Easy Pen Cai Recipes That Will Wow At Your CNY Reunion Dinner

pen cai recipe easy cny reunion dinner 2022

While steamboat is a convenientgo-to for reunion dinners, pen cai can be another easy and delicious alternative to explore for CNY 2024! Think piping claypot filled to the brim with luxurious ingredients such as abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw and vegetables – enough to get your stomach rumbling! If you’re keen on trying to put together your own pen cai, try these easy pen cai recipes and let this Rolls-Royce of all CNY dishes take the center stage at the dining table during your reunion dinner. 

What do you put in pen cai?

pen cai how to make easy recipe cny 2022 prawn abalone
(Credit: Fassler Gourmet [Cropped])
As its name suggests, pen cai is made with a variety of vegetables, and amped up for a luxe factor with delicacies such as abalone, prawns, or even lobster! While the assembling may be a little time consuming, pen cai remains relatively easy to cook so don’t be intimidated! Typically, pen cai includes eight main ingredients to symbolise wealth and abundance, but you can also add your family’s favourite ingredients into the pot for a familiar taste. Here are the popular ingredients that are usually used to whip up a pen cai and their auspicious symbolisation for this special occasion:
  • Sea moss – to have a windfall
  • Noodles – longevity
  • Sea cucumber and dried scallops – wealth and fertility
  • Roasted pork with crackling – unity
  • Abalone – abundant wealth
  • Fish maw – abundance and bountiful harvest
  • Prawn – joyful life full of laughter
  • White radish – growth and prosperity
  • Mushroom – success
  • Vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, carrot) – youthfulness 

Easy pen cai recipes for CNY 2024

1. Easy pen cai recipe with chicken

Doing last minute preparation for your CNY reunion dinner? Lucky for you, here’s a simplified version of the traditional pen cai recipe with easy to follow steps that will have your feast up and ready in no time! This version substitutes roasted pork with marinated chicken, which means this recipe can be made into a halal rendition if you’re sharing the prosperity pot with your Muslim friends!

Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 40 minutes
Servings: 8 – 10 pax

Pen cai ingredients:


  • 150g boneless chicken thigh meat
  • 0.5 tsp cornflour
  • 0.5 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • White paper

Chinese mushrooms

  • 5 pcs dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 0.5 tsp sugar

Sea cucumber

  • Cooking oil
  • 3 slices ginger
  • 120g sea cucumber

Abalone and sea asparagus

  • 1 can baby abalone (keep brine for later use)
  • 1 can sea asparagus (keep brine for later use)


  • 6 pcs prawns, deshelled and deveined

Other ingredients

  • 1 thumb-sized ginger, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1L water
  • 2 tbsp abalone sauce
  • 0.5 tbsp premium dark soy sauce
  • ½ carrot, sliced thinly
  • 80g abalone mushrooms
  • Pan-fried sea cucumber
  • 250g egg tofu, air-fried
  • Cornstarch solution
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 250g cabbage 

How to make pen cai: 

  1. Marinate the chicken thighs (available on Kee Song) with corn flour, white sesame oil, soy sauce and a dash of white pepper powder (all available on Shopee Supermarket). Set the chicken aside for now. 
  2. Pick five pieces of dried flower mushroom (available on Shopee Supermarket) and rehydrate them by soaking them in warm water for about 30 minutes. Cut each mushroom in halves before marinating them with sesame oil, light soy sauce and sugar. Mix well and set aside. 
  3. Strain the braised baby abalones (available on Hosen Group Official Store) into a bowl. Keep the brine to make the pen cai gravy. 
  4. Open a can of Fortune Sea Asparagus (available on Shopee Supermarket) and strain the brine into a bowl. Reserve the brine as well for the pen cai gravy. 
  5. Heat up the frying pan and add a little bit of sunflower oil. Add in three slices of ginger and fry the sea cucumber to extract the moisture from it so it can absorb the pen cai gravy better later on. Once done, remove from heat and set the sea cucumber aside.
  6. Add more oil to the frying pan before pan-frying the marinated chicken. Remove from heat when the chicken is lightly browned and 80% cooked.
  7. Using the same method as step six, cook the Tiger prawns (available on PickMe Official Store) for about 10 seconds per side. Then, set them aside. 
  8. In the same frying pan, add a bunch of ginger slices and fry them over medium-low heat. Add in the garlic, marinated mushrooms (from step two), water and the leftover brine from the baby abalone and sea asparagus. Put a lid on the pan and bring it to a boil.
  9. Once it’s boiling, add the abalone sauce, dark soy sauce, abalone mushroom (all available on Shopee Supermarket), sliced carrots, sea cucumber (from step five) and air-fried egg tofu (available on LHH Vegetable). Cover the pan with a lid and allow the ingredients to braise for 15 minutes. 
  10. While waiting, lay some cabbage slices on the base of a Tanyu Clay Pot (available on Tanyu Official Store).
  11. Remove the ingredients from the pan and line them neatly in the clay pot. Remember to add the broccoli.
  12. Thicken up the gravy in the pan by adding some cornstarch solution (mix 3 tablespoons or water with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch) slowly, stirring as you go. Pour the thickened gravy into the clay pot. 
  13. Heat the pot up on medium-low until it comes to a boil before adding sesame oil to the dish. Serve the entire pen cai as it is for your CNY reunion dinner 2024!

