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Need advice for Chinese New Year party food

We are considering hosting a Chinese New Year open house-style party at our home this year, and I'm starting to think about the menu. The focus, besides Chinese, is food that can be prepared ahead of time as much as possible and still taste good. For instance, while I love pan fried dumplings, I don't want to be stuck behind the stove all day making new batches.

I definitely want to offer a couple of soups (probably egg drop or a hot/sour, and a wonton), but does anyone else have suggestions? TIA.

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  1. In addition to your 'make ahead' goals, it would be helpful to know how traditional you want your menu to be?

    1. Alas, not terribly traditional this time, unless it also happens to be very easy to prepare. I do have access to some solid Asian markets here in the Boston area, so I can get ingredients. We will probably be serving lots of children in the preschool age range, which also should be kept in mind.

      1. I always have dumplings (jiao zi) and mein for New Year. You can buy the dumplings from most Asian groceries or from some shops - Wang's in Somerville is supposed to have excellent choices. Instead of pan-frying them, boil them and serve them on platters. That's how they've always been served at the NY parties I've been to. You will need warming trays or something similar to keep them warm. Or boil batches every hour? It only takes minutes if your pot of water is hot.

        I like to make big platters of lo mein as well. You can buy the noodles pre-made and cooked. Have the vegetables, meat etc. ready to cook. Before your guests arrive, get it into the wok, toss with noodles and sauce and put the platter into a warm oven. It will keep for at least an hour.

        I usually buy roast meats to serve - duck, crispy skin pork, bbq pork. They're amazingly low in cost considering how good they are and most people really love the flavor. All these can be served at room temperature so there's no work for you.

        I also do vegetables. I don't know any way around last minute cooking of most Chinese greens, so perhaps you can stir-fry and put out on warming trays? You could get pickled vegetables and arrange these on big plates with the roast meats.

        Soup is a good idea. You can put this into a slow cooker to keep warm and guests can help themselves as they arrive. If you have more than one slow cooker, consider doing jook. It's easy and great comfort food.

        1. Rice cakes filled with bean paste are a good choice for dessert. They are traditionally steamed, but I understand that many first and second generation Chinese-Americans are going over to baking. I made some last year as a fun project with my then 3-year-old. We'll be doing it again this year.

          1. For a great make ahead dish,, as part of a large multi course dinner, I always make Lion's Head. Chinese Sugar Bake Hunan Lamb is another long cooking fsvorite you can make in advance and reheat.

            Chinese banquests traditionally have many cold dishes. Szechuan Hacked Chicken is delicious.

            For dessert, I often make the Eight Precious Pudding, made with glutenous rice. Also Almond custard (like Jello) with a fresh fruit platter is a traditional Chinese American dessert.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Fleur

              Does anyone know if you can make ahead and then reheat eight precious pudding?

            2. Thanks so much for the suggestions! Rockycat, I'd love your recipe for the rice cakes filled with bean paste, if you have it handy. Fleur, I'm not sure what Lion's Head is, but I'd like to learn more! If this party actually happens, I'll post back with the final menu.

              4 Replies
              1. re: powella

                Powella, Lion's Head is a casserole dish of ground beef on a bed of cabbage from Shanghai. The name comes from the fact that the beef, surrounded by the cabbage, looks like the mane of a lion. I'll try and find the recipe for you.

                1. re: Fleur

                  Fleur if you can't find it, I have one too.

                  1. re: Fleur

                    Actually its not.

                    Lion head is made up of pork meatballs surrounded by baby bok choy. Beef is not nearly as common as pork in china.

                  2. re: powella


                    That's the (excessively long) link to the recipe for the rice cakes with red bean paste. If the link doesn't work, it came from the Raleigh News & Observer. There's a link for recipes at the bottom of the page.

                  3. If you can, serve some fat choy. I'm not sure what it's called in english, but it's this hair-like seaweed. It's good luck to serve this vegetable on Chinese New Year because the name is pronounced the same as the Chinese phrase for prosperity (as in "gong hay fat choy").

                    1. Most chinese food can be prepped in advanced, but a lot of it needs to be cooked right before serving. When my in-laws do Chinese New Year dinners, it takes days of prep, and they're cooking up to the last minute. But it doesn't sound like you're looking for traditional Chinese new year food, so what about doing a jook bar? You can have a huge pot of jook w/ different toppings on the side (scallions, dried onions, dried fish/pork, chinese sausages, thousand year old eggs, etc.). Soy sauce pork is also really easy to do in advance and tastes great.


                      You can make tea eggs:


                      As vegetables go, just have it prepped and it'll take no time to quickly stir fry just before serving. Spinach and garlic is fast and easy. Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce is also good:


                      1. Pork buns are a favorite
                        Onion pancakes
                        Or mushu pork and pancakes is nice too

                        1. Thanks to everyone, especially those of you who posted recipes. Now I'm psyched!

                          1. If you don't have it already, this party is a good excuse to buy Grace Young's "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen", which has an entire section on New Year's foods. I strongly recommend this book. Many of the recipes can be made ahead of time, although I wouldn't make the Seasame Balls too far ahead (preferably the morning or afternoon of the party). It's also a good excuse to buy her other book "Breath of a Wok", which has a section with pictures of Amy Tan and her family making New Year's Dumplings (Jiao-zi). I myself will hopefully be lucky enough to be traveling to my wife's aunties for the yearly feast.

                            1. Thanks, ronla. I'm awaiting the arrival of "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen"!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: powella

                                Please let me know what you think. FYI, I don't know if it's me or the book, but the pages are all falling out of mine (I got a lot of use out of it). I have a feeling it might be the way the book is made, so be ginger with it if you want it to last. (no pun intended).

                              2. Hey, ronla- The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen arrived a couple of days ago, and I love it! The stories and the photos are wonderful. I especially like the labeled photos of Chinese ingredients. Thanks for the recommendation!

                                1. I'm glad you like it. So what are you making for new years?

                                  1. So, I compromised on a kid-friendly, somewhat traditional menu, leaving many important CNY's items off the list for another time. I'm making the dried oysters-stir-fried-with-(among other things) Chinese sausage and veggies-served-on-a-lettuce leaf thing from Wisdom (she has a more elegant and succint name for it, which I can't remember), tea eggs, peanut soup from Wisdom, and I got a couple of roasted ducks from my Chinese market, we'll put those out for a serve-yourself Peking Duck/moo shoo kind of thing. Friends are bringing dumplings and citrus fruits. I just couldn't get it together to do LIon's Head, but I look forward to making it in the future. The party is tomorrow.....thanks to all for your suggestions and followup! Happy New Year........