Pork 2: Four Ways of Preparing Ham Hock (豬蹄四法)

持牲單::豬蹄四法
蹄膀一隻,不用爪,白水煮爛,去湯;好酒一斤,清醬酒杯半,陳皮一錢,紅棗四五個煨爛。起鍋時,用蔥、椒、酒潑入,去陳皮、紅棗,此一法也。又一法︰先用蝦米煎湯代水,加酒、秋油煨之。又一法︰用蹄膀一隻,先煮熟,用素油灼皺其皮,再加作料紅煨。有土人好先掇食其皮,號稱「揭單被」。又一法︰用蹄膀一個,兩缽合之,加酒、加秋油,隔水蒸之,以二枝香為度,號「神仙肉」。錢觀察家制最精。

A delicious looking red-cooked ham hock (紅燒元蹄) prepared using techniques similar to the third method of preparation here. If we look at the bones, this may actually be the knuckle (radius and humerus) and not the hock (mainly tibia). (Credit: Stu Spivack)

Pork(List of the Ceremonial Animal)::Four Ways for Preparing Ham Hock
Take a ham hock [1] with the trotter removed and boil it in plain water until soft. Discard the cooking liquid and add to the meat half a kilogram of good wine, half a wine cup [2] of light soy sauce, four grams of dried tangerine peel, and four or five dried red jujube, then stew the ham hock until meltingly soft. When it is done, remove the orange peel and red jujube and sprinkle the ham hock with green onion, Szechuan pepper, and wine to finish. This is one method. Another method is to stew the hock with wine and autumn sauce in a broth made by simmering dried shrimp in water.

Yet another method is to boil a ham hock until it is fully-cooked, then fry the skin of the hock in vegetable oil until it crisps and turns into crackling. Season and stew the fried ham hock in the manner for red-cooking [3] until done. Some country folk like to pull off this crackling to eat first before stewing, calling it “lifting-off the thin blanket”.

A final method involves taking a ham hock and putting it between two earthenware alm bowls [4] along with wine and autumn sauce, and then steaming it separately from the water for a period of two incense sticks. [5] This dish is known as “Immortal’s Pork”, [6] which is done incredible well at Observer Qian’s abode.

Random notes:
[1]: Ti-pang (蹄膀) is used to refer to the “shin” portion of the pig’s hind-limbs, known also as the ham hock. Some recipes however also suggest using the “fore-arm” portions of the pigs fore-limbs, known also as the knuckle. This article suggests that the hock has the right quantity of fat and the skin is thin, which makes it good for long braising or stewing as required in these recipes.

[2]: Up till now I’ve sorta cheated by translating “bei” (杯) as “cup” when fact is I have no idea how big was Yuan Mei’s cup, much less the size of a “wine cup” (酒杯). Annoyingly there does not appear to be records of how big is one 杯 or 酒杯. One thing’s for sure, they’re not the American Standard cup (236ml). Of the legal volume measures in Qing Dynasty China, “ge” (合) and “shao” (勺) appear to be most likely the units of measurement of Yuan Mei’s cup. Their volumes in metric are 103.54ml and 10.35ml, respectively. Given that the Japanese measure “go”, written also as 合, is also the volume of the standard traditional Japanese wine cup perhaps I can hand-wave myself into believing that the Chinese wine cup is also one 合. So there you go, ignoring the fact that the Japanese “go” is actually 180ml, that we still have no idea how big is one of Yuan Mei’s “cup”, and that all this mess is a guess, let’s just say one “wine cup” (酒杯) is one “ge” (合), or 103.54ml.

[3]: Red-cooking involves slowing braising meat in dark soy-sauce, sugar, wine, and sometimes caramel colouring. Ginger, star anise, and green onions are almost always added to flavour the mix. Black cardamom and cinnamon are also commonly used in flavouring.

[4]: These are of the form of the ceramic bowl that Buddhist monks use for collecting alms. I assume you take two of them and stack one upside down on top the other with the ham hock inside. Or maybe these things already have lids and you put the hock in the smaller bowl inside a bigger bowl and close them up like Russian dolls?

[5]: So how long is the two incense sticks? One incense stick can last anywhere from 5 minutes to more than 1 hour or even 2 hours, depending on its thickness. In my humble opinion, I think these incense sticks here are the one hour kind, making the required steaming time more than 2 hours, though the cooking time may be much longer.

[6]: This may be called this because it uses two Buddhist alms bowls. Or if the bowls for steaming the dish are “stacked one upside on top the other” such that they look a bit like a bottle gourd, a traditional symbol of the Chinese Immortals (神仙) and the mystical medicines that they carry in them.

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