Jeremy Pang's step-by-step guide to the perfect Chinese New Year feast

Eve O'Sullivan
01 February, 2016

Celebrating the Lunar New Year is all about smart preparation. We talk to Jeremy Pang, author of Chinese Unchopped and founder of School of Wok, about how to plan the perfect feast.

Growing up, we would spend Chinese New Year’s Eve or Day at a feast with as many family as possible, usually at either one of my uncle's houses or restaurants when they were still around. We’d play games with the cousins, eating constantly throughout the day... and occasionally say ‘Happy New Year’ to the elder generation! My best food memory from that time is lobster noodles in ginger and spring onion sauce, a real treat.

For children, it's one of the best times of the year, as tradition dictates that they receive a red packet with money inside from every family member or family friend who’s married. This of course makes Chinese New Year slightly unkinder to all those who are married (especially their pockets!). The biggest celebrations are in China, Hong Kong or certain Chinese-dominant places such as Singapore. Over here in the UK, all the Chinatowns will have lion dances on Chinese New Year weekend, where the lions and dragons (usually run by martial arts experts) will dance for every restaurant and shop that hangs a large lettuce up in their doorways with a hidden red packet full of money for good luck. The lions will do a dance in front of each place and finish off the show by eating the whole lettuce in one go. Over in Hong Kong, every Chinese New Year is celebrated in the same way, with lots of fireworks and a real party atmosphere across the city.

My family own a Chinese bakery in Manchester; they always make a special type of New Year cake called 'nian gao,' which is a dense, steamed sticky rice cake made from glutinous rice flour and wheat starch, coconut milk and guanxi brown sugar (an unrefined brown sugar). It’s cooked in a bain marie or steamed through and then refrigerated until solidified. The cake is then sliced, dipped in whisked eggs and fried, much like French toast… as good as it sounds!

A good New Year feast has to be well balanced in terms of colour, flavour and texture. My dream menu would include braised pork belly in fermented tofu, pickled carrot and mooli, steamed sea bass with crushed soy beans and chilli sauce and glazed Chinese greens with oyster sauce. There has to be a variety of colours - deep dark red from the pork, bright green from the green veg, maroon red and a shimmer from the fish and then the great colour contrast of the carrot pickle. Of course, the balance of flavours is the most important, with a savoury depth from the meat, a hint of sugar and spice from the fish dressing, vibrant sweet and sour from the pickle, and then a clean fresh finish from the vegetables, with the hoisin giving a final punch of flavour. Texture-wise, this menu will melt in the mouth and have decent crunch in equal measure.

The best advice I can offer for cooking your own feast is to have everything you can prepare in advance ready in plenty of time. Most things can even be done a day ahead, so then all you have to do to finish off your meal is reheat the pork, steam the fish, make the steamed fish sauce and the cook the vegetables. And most importantly, enjoy it! Another tip is that most recipes have a set of base ingredients that start off the dish, as well as similar garnish ingredients (in this case, spring onion and coriander). If you prep more than you need of these sorts of ingredients on a day that you are just cooking for you or two of you, then they can be frozen and just pulled out the freezer when you need them - try it with ginger, garlic, coriander and chilli. Once chopped up, I usually just freeze them in ice cube trays and then pop them into a freezer bag. That way, you can cut out too much prep on any one day.

Lastly, you will save a lot of time if you put effort into learning techniques. Many people own a wok, but not very many really know how to use one properly! I'd love to teach the world how to understand better that a wok is not a casserole pan, but its shape, thickness and material are all made specifically for quick and constant movement flash frying.... A stir fry should never take longer than 5 minutes in my view!

Want to cook Jeremy’s New Year feast? Follow these simple instructions.

Braised pork belly in fermented tofu

A slow-cooked dish to start is always good, as it takes very little time to prep, and then just needs to simmer.

Get ahead tip: make this the day before, and then just reheat to finish - as it is braised and slow cooked anyway, it will retain its moisture and get one dish out of the way.

Pickled carrot and mooli

This is essential to have on the side, to cut through the other dishes.

Get ahead tip: prepare the pickle in the morning and leave in a sealed airtight container until ready to serve.

Sea bass with crushed soy beans and chilli sauce

A whole steamed fish represents an 'abundance in life' and therefore is very important over Chinese New Year to start the New Year well. If you do cannot find the salted soy beans, just follow the recipe without and it will be just as good.

Get ahead tip: Get your chilli and garlic chopped and frozen ahead of time, then pull it out of the freezer when you need it, and get your fishmonger to prep the sea bass for you.

Stir fried green beans with chilli hoisin

This is such a quick and easy side dish that will take you all of five minutes to cook.

Get ahead tip: Wash the vegetables in advance, and have the wok on standby; this will be the final element of your feast so everything else should be ready to go once they hit the pan.

Find out more about Jeremy and School of Wok here, and enter our competition to win a masterclass in Chinese cooking from Jeremy himself here

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