Friday, June 6, 2014

Bak Chang

After my self-claimed success making nyonya chang the other day, so here I come again trying my hand now at bak chang, literally means meat dumpling.  Personally, I have always preferred bak chang to nyonya chang.  Reasons?  Well, bak chang tastes much saltier, meatier and there's also a variety of ingredients in it to go with the sticky glutinous rice, but the top most important reason is the chunk of pork belly meat with its wobbly-looking fat still remained intact in the bak chang that is ready for us to savour.  As what people used to say, 'save the best for the last'.  This is exactly what I do every time I eat a bak chang, the fatty part will without fail be my last bite.  So, I always end my bak chang eating on a high note.  Truthfully, a bite of that fat is just 'divine'.

Talking about my bak chang making experience, well I have underestimated the whole process.  I had thought that everything would be smooth-sailing and fast and simple.  I had prepared all the ingredients and soaked them in the morning.  I had planned to fry them after my class at 9.30pm.  After all, it was just stir frying and would definitely not eat that much time.  Only then I would wrap the dumplings and keep them refrigerated before boiling them the next morning.  That was what I had planned.  BUT everything went haywire.  Stir frying all the ingredients took me about 1 hour.  Preparing the soaked leaves and setting up my work station took me another 45mins to 1 hour.  So, you can now work down to guess what time I actually started wrapping and tying the dumpling, huh!  When I was tying the dumpling, I did not know what went wrong, somehow I lost my grace and nothing seemed to work.  The whole process was slowed down.  Well, guess what time I finished everything and went to bed?  3.30........A.M.!  This is CRAZY!

However, luckily the end result was NOT CRAZY!  Ha ha!  I am pleasantly satisfied with this recipe in which everything turns out to be positively encouraging.  Mom was surprisingly pleased with the taste claiming that my bak chang tasted even better than the ones she bought from her friend.  Two constructive comments were the chestnuts were not properly cooked as in they were not soft enough (in fact I should have boiled them after soaking) and another one was the wrapping and tying eeeerr....still needs a little brushing up.  A hollering YES, I certainly do concur with her that I need lots of practice especially on the tying part considering that just imagine 10 out of 20 pieces of the dumplings that I made slipped from the strings and eventually got unwrapped during the boiling process.  I was left speechless and completely frustrated upon looking at the rice grains including all the ingredients nicely floating in the boiling water. $@$#$%!

So, that's first bold attempts making two kinds of dumplings - nyonya chang and bak chang!  To put it simply - an extremely tedious work but a time well spent and an effort worth invested.

Oh, yah, before I forget, I must thank Su-yin of Bread et Butter for sharing out the recipe, of which you can find it here.  It was her nai-nai's (grandmother's) recipe.  In fact, I just stumbled upon her blog when I was browsing through the net looking for a bak chang recipe.  I got hooked to this recipe simply because it was her nai-nai'sHe he!  To me, you can never go wrong with any recipes so long as it is from a grandmother's!  Anyway, my hats off to her for taking the trouble to learn how to make this dying traditional Chinese food.  As a twenty-something gal, she could have enjoyed life doing what modern young girls supposed to do like hanging out with friends, going for movies, fiddling around with electronic gadgets, going for dates etc etc.  Instead, she chose to be in the kitchen mingling with woks and pans just for one thing - preserving the tradition.  Wow!  Kudos to you, sweetie! 

So, here you go, Su-yin's nai-nai's bak chang recipe.......

Nai Nai’s bak chang
Makes approximately 19-20

  • 500g pork belly, chopped into ~ 2cm chunks
  • 1 kg glutinous rice
  • 20 dried chestnuts
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried shrimps (heh bee)
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried Chinese mushrooms – I used approximately 40 tiny ones
  • 1 Chinese sausage (lap cheong)
  • 6 salted duck eggs (we will only be using the yolks)
  • 20 shallots
For the pork belly marinade:
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tbsp five spice powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
For the rice marinade: (approximate amounts – you may need to adjust according to taste)
  • 5 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 5 tbsp dark soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp white pepper
For wrapping:
  • at least 60 bamboo leaves (you need 2 per bak chang, with some spares in case of tears/holes in leaves)
  • cooking string/hemp leaves
The night before :
  1. Soak the bamboo leaves in a large pot of cold water (I used my 28cm Le Creuset pot). Try to submerge as much of the leaves in the water as you possibly can.
  2. Soak the glutinous rice in cold water.
  3. Soak the chestnuts in cold water.
  4. Mix all the ingredients for the pork marinade together. Pour it over the pork belly pieces, and leave to marinade overnight in the fridge.
Preparing the ingredients:
  1. Cook the duck eggs in a pot of boiling water, for 10 minutes. Leave to cool sightly, peel, separating the yolk from the whites. We will only be using the yolks, so store the whites in the fridge for another use – I use them for steamed eggs, and as a condiment for porridge. Cut the yolks into quarters.
  2. Soak dried shrimps in a bowl, using hot water.
  3. Soak the Chinese mushrooms in a bowl, using hot water. If your mushrooms are very large you may want to slice them in half.
  4. Slice the Chinese sausage into 1 cm slices.
  5. Peel and finely dice the shallots. I cheat and use my mini food processor, which does the dicing in 5 seconds flat.
Cooking the ingredients:
  1. Heat 1 tbsp corn oil in a large pan/wok. Using high heat, fry the Chinese sausage until they brown slightly and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
  2. In the same pan, fry the dried shrimps until they become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
  3. In the same pan, fry the Chinese mushrooms until they become fragrant, and brown slightly. I usually season with a pinch of salt (old habits die hard). Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
  4. In the same pan, fry the pre-soaked chestnuts until they brown slightly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
  5. In the same pan, fry the pork belly chunks until they turn lightly browned. We’re not aiming to fully cook the pork belly here – the aim is to sear it briefly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
  6. Add 1 tbsp corn oil to the same pan. Fry the shallots until they become fragrant. Add the glutinous rice flour, and stir for 1 minute. Add all the ingredients for the rice marinade, and any leftover pork marinade you have. Taste, and add extra oyster sauce/dark soya sauce etc as necessary. Switch off the flame, and leave rice in the pan. You can always transfer the rice to a bowl, but why wash an extra bowl?
Wrapping the bak chang:
  1. Drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.
  2. Select two leaves, and place them in opposite directions (i.e. the tail end of one lining up with the top end of the other). Do not use any leaves which already have holes in them, as they will cause water to seep into the bak chang during the cooking process.
  3. Form leaves into a cone.
  4. Fill the cone about 1/3 of the way with the glutinous rice.
  5. Then, place each of the following atop the rice: one chunk of pork belly, one chestnut, one/two Chinese mushrooms (use two if mushrooms are small), two slices of Chinese sausage, 1/2 tsp dried shrimps, and a piece of duck egg yolk.
  6. Top with more glutinous rice, till you reach the brim of the cone.
  7. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.
  8. Repeat with remaining leaves and ingredients, until everything is used up.
Cooking the bak chang:
  1. Boil water in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the bak chang’s into the water. Make sure the entire bak chang is submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 2-3 hours. You may find that you need two pots if yours isn’t large enough.. I had to use two!
  2. To test if they are cooked through – you’ll have to unwrap one and check. And taste. (The perks of cooking.)
  3. Once the bak changs are cooked, remove from the pan and place in a colander – I use a colander as it allows any extra water to drain away. Alternatively you can hang them up, but I didn’t want water to drip all over my stove!
 Happy Dumpling Festival!

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