Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bak Kut Teh or Pork Rib Tea

(Please substitute Chicken drum sticks or Mutton ribs or even lamb shanks for Pork if you would like to prepare the halal version of this recipe)

While herbal soups have been with the Chinese for centuries the Pork Rib Tea may not have such a long and illustrious history. Food historians have attributed this herbal soup to the ingenuity of the Chinese housewives of Hokkien descent in Malaysia. Each morning the loving wives would boil the pork ribs until the meat break away tenderly from the bones together with herbs "taken" from the Chinese herbalist. It has been said that the soup has been known to help the men work long hours in the sun without feeling tired and the women to remain robust,productive and good looking in spite of the long hours of toil in and out of the house.

It could also have been an accidental discovery by an innovative chef or cook in the Chinese merchant's household or a booming restaurant. But nevertheless it is indeed a unique , delectable and hearty soup. I think it is good for the soul as well as the body. In Malaysia and Singapore Bak Kut Teh outlets are as numerous as coffee shops. Most tourists must have a taste of it before leaving Malaysia and Singapore.

Bak Kut Teh anyway has invaded the Foochow homes in recent years because lots of Foochows have acquired a love for the soup (anything good for the body is good for the Foochows I must say) since they were first introduced to it via local tourism and Singapore business associations,intermarriages or social visits.

Although most bak kut teh outlets are mainly owned by genuine Hokkiens who claim their secret herbal recipes are original many Bak Kut Teh shops in Sibu are Foochow owned. Look out for charcoal stoves - they are the best stoves for BKT and the fragrance of the soup is particularly good. We usually go where the fragrance is the most attractive to the educated nose!!

The Bak Kut Teh is usually served in the morning as a breakfast item with cruellers and green vegetables. A bowl of garlic rice is also part of the ensemble. However there are outlets which serve 24 hours of BKT!!

So if you want to be as strong as an ox and probably live as long as an elephant do partake of the Bak Kut Teh every once in a while.

And here are some of my pictures to show you how to prepare a simple BKT at home. My herbs are specially packed by my cousin who gives a good measure for just under 5 ringgit per packet (Ing Kong Drug Store , Miri). I find his combination better than the A1 or other brands. If you happen to be in Miri do make friends with him even if it is only for his Bak Kut Teh :) :) :) He is the most friendly herbalist in the resort city .

Get the best of the bones and ribs from a good butcher enough for five persons. Have them chopped into 2 inch sizes.

Boil the herbs separately in a slow cooker over night or for as long as you like
(or at least three hours over a charcoal stove)

Use a claypot if you have one. But an ordinary pot is just as good. You can use a large slow cooker too. Par boil the pork ribs/bones and then discard the fluid. Boil again for a good three hours with the herbal stock until the meat comes off the bones easily in the herbal soup.

Serve the BKT with fried tau foo and greens. Dish into individual bowls.

Suggested INGREDIENTS for Bak Kut Teh ( that is if you do not have your own herbalist):

3/4 kg pork spareribs, cut into 2-inch pieces

Some pieces of belly pork
Some slivers of liver
Some slivers of kidney
Some slivers of pig stomach
1 whole bulb garlic, unpeeled, slightly crushed
2-inch ginseng root, peeled, slightly crushed
3 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
2 tbsp white peppercorns
2 tbsp black peppercorns
Some sichuan peppercorns (optional)
one or two pieces of tonggui
2 tablespoons of wolfberry (natural sweet) Kou Zi

2 tsp sugar (optional if you use wolfberry)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
6 dried shitake mushrooms
6 shallots, finely sliced and fried golden brown [optional]
salt and pepper

Add some fried tau foo and Chinese Bak Choi. (The Foochows call them curly vegetables)

Tips :

1. For slow oooker - five chinese bowls of water in the slow cooker together with the herbal soup - add some when it is drying up a little.

2. If you are using a charcoal fire do keep the soup on a slow boil and do not dry it up - we usually say that we have to keep watching the soup until it is served on the table....

Have it for breakfast or brunch! Bon Apetit! Ho Chiak!

( It is popularly thought that Clay-pot dishes have maximum flavour but in my opinion the clay pot is good to be put on the table and the soup comes out boiling hot from the kitchen to the table too. The design of the clay-pot assures good retention of heat and keeps food hot much longer. It is always good to have one or two clay pot at home.)

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