Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Born Again -- Pig Trotter in Black Sweet Rice Vinegar

For as long as I could remember, there were periods in the history of my family where there was a surge of baby arrivals: firstly, my cousins, and then their children, and now the grandchildren.

We took such occasions seriously. Almost every member of the family clan would be involved, especially the senior womenfolk. They would prepare all kinds of food for the new mother, each and every recipe meant for a specific remedy or safeguard -- replacing lost blood; preventing colds; fortifying the immune system. Among these, there was a dish that particularly stood out, Pig Trotter in Black Sweet Rice Vinegar.

This Cantonese traditional dish works as a supplement, boosting post-natal immunity to colds, and providing ‘heat’ for the woman’s depleted (and thus ‘cool’) bodily systems. It is also believed to aid lactation, ensuring more milk for the baby, and is consumed twice a day, with ginger, pig trotters and eggs.

The dish was so tasty that even the other family members would share it. A huge pot would be prepared throughout the first two months of the baby’s arrival, and the strong pungent smell of vinegar would linger in the air of our family house.

Nowadays, this dish is enjoyed throughout the year, with or without a baby being born. It takes about a month to cook and make ready for consumption, the long preparation period allowing for the vinegar and ginger to mature and mellow. Cook it with love and patience -- and it will soon turn into a dish worthy of celebration!


Ginger                                     1.5 kg, peel and bash ginger with a cleaver
Mirin                                        500 ml           
Black sweet rice vinegar         1.5 litres
Salt                                          tbsp
Brown sugar                           350 g
Bay leaves                               6
Pork trotter                             2 kg, clean and chop into chunks
Water                                      1.5 litres
Eggs                                        12

  1. Soak ginger in mirin for 3 hours. Drain and lay ginger in the open to dry. Keep mirin for later usage.
  2. Boil black vinegar with salt for 10 minutes. Add ginger, mirin and boil vigorously for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep in a cold corner for the next 7 days.
  3. After 7 days, boil ginger mixture for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and keep in a cold corner for the next 7 days. Repeat this twice.
  4. Blanch pork trotter in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and wash trotter thoroughly. Boil pork trotter in 1.5 litres of water for 1 hour. The water should reduce to 1 litre. Remove trotter from stock. Sieve stock before proceeding to Point 5.
  5. Mix pork stock, brown sugar with black vinegar. Boil vigorously for 15 minutes. Add pork, bay leaves and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Boil eggs in boiling water for 2 minutes 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and cover the pot for 2 minutes. Transfer eggs to icy water for 1 hour. Peel eggs, drain thoroughly and set aside.
  7. Turn off the heat of black vinegar, remove bay leaves and rest for 30 minutes. Add eggs and keep overnight.
  8. Remove eggs and reheat the black vinegar again.
  9. Serve pork trotter vinegar hot with egg separately.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Soup to Beat the Heat

It may sound like a broken record, but here it is again: Chinese soups were an important part of meals in my family.

In fact, my 4th aunt spent so much money on the soup ingredients that the pork sellers thought she was cooking for the army, instead of her 8-member family! The preparation of the soup would start early in the morning with military precision. One of the children would get the cooking corner ready -- earthen stove, charcoal, starter. A huge aluminium pot would be cleaned and made ready for use.

The dried ingredients would be retrieved from the fridge, scrubbed, and soaked in water. Some ingredients, such as dried octopus or dried sole fish, would even be grilled before use in the soup. Some Chinese herbs needed to be soaked the night before. The rest of the ingredients would be bought fresh from the market -- meat, vegetable, and sometimes, even fruits.

The sequence in which the ingredients were placed in the pot, and the boiling times, would be carefully observed. The temperature of the charcoal would be controlled, and approximately 4 to 6 hours later, the soup would be ready for dinner.

This was one of my favourites from my 4th aunt’s repertoire: dried mustard green soup. Dried mustard green is believed to be an effective agent in “cooling” the body during the hot summer season. It also provides high fibrous content to help cleanse the bowel system. However, extra fresh mustard green is added during cooking for extra flavor. Pork trotter is added for beauty-enhancing collagen, and for taste. That probably explains where the good complexion of my family members came from!

Dried Mustard Green Soup with Pork Trotter

Dried mustard green   100 g, soaked and squeezed dry
Bai choy                       100 g
Chinese almonds         20 g
Dried red dates            10 g, soaked for 30 minutes
Dried fig                       20 g, soaked for 30 minutes
Pork trotter                  500 g
Chicken feet                300 g
Water                           5 litres
Salt                               ½ tbsp
Soy sauce                    2 tsp

  1. Blanch pork trotter and chicken feet for 5 minutes in 2 liters of water. Drain and keep the water. Sieve all impurities from the water and add in another 3 liters of water.
  2. Add dried mustard green to the water and boil for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours. The liquid would be reduced to about 3 litres. Do not add any water during simmering. If need be, add only boiled water.
  4. Season it with salt and a dash of soy sauce.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Super Supper Dessert!

Most offices would stop work at 5pm – that’s how I remember it when I was a kid. So, it was not unusual for the average family to have dinner start at 6pm. There would always be plenty of food on the table. Which only made things worse, because families in those days never allowed good food to go to waste, and so we had to “clean” our dishes every time. We would be so full that there was hardly any room for dessert; at most we’d have some fresh fruit.

Therefore, desserts would be relegated to supper, after our stomachs have had some time to settle.  And they weren’t simple affairs. Great efforts went into planning the menu because it was done according to the seasons or a family member’s diet. Green bean dessert soup would be cooked when the weather got humid and hot. A bowl of steamed custard egg or something else fortifying would be prepared for a family member who needed a boost of nutrition.

Supper would commence around 9pm; everyone would put down whatever they were doing -- a mahjong game, watching TV – to gather around the dining table. And, while enjoying the steaming, delicious desserts, the women of the family would gossip, the menfolk would listen to the radio, and the children play and run around between their spoonfuls.

This dessert, which I am introducing, often made an appearance in our family because it supposedly balances the body’s systems against the high humidity and heat of the Singapore weather. It appealed to everyone because of its neutral taste, and the kids loved it for its quail eggs.

Barley was also deemed great for cooling the body, while gingko nut was believed to be good for the brain. Beancurd was a good source of protein and helped improve one’s skin texture.

Barley, Bean Curd Skin and Gingko Soup

Water                          2 litres
Barley                          50 g, soaked for 1 hour, drained
Soft bean curd skin    100 g, rinsed
Pandan leaves             4, bundled
Gingko nuts                120 g, pit removed
Rock sugar                  120 g
Quail eggs                  12, boiled and peeled

  1. Boil water, barley, ¾ portion of bean curd skin and pandan leaves for one hour.
  2. Add gingko nuts, remaining bean curd skin, rock sugar and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  3. Add quail eggs and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Discard pandan leaves and serve hot or cold.

Note: In Hong Kong, bean curd skin is boiled until it emulsifies in the soup, but I like the texture of bean curd skin so I split the portion into two additions. You can do either method.
When I was kid, chicken eggs were used instead of quail eggs, but I found chicken eggs to be too substantial for supper.