As we welcome the Year of the Rabbit, I welcome guests for the traditional reunion dinner in my home for the first time. That's because all reunion dinners have always been celebrated in Ipoh when my in-laws were still around. And then there were years when we celebrated it in KL when my mother-in-law was immobile followed by years of the pandemic that we all want to put behind us.
So, for the second year in a row, we had our reunion dinner at home in KL but, this time, we welcomed my sister-in-law's family to join us for the reunion makan
. I'm not one to follow tradition or be overly concerned if the dishes I serve at the reunion table are made with auspicious ingredients but since I have guests, I should (at least) make an effort to include such ingredients in our reunion dinner menu, don't you?
When you're cooking for a sizeable number of people and have limited kitchen equipment (like only one stove top coz one of the burners of my double induction hob died on me), you need to devise a meal plan where some of the dishes can be cooked ahead of time or use different cooking methods (divide and conquer lah
) so that the dishes can cook simultaneously in order to save time. That way, the dishes can be ready (and served hot) at the same time.
#1 - Pork Ribs Soup with Garlic & Peppercorns
This is like a Singapore
)-style bak kut teh
where pork ribs are simmered with enoki mushrooms, garlic cloves and white peppercorns for a resulting soup that's lighter but with a more garlicky and peppery flavour. Pork is served as it's a symbol for wealth and strength while enoki mushrooms (or golden needle mushrooms) represents gold (and anything gold or golden is always welcomed).
Making a soup as one of the dishes for the reunion dinner is a smart move as the soup can be made ahead of time and needs very little watching over as you can leave it to simmer on its own in a slow cooker, so that's one course taken care of already
#2 - Fried Fish with Sambal
Fish is almost always guaranteed to be on any reunion menu (and it's usually steamed whole) to ensure success in the coming year like the saying nian nian you yu
(may you have abundance and surplus every year). Fish was very expensive this year, so much so my fishmonger didn't even dare to take stock of Chinese pomfret (or tau tai chong
The common practice is to cook steamed pomfret
but I made do with a cheaper fish of kau yue
(Spanish mackerel) and cooked sambal fried fish
that everyone can enjoy. This is certainly a dish you can cook ahead as it doesn't need to be served hot (like steamed fish) to be good. I just pan-fried the fish first and top it with my own-made chilli paste (that was prepared ahead and frozen) which I fried in oil till aromatic and slightly caramelised. Spoon that over the fish and finish with a drizzle of soy, garlic oil and fried garlic bits.
#3 - Oven-Roasted Chicken
The Chinese word for chicken (ji
) is a hononym for good luck and fortune. That's why poaching or steaming a whole chicken is a popular choice at reunion dinners as it represents completeness, family unity and togetherness...but you're supposed to serve it whole (head and feet included). This symbolic dish is in serious need of an update (lol
) coz how is a small family going to finish one whole chicken since having big families are no longer the norm these days.
For my party-of-six, two chicken legs would be sufficient (since there are other dishes) and I decided to roast them. Roasting them in the oven is part of the divide and conquer
principle since using the oven will free up my stove top for cooking other dishes. Once the chicken is in the oven, I can move on and concentrate on my other dishes. The key to crispy skin chicken is to ensure the chicken is thoroughly dry before marinating (I leave it in the fridge uncovered overnight to air dry it). Just remember to return it to room temperature (and rub a little olive oil on the skin) before roasting.
#4 - Assam Pedas Prawns
If you want a year filled with hee hee and ha ha
(laughter and joy), then prawns need to grace your reunion dinner table. This year, large-sized prawns were also expensive. Luckily, I bought some well before CNY on the urging of my fishmonger.
I chose to make assam pedas
prawns after my recent success with a ready-made assam pedas
paste. After all, my cooking style for a reunion dinner is quick, easy and without stress! ;D Why not when the taste resembles a good assam pedas
. I decided to remove the heads and peeled the prawns (only leaving the tail intact) so that my guests can have a mess-free experience eating the prawns (that have been cooked with ladies finger, tomatoes, onions and kaffir lime leaves). This is not all there is...there was more in the pot. My nephew clearly enjoyed both the chilli-based dishes.
