Just a few weeks ago, Grace D and I were having a conversation about pig trotters stewed in Chinese Black Vinegar which is a dish eaten during the 100 days of confinement in a typical Straits Chinese household. The confinement period lasts 100 days following the birth of a baby when a nyonya, a Peranakan woman is kept home with her new born infant, to be fed, nourished and pampered by her mother or confinement nurse, if she were from a wealthier family. This period will ensure that she eats all the right foods which will help heal her body from the trauma of birth. Ginger is to help her swollen belly shrink back to pre-pregnancy size by reducing the “wind”that is still trapped in her abdomen. The added advantage is that her uterus will eventually shrink back to its virginal glory. (Breastfeeding helps of course, but it’s not as tasty for the mother as it is for the suckling infant.) Vinegar is to help her rid the toxins that pregnancy had induced, thereby ensuring that her breast milk is as close to organic as it gets for her precious bundle. A soup brewed with special herbs and dried longans, a sweet and juicy fruit normally consumed fresh in the summer months, will help her restore the iron levels in her blood that she had lost during childbirth. This is to strengthen her constitution, it is believed. The dried longans are to help restore the “heat” (yang) in her body which has been depleted during the birth, thereby ensuring that the ying and yang are balanced. This basically means that she won’t feel chilled as soon as the baby is born.
Pig trotters stewed in Chinese Black Vinegar and ginger is a traditional dish eaten in Malaysia and Singapore during the period of confinement. Most traditional mothers and mothers-in-law have learnt to prepare it from their own mothers.
I was inspired by this conversation to braise some pork and eggs. This is a traditional Teowchew dish that I had learnt from my mother. This dish, although similar in colour and cooking method to the trotters in black vinegar, does not require vinegar, only soya sauce, certain similar spices found in the said dish above and garlic. Of course trotters would not be the choicest cut since even I, who grew up eating all things strange, do not have a penchant for it, so I can’t expect two half Chinese kids and an Italian to shout for joy at this dinner menu. Instead, I selected 8 joues de porc (pig’s cheeks) which are more succulent than the filet mignon de porc. That was the closest I could get to the consistency of the trotter. Alternatively, one could use belly pork in this recipe but I tend to find it too fatty, so given my plan to feed my family on healthier foods, I have decided that the cheeks were better substitutes.
First, hard boil half a dozen eggs. Set aside to be cooled and then peel them. Whilst the eggs are boiling, marinate the pork with a dash of soya sauce. I used this:
This is a type of dark soya sauce manufactured in Singapore. It is denser than most and a little sweetened and is usually served with Hainanese Chicken Rice.
If not, you can use this:
This is superior Dark Soya Sauce from China which is more diluted and saltier.
I’ve alternated between the two as the former one is really difficult to find outside Singapore. This bottle was DHL-ed to me by my dad.
Here are the ingredients for the Teochew Soya Sauce Pork good for a family of 4:
1 kg of pork belly, cut into 10 cm strips and marinated with a dash of dark soy sauce or 8 – 10 pork cheeks, marinated with a dash of dark soy sauce
3 tbs of rock sugar, granulated sugar works fine too
1 head of garlic or 30 cloves, peeled
8 slices of ginger or a generous knob of ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 tbs of light soy
2 tbs of dark soy
2 litres water
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
It really isn’t difficult to cook this dish. In fact, after the initial preparations, the dish simply cooks itself. This can be done the night before in a slow cooker, ready for dinner the next day. Because liquids form easily in slow cooking, I would add 1.5 l of water instead. Just follow the steps below and instead of simmering, put the stew in the slow cooker after you’ve removed the foam.
Melt the rock sugar in a little sunflower or canola oil which you would have added to a heavy based pot. I use my le creuset cast iron pot. When the sugar is caramelised but not burnt, add the garlic, ginger, star anise and cinnamon stick and fry until fragrant. This should take no more than 3 minutes. Add the pork to the spice mixture, together with the condiments and give the meat a gentle stir to seal in the flavours. Then add the stock and allow to simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Whilst simmering, foam will form which you must remove together with the excess fat, if your cut of pork is on the fatty side. When all the froth and other undesirables have been removed, lower the fire and continue to let the broth brew. The garlic will eventually melt into the loh as the Teochews would say, referring to the gravy that will start to form as the stock thickens. The Teochews call this dish loh bak or see yew bak. Add the eggs towards the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking and you will notice them transforming into the black lumps you see in the picture.
This dish reminds me of happy childhood days, eating white rice just drizzled with the gravy fragrant with garlic, cinnamon and just the right measure of liquorice. This is really, truly sedap!
I make this regularly because la famille simply love it. SS has been eating this soya sauce/black eggs since she’s been put on solids. The Italian eats his eggs soaked in the gravy and RN just eats the egg whites which are now brown or black, depending on your perception of this shade of black/brown. And when we have bread lying about, the Italian mops up the gravy with pieces of baguette. Try it kawan kawan and tell me what you think…. release the Teochew in you! My mah mah (grandmother) would be so proud!