At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Late last year I wrote about an ingredient which sometimes dismays folks from the more hinterland areas of this great country of ours: Sea Cucumber.
Which, of course, is not a vegetable, as the name would suggest, but a very primitive ocean dweller with a marvelous ability to absorb sauces.
Like many Chinese favourites, it's also very much a textural thing.

In the same category of tooth-yieldy goodness, and often just as startling to many non-Chinese, is something that can best be described as 'gelled fat'.
Which is utterly delicious.

Pig belly bacon with Chinese sauerkraut.

Sounds almost German, doesn't it?
Plum-cabbage steamed pork is a beloved dinner dish from Penang to Honolulu; from 'wah, sedap sekali' to 'ono to da max!'   Naturally it is common all over China too.
Perhaps more than anything else it makes people want to live near a Chinatown, because the correct cut is seldom available anywhere else.


1¼ to 1¾ Lbs. ng-fa naam (五花腩 five flower pork brisket).
Three scallion, two inch lengths.
Three slices of ginger.
Three cloves garlic, smashed.
A large handful of mui choi (梅菜 plum vegetable).
One whole star-anise (baat gok 八角).
A pinch of five spice powder ((五香粉 ng-heung fun).

4-5 TBS. soy sauce.
2 TBS. sherry.
1 TBS. sugar.

Note that mui choi comes in semi-dry vacuum sealed packs as well as canned in brine. So the quantity necessary is best estimated at one quarter to one third of the meat after soaking and rinsing. Or more, depending on your own preference.
The brine version is easier for guesswork, but not necessarily recommended.
Either can be used.

Soak the mui choi for an hour or so in plenty of water, then rinse very thoroughly, drain, and squeeze out excess liquid. This removes sand, grit, and salt.
Chop it small.

Scrub the skin side of the meat with salt to clean it, then simmer it whole for ten minutes in water with the ginger and scallion to pre-cook and 'melt' some of the fat. Remove, drain, dry. Reserve a little of the liquid for the sauce.
Use an ice-pick or a sharp fork to prick holes in the skin, rub a little soy sauce over that side only, and let it sit for a while.

Heat oil in a skillet and carefully slide the meat in, skin-side down. Beware of the oil erupting - it is best to have a spatter-guard or a lid handy. Fry the meat till the skin-side is nicely darkened, almost mahogany.
Remove, drain, and let cool.

When the meat is cold enough to handle, slice it inch-thick across, each piece having all layers including the skin.
Arrange it in a broad bowl, skin-side up. Whisk the soy sauce, sherry, and sugar together and pour HALF of this over the meat, along with the star anise and pinch of five spice powder. Put the bowl in the steamer, and steam for an hour.

Now gild the garlic in a modicum of oil, add the chopped mui choi to parch. Pour in the other half of the soy sauce - sherry - sugar mixture, plus any liquid saved from the blanching at the beginning, and bring to a boil.
Pour this over the meat, making sure that most of the mui choi goes around the meat rather than on top.
Steam for another thirty minutes, or somewhat longer.

A little chopped scallion and shredded ginger to finish, and it can be served.

Some mui choi kau yuk, a big bowl of rice to sop up the juices, and a simple vegetable dish on the side: very heaven.


The preparation above is just one example of what one can do with a nice fatty slab of five flower stomach. Multiple variations are possible, the key thing being to melt some of the fat out, and let the meat become soft through long cooking. Steamed with ginger and fish paste, for instance, or extra garlic and scallion added, along with dried mushrooms.
Also on a bed of shredded greens, with some rice wine and oyster sauce, and a pinch white pepper.  Even just plonked in a pot with little pre-prep at all and cooked with fermented black beans and chilipeppers so that the result is gloriously greasy.
Hakka Chinese often incorporate naam yu (南乳) into the sauces or marinades for such dishes. Usually one cube is sufficient for about half a pound of meat.

As you can guess, I like it with a nice shploop of chili sauce (sambal).
That is actually how I like many things.
I'm a bit degenerate that way.

Bon appétit.

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All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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  • At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I hesitate to bring this up, but there is a new restaurant in Oakland - strict Buddhist- that serves vegetarian sharks fin soup, and vegetarian sea cucumber.
    Its quite good...

    The vegetarian baby panda bites are a bit disconcerting, however....

  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    That actually sounds quite interesting.
    I've had both vegetarian roast duck and vegetarian charsiu pork that were excellent.

  • At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Adina said…

    Do you also have a recipe for white boiled pork with sour preserved veggy?


  • At 11:19 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    "Do you also have a recipe for white boiled pork with sour preserved veggy?"

    I do.

    Both dishes are posted together here:

    Maan maan sik.

  • At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Panda said…

    Sounds like cholesterol heaven!


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