2. Easy pen cai recipe with lobster

Looking for ways to amp up your pen cai for CNY 2024? We’ve got a great idea – add a lobster into your prosperity pot! Lobsters are known as the dragons of the sea and symbolise good luck for the new year. In addition, they add an intense umami flavour to the pen cai, making this an even more appetising dish for the festive season! Get ready for your seafood feast with the following easy pen cai recipe.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 75 minutes
Servings: 6 – 8 pax

Pen cai ingredients:

  • 400g fish maw, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 230g pre-soaked sea cucumber
  • 2 can abalone in oyster sauce (keep brine for later use)
  • 8 pcs dried scallops, pre-soaked (keep stock for later use)
  • 8 pcs dried mushrooms, pre-soaked (keep stock for later use)
  • 8 pcs Japanese scallops
  • 8 pcs prawns
  • 600g lobster
  • 420g pacific clams
  • 500g roasted pork
  • 500g roasted duck
  • 400g carrots, chopped
  • 430g broccoli
  • 460g Chinese cabbage, chopped
  • 500g yam, chopped


  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • ½ tbsp minced ginger
  • 2½  abalone sauce
  • 2 tbsp seasoned soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

How to make pen cai: 

  1. Begin by stir-frying the minced garlic (available on Koryo Mart & K-Market) and minced ginger in a pot until fragrant. Pour in the abalone brine and the stock from the Fortune Dried Scallop In Original XO Sauce (available on Hosen Group Official Store) and mushrooms. Add abalone sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil and stir well to combine.
  2. Add the sea cucumber, dried mushrooms and Japanese mushrooms into the stew and cook over low heat for 45 minutes
  3. Once done, add carrots and yam cubes into the stew. Continue to cook for 10 more minutes.
  4. While waiting, blanch the broccoli and Chinese cabbage over boiling water. Drain and dry the greens to set aside. 
  5. Repeat step four for the prawns and lobster
  6. Line the base of the clay pot with Chinese cabbage slices
  7. Scoop out the ingredients in the stew and pour them into the claypot
  8. Assemble the prawns, lobster, scallops, pacific clams, roasted pork belly (available on Golden Palm), roasted duck (available on The Butcher’s Dog), broccoli and abalone into the clay pot
  9. Transfer the stew into the clay pot until it fills up ¾ of it
  10. Cover the clay pot and allow it to heat up for another 20 minutes on low heat

3. Easy vegetarian pen cai recipe

The good thing about whipping up a pen cai for CNY 2024 is the ability to customise this mouth-watering dish. This means you can go meatless and tweak the recipe to cater to vegetarians! The following easy pen cai recipe is full of vegetables making it perfect for a healthy start to the new year!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 120 minutes
Servings: 2 – 3 pax

Pen cai ingredients:


  • ¼ radish, cubed
  • 10 pcs goji berries
  • ¼ Chinese leek, chopped
  • ¼ sweet corn, chopped
  • 3 pcs red dates
  • 2 leaves Chinese cabbage
  • 1½ bowl water

