamed rabbit fish as it has plenty of roe during the Chinese New Year period. For snacks, I must have bak kwa."


  • 100ml cooking oil
  • 150g shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 10g garlic, chopped
  • 100g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water
  • 2 Chinese sausages, sliced thinly
  • 50g dried shrimp, soaked in warm water
  • 200g roast pork
  • 80g peanuts
  • 500g white glutinous rice, soaked
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp light soya sauce
  • 3 tsp dark soya sauce

For the garnish

  • 100g spring onion
  • chopped 50g red chilli
  • sliced (optional)


  1. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the shallots till they turn golden brown. Remove the shallots, drain and keep the oil in the wok.
  2. Add the garlic, mushrooms, Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, roast pork and peanuts. Stir-fry over high heat till fragrant.
  3. Add the drained glutinous rice and season with salt, pepper, sesame oil and light and dark soya sauce. Stir thoroughly so the rice takes on an even colour.
  4. Remove the rice from the wok and scoop it into a claypot.
  5. Heat up water in a steamer to a rapid boil. Place the claypot in the steamer, cover and steam the rice over high heat for 30 to 45 minutes or until the rice is soft and tender.
  6. Garnish with fried shallots, spring onion and chilli.

Serves 10

Huaiyang pork ribs with sweet and sour sauce

Qi Zhi Hai, 45, Huaiyang masterchef of Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel's private dining

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Huaiyang cuisine from Jiangsu, China, is considered to be one of the "Four Great Traditions" representing the country's culinary heritage and chef Qi has been honing his craft in this tradition for more than 20 years.

The food tends to be on the sweeter side and a key ingredient is Zhenjiang vinegar from Jiangsu.

In this homely dish of braised pork ribs with sweet and sour sauce, the flavours come from the vinegar as well as sugar. Chef Qi prefers using ribs with a layer of fat in the middle so the meat remains tender and juicy throughout the cooking process.


  • 250g pork ribs
  • 1 litre oil
  • 30g green onion
  • 30g ginger
  • 20ml huatiao wine
  • 1 litre water
  • 200ml dark vinegar (look for Zhenjiang vinegar from Yue Hwa Chinese Products)
  • 200g sugar
  • 2g roasted sesame seeds


  1. Chop the pork ribs into 5cm-long pieces.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the pork ribs for two minutes. Strain the pork ribs from the oil and set aside.
  3. Scoop out most of the oil and leave a few tablespoons to stir-fry the green onion, ginger and wine. Then add the pork ribs again.
  4. Pour the water into the wok. Stir and bring to a boil. Then add 100ml vinegar and 100g sugar, lower the fire and cover. Braise for 30 minutes until the flavours penetrate the pork ribs. Stir occasionally.
  5. Add the remaining vinegar and sugar. Stir-fry the mixture over low heat until a sticky gravy coats the pork ribs.
  6. Serve on a platter and garnish with roasted sesame seeds.

Serves four

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline Festive favourites: 6 chefs share their traditional Chinese New Year recipes. Subscribe