Sweet and spicy Nyonya Pork Trotters
I forget what day of the week it is already. Weekday or weekend, it doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re staying home either way.
Here’s one way you can shake things up a bit. As mentioned in my last post, I’m sharing my mum’s legendary Pork Trotters recipe! My mother called it ‘Chee Kiok Suin’ which literally translates as sour pork trotters, but that’s not really accurate as it is also spicy and sweet at the same time. This recipe is not to be confused with pork trotters cooked with black vinegar and ginger – the kind normally eaten by mothers in confinement – it is a totally different dish altogether.
For the longest time, I believed this to be a Nyonya recipe, but now I wonder if it’s not something my grandmother concocted as I’ve not come across anyone else who cooks pork trotters the same way, aside from my own relatives, of course. Being the typical Nyonya that she was, my (maternal) grandmother fiercely guarded her trade secrets, only to be shared with a tight inner circle. But these days, apart from myself and a few cousins in Australia, I realise no one else really knows how to cook this dish.
My Swiss cousins are more Western than Asian so they don’t really care for spice. I’m trying to teach my niece in Singapore, as well as my sons to master this dish, otherwise it’ll disappear along with some of the old traditional cuisine in our grandparents’ time. When I was growing up, I would eat three plates of rice when my mum made this! These days, I only cook this for special occasions or dinner parties, so it’s become a bit of a novelty in our house.
I’m listing all the ingredients here but bear in mind, there are no hard and fast rules, as the way my grandmother and my mother cooked was agak-agak (guestimates), and it’s pretty much the same for me too with Asian dishes. You can add more bird’s eye chili if you like it to be spicier, or omit it altogether if you don’t handle spice well. Tweak the salt and sugar to your own preference too. It’s a bit like Assam Laksa – a little more sour or sweeter or spicier – everyone has a personal version which they prefer.
My niece in Singapore asked me which key taste stands out in this dish. I really had to think about this one as it’s really a sum of all flavours partying on your palate. Imagine all your dinner guests arriving barely minutes apart from each other – sour, spicy, salty and sweet – almost all at once. This time round, I consciously noted the key taste. At first, the sweetness is just a little more distinct, followed very closely by the sour note, with the spicy and salty flavours hovering closely as an aftertaste at the back of the tongue. But when left overnight, the sourish taste from the tamarind becomes mellower as the various taste nuances come together in agreement, resulting in a delicious melange of flavours intertwined with the lubricious fat and sweetened gravy. The sour and salty flavours obtain more clarity, so don’t worry if it tastes a little sweet in the beginning.
(For some reason, the video comes out too large on mobile to fit screen. Please see IG@kam.eatwithme for video or go to https://youtu.be/uZUh1x36d1s)
8 – 10 fresh red chillies
5 birds eye chillies
8 – 10 dried red chillies
3 cloves of garlic
1 big onion (or half if the onion is large type)
Blend everything together until it becomes a paste.
1 kg pork trotters cut into large chunks, blanched in hot water and a teaspoon of salt to remove impurities and smell. Throw away water and remove trotters from pot.
1 tablespoon black bean paste (taucu)
1 1/2 fistful of tamarind paste (assam jawa) dissolved in approx. 400ml water
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
Heat up about 3 tablespoons of oil in a deep pot and fry the chilli paste until it’s fragrant, or you see the oil separating slightly from the paste.
Add in the bean paste and fry for another 3 minutes or so.
When the mixture looks well blended, add in the pork and stir until every piece is well covered with the paste.
Pour in the tamarind juice at this stage. Ensure that everything is mixed properly and the pork is covered by the gravy.
Leave to boil for about 2 to 3 hours on medium to low fire until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot or gets burnt. Add a bit of water if it seems to be drying out. When the meat falls off the bone, add in sugar and salt.
To speed things up a bit, I used a pressure cooker to cut down the cooking time, and then reduced the gravy over low heat (with an open lid) for another 15 minutes. Scoop everything into a bowl and eat with rice, or a nice thick slice of bread that will soak up the gravy.
This dish is not half as complicated as other Nyonya dishes which call for a lot more spices. There is no ginger or belacan (shrimp paste) in the recipe though my aunt adds these in her version. To me, this dish reminds me of Mum, reminds me of my heritage, reminds me of home. Lets me know that all is still well with the world.