Pen cai

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 3 sliced ginger
  • ¼ carrot, sliced
  • ¼ radish, sliced
  • ¼ purple sweet potatoes, sliced
  • 3 leaves Chinese cabbage
  • ¼ pumpkin, sliced
  • 4 pcs broccoli
  • ¼ Chinese leek, chopped
  • 3 slices sweet corn
  • 2 pcs tofu skin
  • 1 bowl glass noodles
  • 1 tbsp black moss, pre-soaked
  • 2 pcs black fungus, pre-soaked
  • 2 pcs dried mushrooms, pre-soaked


  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp mushroom roots
  • 3 sliced ginger
  • ¼ bowl vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Cornstarch solution

How to make pen cai: 

  1. Add  radish, goji, red dates, carrot, sweet corn, Chinese leek and Chinese cabbage into a big pot and cook for 45 minutes on medium heat
  2. Thereafter, pour the stock out of the pot and set aside
  3. On a frying pan, add oil and stir fry ginger, carrot, radish, purple sweet potato, pumpkin (both available on IWantVeggies Flagship Store), Chinese leek and yam for 5 minutes
  4. On another pot, blanch Chinese cabbage, broccoli and sweet corn for 3 minutes. Then, remove the vegetables and rinse them with cold water.
  5. Line a clay pot in the following order: radish, Chinese cabbage, yam, tofu skin, Chinese leek and glass noodles
  6. Add salt into the stock from step two and pour the stock into the clay pot
  7. Steam the clay pot for 30 minutes
  8. Assemble the cooked ingredients into the clay pot, adding Premium Small Black Fungus (available on Shopee Supermarket) and black moss
  9. To create the gravy, heat up some oil on a frying pan and add sesame oil, ginger and mushroom roots. Pour the vegetable stock, oyster sauce (available on Shopee Supermarket), soy sauce and cornstarch solution to thicken the gravy.
  10. Drizzle the gravy all over your pen cai and steam the clay pot for another 15 minutes before serving

What is pen cai (盆菜)?

pen cai clay pot easy recipe cny 2022 how to make
(Credit: HolidayInnSGAtrium Official Store)

Pen cai, also known as poon choi in Cantonese, is a customary Chinese festive dish whipped up during special occasions such as reunion dinners or even at banquets. The story of pen cai’s origins is an interesting one: the Song Dynasty emperor escaped to Guangdong Province and Hong Kong during a Mongol invasion where the locals treated him to the best food they could find. However, there was no exquisite chinaware available, so they gathered all the meat, seafood and vegetables they had in a large wooden washbasin to serve. This was how pen cai got its name – pen (basin in Chinese) and cai (vegetable in Chinese). Today, pen cai has evolved into a communal pot of luxurious ingredients shared among families and friends to symbolise equality, harmony and prosperity for the family!

When should you eat pen cai?

family reunion dinner cny 2022 grandmother girl boy
(Credit: Angela Roma / Pexels)

This wonder pot is typically eaten on lunar new year’s eve during the reunion dinner. However, it is now common for families and friends to catch up over a pot of pen cai throughout the 16 days of Chinese New Year. 

How do you store pen cai?

pen cai easy recipes cny 2022 holiday inn
(Credit: HolidayInnSGAtrium Official Store)

Wondering what to do with leftover pen cai? Make sure you let the dish cool down first before storing it in the refrigerator (you can also dish out the leftovers and store in a tupperware container). To reheat the dish, steam the ingredients or simply warm up in a pot on low heat. Leftover pen cai can be kept for up to two days in the fridge.

Celebrate prosperity with these easy pen cai recipes

Indulge in a hearty pot of pen cai this CNY 2024 with your loved ones as you usher in the tiger year together! Need more dishes to add to your spread aside from these easy pen cai recipes? Impress your family with these delightful abalone recipes! Those who are too busy to whip up a feast this Chinese New Year can explore our list of the best pen cai for delivery or takeaways! If you’ve decided that pen cai is not the star for the year, perhaps a steamboat gathering will be a better choice. Learn how to prepare a steamboat reunion dinner and stock up on the best canned abalones and other ingredients on Shopee Supermarket for the special occasion!