Monday, January 19, 2009

Chinese Tied Pork Knuckle



Here's the recipe Nick and friends and some of my friends requested for: Chinese tied pork knuckle. Translated literally from the Chinese name ze ti (tied leg) for this dish, tied pork knuckle is usually served cold as an appetizer. The only restaurant that serves tied pork knuckle in KK is King Hu in Tanjung Aru. King Hu's version is bland but goes very well with black vinegar. I have eaten another type of ze ti from Sandakan, obviously a Hakka version, because 5 spice powder is added as seasoning. I myself like to add some Sichuan peppercorns, whole or grounded, for the flavor and numbing kick. Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your liking. If you are going to make it for CNY, do it now because pork knuckles are going fast. The knuckle or hock by the way is the lower part of the leg and our butchers call it ti or leg. The upper leg is usually cut up and sold in chunks.

I've not seen this recipe anywhere so I am proud to present it to you in time for CNY. I am almost reluctant to post this because this recipe is a guarded one by those who know it. I guess after this post it'll be all over cyberspace. This recipe is based on my own try, my MIL's experience and information I sought from a lady who makes it commercially. How to cook the pork knuckle is easy but to tie it is not if you have no idea how to do it and I have not been successful in a previous attempt. I had my MIL over to teach me this time, and it really is not hard once you've seen how it's done. MIL too learnt it by experience so there may be other ways to do it and you probably will adapt my recipe and improve on it.My MIL uses plastic and raffia strings to tie her pork knuckles. I tried both plastic and muslin cloth but am not sure if the cloth is a good idea because it soaks up the pork juice/liquid/seasoning. Raffia is definitely better than cotton strings because it is thinner and broader so it doesn't cut into the skin as easily as the string does. Raffia also covers and binds a bigger surface area so the ti will be more tight and compacted. In the photos, I've used plastic sheets because they are clear and give a better picture of how the ze ti looks and I had only cotton strings so that's what I used.

You can keep the tied knuckles for a couple of weeks in the freezer so they come handy when you have unexpected dinner guests. Just thaw the knuckle slightly (too soft and it will break apart when you cut it), still wrapped in the plastic, and cut into thin pieces and serve cold or on a plate of pickles, or even better, with dressed jellyfish or other cold cuts. I think Sichuan garlic sauce will go very well with it, but usually I don't bother and just serve it with several dips: black vinegar, chili-lime and even mayo.

Tied pork knuckle must be served cold. When warm, it goes soft and oily, so serve in small portions, keep the rest in the fridge and top up as required.

Chinese Tied Pork Knuckle
2 pork knuckles, skin & bones intact & cleaned*
3 star anises
1 t salt (or more, up to you)
white pepper
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, grounded or 1/2 t 5 spice powder
msg (optional)
shao xin wine

*Since our butchers sell the knuckle with the trotters, you can remove the trotters from the knee joint but boil it together with the knuckle until the trotters are tender, then chop the trotters into small pieces and season with salt and shao xin wine for drunken trotters.

1. Put the knuckles (and trotters if making them into drunken trotters) into a pot of boiling water (enough to cover) with the star anise and let it boil gently for 1/2 hour. If you skip this step, your ze ti will have an awful smell. Of course I learnt this the hard way.

2. Throw away the water and the star anise in which the knuckles were boiled and add fresh water, enough to cover. Boil gently for one to one and a half hour, depending on the knuckle. How do you tell? Well, this is where experience comes in. Test by poking the skin with a chopstick. It should be soft but not mushy. Remember that upon chilling, the skin will firm up. Too hard and the skin will be hard when it's chilled. Too soft and the skin'll cut when you tie the knuckles.

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3. Remove knuckles from the water (you can save it as stock) and let them cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to cut knuckle down one side (keep the other in a pot, covered) and remove the bone. Now cut the de-boned knuckle into half lengthwise and put into a large bowl or plate.

4. Season the knuckle halves with 1/2 t salt, 2 t shao xin wine, some pepper, some msg if using, and either 5 spice powder or Sichuan peppercorns, rubbing in well with your hands. Adjust the seasoning amounts according to the size of the knuckle and your taste. Work quickly because the knuckle must still be warm when you wrap it or it won't stick together well. Sprinkle more wine over if like.

