Friday, February 12, 2010

Re-Post: Tied Pork Knuckle

It's almost CNY! The town is so jam-packed with cars that it took me 40 minutes just to get out of the city-town (though KK was hastily declared a city--so a mayor can be appointed and paid a salary and perks by our tax dollars?--we are more like a big town) and onto the flyovers. A friend who came back for holidays commented that KK seems smaller each time, and I fully understand what he means. An Aussie from Brisbane who visited last week for the first time was surprised/disappointed that there are so many cars (this is Borneo, isn't it?). The way the buildings are coming up on the roadside makes the city-town congested and suffocating. I particularly can't understand how the authorities can approve 1) the ugly shoplots opposite Sutera Harbour Resort, which are not just cheap and ugly looking but also taking up one lane of the 4-lane road. This road should be maintained as a wide boulevard, with trees on both sides 2) the building coming up in front of Milimewa Supermarket in the center of town. The front door of the building practically opens onto the road. An inexperienced driver can easily drive right into the building when navigating the mini roundabout in front of the building. It looks like we are building another Kuala Lumpur, a gridless maze of ugly buildings and roads. Which is a pity since KK is a new town and had the chance to be properly planned.

I'm sure many of you have finalized your CNY menu. If not, how about making tied pork knuckle as an appetizer? Every dish served at the Reunion Dinner (eve of CNY) has to have good-sounding names and significance, especially for the Cantonese. The knuckle is served sliced into 'coins', symbolizing money and prosperity.You can make it today and keep it in the freezer, or even keep it until Nien Xiao, 15th day of CNY.

The following recipe was posted for last year's CNY. It's a classic dish, never fails to please, so here it is again:

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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 is a guarded recipe 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.

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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.

7 comments:

Ms Moon said...

This is interesting. I've eaten something like this in a Korean restaurant. Probably the Koreans learnt this from the Chinese ^^

dining room table said...

I find this interesting. It is my first time to actually see this kind of recipe. It looks good and easy to make. Thanks for sharing.

Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover) said...

This look so interesting, never try this before. Wishing you a Happy CNY and Happy Holiday !

Big Boys Oven said...

OMG! just awesomely lovely one of those lovely authenic chinese dishes even when I was a little kids, in 70's I think.

dearie... Gong Xi Fatt Cai to you and your family, we will defintely be in touch with you very soon.

hahahah do we get an Ang Pow from you this year lol!

terri@adailyobsession said...

msmoon:very likely :))

dininf room table:do bookmark it

sonia: and you too!

bbo: you r coming to kk??

hungryc said...

Thanks for posting that recipe. It looks delicious, and I habve bookmarked it. It's great that such recipes are shared so they won't be lost. Could just end up as someone else's family traditional food.
I love yr generousity of spirit; so present in the way you write about yr food, and the family and friends you love.

And Gong Xi Fa Cai

terri@adailyobsession said...

hungryc: you have a great blog-beautiful photos, great write up & recipes--there!

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