HELLOOO! I’ve been away for a wee bit longer than anticipated, but I’m back after weeks on the road, and can’t wait to share more yummm with you, inspired no less by my recent gallivantings. Soooo..what say you, let’s cook up a storm, shall we?
I thought I’d kind of ease myself back into the kitchen with an easy, but long overdue recipe post that some of you had requested for. I’m truly apologetic that it’s taken me all this while to get around to it. But here it is, at long last – a much loved, traditional Peranakan dish of babi pongteh (babi pong tay), which is a dish of stewed or braised pork in fermented soy bean sauce.
Many family matriachs in Peranakan Chinese households have cherished family recipes for babi pongteh, taught and handed down through the generations. Babi pongteh has traditionally been a home-cooked meal, but it was also a respectable dish that was served by the Peranakan Chinese at feasts and special ccasions. In fact, a young Peranakan lady of marrying age in the early days was customarily required to demonstrate her cooking skills to her future in-laws by preparing a Peranakan delicacy. Oh gosh….the pressure!!! It is said that how well a dish of babi pongteh was prepared was a significant deciding factor, as it was reflective of a lady’s proper (or improper) upbringing and would attest to her prowess in the kitchen, and ultimately, how useful she would be to her new family.
The Peranakan Chinese are also referred to as Straits-born Chinese, and are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago including British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, where they are also referred to as Baba-Nyonya).
I have to admit though, that what makes babi pongteh so satisfying is that it’s prepared with slightly (one might even say largely!) fatty or marbled pork slabs, such as pork belly, pork shoulder, or pig trotters. It really does make all the difference between good-tasting and sublime deliciousness – don’t try to go lean or healthier with this dish by substituting with lean cuts, this is not a dish that’s heart-healthy (oops…there, I’ve said it!). That’s because when braised, these cuts become extremely tender-textured and succulent. The spice-infused soy bean paste cum braising stew becomes incredibly aromatic as it simmers, turning stewy, saucy, garlicky, and utterly delicious! So seriously, when I’m tucking into all that saucy tenderness, the rational part of me that thinks of calories, fats, nutrients, etc., shuts off. I get into the now, enjoying the moment.
What’s even more awesome, the blend of flavours from the meats, fats and sauces come together even better the day after, becoming incredibly flavourful. Which in itself, is amazing, when you consider the simplicity of the ingredients that go into this dish – these are just your everyday condiments and sauces – garlic, shallots, salt and sugars, soy sauce and salted or fermented soy beans (taucheo).
Some recipes add mushrooms and potatoes into the mix, or not at all. I chose to add dried Chinese mushrooms (you can use shiitake mushrooms as well), but without wanting it’s flavour to overpower the overall taste of the spice-infused soy bean sauce, I chose to omit the soaking liquid. You can add it in if you like, though some might say that to stay true to the authenticity of Peranakan or Nonya babi pongteh, simpler is better, and less is more.
Feel free to tweak and adapt this recipe to your tastes, and let me know what you did to make it your own! And if you prepared this version, following the recipe to a ‘T’, I’d love to hear from you too, and share what you think of this Peranakan classic! Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! (and if you haven’t yet thought through your meals this weekend, well…think no further, just try this babi pongteh!)
- 1 kg pork belly (trotters or shoulder)
- 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
- 110 g shallots, peeled
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, rinsed
- 1 cinnamon stick, 8-cm length
- 2 tbsp fermented soy beans
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 20 - 25 g palm sugar, to taste
- 1/2 - 3/4 tsp salt, to taste
- 6 tbsp cooking oil
Rinse pork belly, drain, and cut into 2-cm thick slices. Set aside.
Soak dried mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes, or until softened. Cut off the stems, squeeze out excess water, and set aside. Discard the soaking water.
Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, coarsely pound peeled shallots and peeled garlic cloves separately, and set aside. In the same mortar (no need to wash), pound fermented soy beans until paste like. Add dark soy sauce, salt, sugar, and palm sugar. Stir to combine well.
Heat up oil in a wok over medium heat. When hot, fry pounded shallots, pounded garlic, and cinnamon bark until fragrant. Add fermented soy bean paste mixture and stir fry mixture for 1/2 a minute.
Put in pork slices, and fry briefly to coat evenly with paste mixture. Add 150 ml water and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally until almost dry.
Then, pour in enough water to cover the pork and bring to a rapid boil for 5 minutes. Transfer from wok to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add whole garlic cloves, cover with pot lid, bring to a gentle simmer, and let pork braise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until pork is tender to your liking. Add more hot water as needed, should the braising liquid reduce too quickly. If you prefer a thicker sauce or gravy, allow braising liquid to reduce to your desired consistency. For a thinner consistency or more sauce or gravy, add more water. (Note: Do a taste test when almost done, adding bit by bit, more salt or more sugar, to taste - be cautious with salt as fermented beans tend to be quite heavily salted. The overall flavour should be well balanced.)
Serve piping hot, best spooned generously with sauce over cooked white rice.