5. Put the knuckle on a piece of plastic, invert the halves so that the thinner part of half will have the thicker part of the other on top of it. Got it? Wrap the knuckle by rolling it in the plastic sheet. Fold the plastic on one end loosely to close, giving about 1 cm space and start tying the knuckle, pulling on tautly as you go down the length of the knuckle. The knuckle will lengthen because you are pressing it tight. If you don't tie tautly enough, the meat will break up when you cut it. Close the other end of the plastic sheet by folding over like you did the other side and tie tightly. A good tied knuckle should be even in thickness.

6. Repeat with the other knuckle and put into freezer until ready to serve. Cut into thin slices to serve. Serve with Chinese black vinegar or other dips.


Precious Pea said...

LOOKSS GOOD! I had this in HK once but it was cut paper thin and served with some szechuan spicy sauce. But errm..seems like a challenging dish for me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri

Thank you for posting this recipe. Indeed, I have been searching everywhere and almost given up until you mentioned it in your previous post. My friend and I have been waiting patiently since then and finally you have made our wish come true. Please extend our gratitude to your MIL. Will certainly try it out once we can get hold of some pork legs. Wishing you and your family a very happy and properous CNY 2009

Nic and friend

NEE said...

ooohhhh i love this. i had done this before. the only part i done like is the tying part. must have four hands.

we used muslin clothes and wrap around raw knuckles and cook in pressure cooker. i love it with garlic vineger sauce and such a presentable dish.

Hazza said...

Looks great! Seemed a bit labour intensive for me to attempt though!

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

Gong Xi Fatt Choi Terri!
This is a dish to impress guests & Family! haha, so must learn & practice by heart!
ha... I m sure my little Wey can finish the whole plate by itself! Lolz

Rei said...

Thanks for sharing the recipe, Terri. I love this dish from Crystal Jade's (they called it 'fen ti', btw).

Agnes aka Ric3y said...

Oooh I always like this!!!! Yummy..... and it looks hard to tie the meat together... does it? o.O"

terri@adailyobsession said...

pp: tt sounds like garlic sauce with boiled pork. yum yumyum

nic n friend: tell me how ur ze ti turned out. tying it takes a bit of practice but if u have extra hands, it's not hard.

gong xi fa cai to u n fam too!

nee:but if u wrap the raw meat and then cook it, wouldn't the meat come apart after cooking bc will shrink? yes, 4 hands def better.

hazza: no, it can be done. trust me, if i can do it, so can u.

denise: strange enough, wey is not very fond of this. maybe too bland for him?

rei: bet they charge a bomb at crystal jade. make it soon rei. if u can make chinese rice wine, this is sup sup sui.

agnes: it IS easier if u have 4 hands:) but really, like all things, it gets better with practice.

Moon said...

Hi Terri, love your blog :-) I'm from Penampang but have been residing in KL for a long time. And I have lost my bearing on the good food in KK. so your blog have been my compass to search for yummy food in KK. Thanks a lot!!
Btw, this dish is one of family tradition in the family when comes to wedding & special occasion. My granduncle is the one who never failed to impress us with this dish. Just to share you his version of wrapping the pork knuckle. He uses white cloth material to wrap it and will sew (with thread & needle ;-) ) at the side of it to so that it will have more grip on the knuckle.
Maybe I should go & ask him for the proper way to do it...Hope this will help though,,,

su ling said...

Thanks heaps for posting this recipe, i've tried this and it works. i'll definetely make this for my mom and dad when i go back to Sabah in March.

Keep up the good work. Love reading your blog and trying out the different recipes. :D

Anonymous said...

Just want to say a 'big thank you' for sharing this well guarded secret recipe. Have tried making it before but it was a total disaster but at last I am now able to make this pork knuckle and get it to almost like how I want it except for the taste which is still rather bland. Am still trying to get the taste right but the texture is there. Do keep posting and keep us motivated with your delightful recipes. Thank you again for your sharing. God bless you and your family.

Nic's friend

terri@adailyobsession said...

nic's friend: u r very welcome. keep trying. u can use other flavorings, who knows u might come up with a better knuckle.

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Liz Goh said...

My late mom's specialty. She would always prepare this for CNY. What a waste we didn't really pay attention when she was teaching us... Will try out your recipe. Thanks!

Liz Goh said...

My late mom's specialty. She would always prepare this for CNY. What a waste we didn't really pay attention when she was teaching us... Will try out your recipe. Thanks!

Liz Goh said...

My late mom's specialty. She would always prepare this for CNY. What a waste we didn't really pay attention when she was teaching us... Will try out your recipe. Thanks!

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