#5 - Braised Mushrooms with Abalone & Dried Scallops
The coin-like shape of mushrooms and scallops symbolises prosperity while abalone's (bau yue
) homonym is absolute prosperity or guaranteed surplus thereby making this a popular dish during CNY. For me, it's a must-have dish coz I absolutely adore eating it (and, over the years, I've gotten better at doing it for an improved taste).
The key to a good braised mushroom dish is the braising liquid. Mine is a chicken stock made with kampung chicken
(or choi yin kai
) bones. I also use the liquid in which the mushrooms were steeping in and some of the abalone sauce from the can to add further umami to the braising broth. Good quality Japanese dried scallops also helps. This dish is good for cooking ahead of time coz for the longer it sits in the sauce, the mushrooms absorb even more flavour. When dinner time comes round, you just need to reheat and serve...and you've one less dish to cook.
#6 - Stir-Fried Dragon Chives
A vegetable dish is always needed to balance out all the other meaty dishes. The more common vegetables would be lettuce (sang choy
) for wealth, bok choy
for luck and good fortune, kai lan
for long life and broccoli for harmony. I don't know about dragon chives (ching loong choy
)....but anything associated with the Chinese zodiac sign of dragon will be good, right? After all, when it's the dragon year, many couples will try extra hard
for a 'dragon baby
Again, along the lines of quick cooking, simple stir-fried dragon chives with garlic it's one of the easiest, quickest stir-fry vegetables (it literally takes seconds to cook). What you see here is just half the vegetables as I cooked a second batch. Vegetables are always too much to fit into the pan but as they cook and wilt, they become very little. I love dragon chives!
We ended our meal with premium Bacha
coffee (which was gifted to me) and bakery-bought doughnuts and coffee buns. Bitter black coffee is best paired and savoured with something sweet.
In the end, we finished everything that was served (except for 3 pieces of mushrooms)...and that's how I like it, no leftovers to deal with (I wouldn't want to be eating all the leftovers by myself over the next 2 - 3 days). Or was that a sign that the food was good? Kekeke! ;)
If you're cooking for a large group of guests (mine was a very manageable six though I've cooked for a bigger group of 10 - 12 before), the key to a less stressful reunion dinner cookout is to keep the menu simple and design a menu that you can use multiple kitchen equipment simultaneously so that they can all finish cooking at almost the same time. The menu should also include some dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (especially those that improve in flavour over time) either on the morning of the dinner itself or even the night before and all it needs is just reheating. Perhaps you can keep this tip in mind the next time you're planning a menu for your reunion dinner. Hope you had fun cooking (and eating) across the Lunar New Year. Cheers! ^_~
Very nice! Your "divide & conquer" approach is very effective. I used to do that too (including for food prep) where some dishes are cooked in advance (and frozen), some roasted in the oven and the rest in the slow cooker and stove top. But nowadays I don't have the semangat to cook reunion dinner. I think I did it for 3 or 4 years and then I quit. LOL!ReplyDelete
I'm the reverse....I never had to cook reunion dinners before (other than helping here and there) coz it was always handled by the elders when we "balik kampung" to Ipoh. I only started cooking the last 3 or 4 years due to the pandemic. If we choose wisely and use the "divide and conquer" rule, then it's not as stressful (I see you also had the same thinking and approach)...hehe! ^_~Delete
Bravo for preparing the reunion dinner with so many dishes all by yourself! Normally if my family decides to do our reunion lunch/dinner at home, all the siblings and my mom will contribute one or two dishes each, it can be homecook or takeaway food, so it won't put burden on one particular sibling or my mom. ^__^ReplyDelete
Thank you for the compliments. Actually, cooking for six is not too taxing if we choose the right dishes (some of which can be prepared ahead). Usually if our groups is 10 or more, then we'd certainly go with pot luck (like you said) with each bringing their homecooked or shop-bought food.Delete
Looks like a sumptuous meal for sure! Happy CNY to you and your family.ReplyDelete
Thank you...it was a happy meal! ;) Wishing you and your family a Prosperous & Healthy CNY too.Delete