I am unsure if you have seen this Chinese traditional cold cut appetizer. You may have seen this in some Teochew restaurants or you may have accidentally found something like this in the container of overnight braised pig trotter inside the fridge. You may be wondering why your braised pork trotters gravy solidify like a piece of cake. Well, it is due to the collagen of the pork stock primarily extracted from the pork skin.
What is collagen and is collagen good for health? There are many collagen supplements sold in the health supplements stores and it is a non disputed fact that collagen is good for the body. It nourishes your skin and enhance joint flexibility. If you are interested to know on the advantages of collagen, how to prepare collagen at home instead of buying from the supplement stores, you can refer to this post: Homemade Collagen Stock (胶原蛋白） or just click on the pictures above.
This recipes works the same way that after long boiling of pork trotter, the collagen are collected and it solidifies when it is chilled. This is a traditional Teochew appetizer and the more common name nowadays is pig trotter jelly or 猪脚冻。 I can’t find any background information of the pig trotter version but there is a detail write up on the another version, pig head “dumpling” 猪头粽 that uses some pork hock and pig face meat. I also believed the current version served in the restaurant possibly originates from the pig head dumpling.
As per Chinese Baike, it was written that;
“澄海猪头粽又名首花，猪肉粽，是广东潮汕著名的汉族小吃之一，历史悠久，驰誉中外。尤其以樟林老喜利和澄城老山合最为著名。与猪头粽齐名的还有澄海的猪肉脯，同样是美味可口。用鱼露、酱油、白糖、高粱酒和八角、川椒、丁香、桂皮、大茴、小茴等十多种香料制作而成。制作猪头粽必须选用新鲜猪后腿肉及部分首皮作原料，要瘦肥搭配适度，而后加进鱼露、酱油、白糖、高粱， 酒和八角、川椒、丁香、桂皮、大茴、小茴等十多种香料作调味品。然后用豆腐膜包裹起来，置于一个特制的木规之中，外加以比例适当的重物压榨，挤出其中的猪油和水分，方可开规。” （Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/2177595.htm)
I have ever tried that the Chinese imported pork head dumplings, but I still prefer the local version which has a friendlier taste and suits the local taste buds. The local version is also not as springy or chewy as compared to those imported version. Well, it is my personal taste bud and may be other readers will like those version commonly found in Thailand and China.
Is this an exclusive Teochew or Chaozhou recipe? It is not exclusively Chaozhou as there are many similar types of meat jelly worldwide. However, since it is titled as Chaozhou, the spices are those commonly used by the Chaozhou households. In the Western world, there are dishes like aspic , headcheese and brawn that uses the same concept of preparation.
Even within the Chinese cuisines, apparently the Zhenjiang (镇江）has a very famous cold dish Zhenjiang Headcheese (镇江肴肉）. Goggle will show you lots of information about this almost similar cold dish. The difference is that it is whitish and vinegar is added to the broth and it is served with ginger stripes . For the Teochew version, the most common sauce used is the combo of chopped garlic-vinegar-chilll.
This is a very free and easy recipe. You can vary the types of meat cut needed, the spices used or the quantity of each spices. What you need to ensure is the broth must be concentrated enough to be able to set when chilled at the fridge. No recipe will be able to tell you exactly how concentrated should the collagen be or how thick is your broth. You are generally advised to rub some broth on your hand and see if it has a jelly like stickiness. Don’t worry, even if it does not set on your first night, you can take out and re-boil the broth for a longer period and that is how you can salvage your failure.
I do not know how many readers know that the common ingredients gelatine that are used for cheese cake making or other sweet desserts are partly made from pig skin . Most gelatine are not halal because of this unique main ingredient. By the same logic, if you want it to be fool proof and success on your first attempt, one cheating way is to add some gelatine sheets or powder to the meat broth to increase the concentration so that it is springy enough.
Though this is the cheating way, but I seriously believed that this may be used in the commercial such as restaurants. For this recipe, I have been aggressive enough to use much more pig skin than most other recipes, yet I still cannot produce the same springy texture like those served in the restaurant. As I continued to boil for a more concentrated broth, my broth became cloudy though the chewy texture is obtained. But those jelly served in the restaurant is crystal clear yet springy. What puzzling me is with that crystal clear type of broth, how can it become so chewy? Though in this illustration I did not used commercial gelatine, I will still list it out as one of the ingredients to let the readers decide but it is considered as optional.
The next question is what chopped meat can be added? There is one container I used all the pure lean meat from the pig trotter and for the other container, I used some lean meat with the pig skin. My verdict is the one with the pig skin is definitely more delicious with better texture. The meat fibre just does not blend well with the jelly like surrounding but I will leave the decision to the readers. In fact, Taiwanese only used pork skin to prepare the entire dish without any lean meat at all.
You must be wondering if it is healthy to eat pig skin. Well, pig skins are not fat. They are just another type of meat tissue. It is inevitable that there are some fats that comes with the meat, do not worry, after you pour in the broth, all those that floats upwards are fats. After chilling, these fats will solidify and you can just scope it away. What is left are pure collagen stock and rest be assured that you will not feel the oiliness of the dish.
WHAT IS REQUIRED
Servings: 8-10 adult appetizers
- One medium size pig trotters
- 1/2 kg of pig skin (fats removed if any) (Optional)
- 5 pieces of ginger
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 star anises
- 2 cloves
- 2 cinnamon stick
- 1.5 teaspoons of five spice powder)
- 2 tablespoons of dark soya sauce
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons of shaoxing wine or other cooking wine
- 2 small pieces of rock sugar
- Salt to taste
- 3 sheets of gelatine or 1 tablespoon of gelatine powder (Optional)
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Boil a pot of hot water, blanch the pork trotters and pig skins until the exterior is set. The purpose of this step is to get rid of the dirtiness of the meat. Drain and set aside.
- Put the five spice powder, bay leaves, star anises, cloves, cinnamon stick in a soup bag and put in the pressure cooker pot. Add the fish sauce, dark soya sauce, shaoxing wine and rock sugar. Add adequate water to cover the meat.
- Pressure cook for 30 minutes. If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can either use a slow cooker or boil over the stove. The final test is that the meats are soft and fall off the bone.
- Throw away the spice bag and drain the meat. Keep the broth. Put a few drops of the broth on your finger, if your fingers feel sticky when you touched the broth, it is considered as done. However, as there is no water loss during pressure cooking, it is unlikely that it is ready. Transfer the broth and pig skin to the a pot and boil over the stove without the lid covered. The main purpose is to get rid of some water vapour such that the broth is thicker. You can also take this juncture to taste if you need additional seasonings and make necessary adjustment to suit your taste bud.
- While the broth is boiling under high heat, de-boned the pig trotter and chop the meat into small pieces. You have the say as to what part is to be included in the jelly. My advise is to use the meat and the skin. Transfer the cut meat to your preferred container and level it.
- Perform the test again. If your broth is concentrated enough, sift the broth into the boxes contain the meat and at least cover all the meat. Let it cool at room temperature before chilling in the fridge preferably overnight.
- For the sauce, chopped some minced garlic and chilli and mixed with some white distilled vinegar.
- This recipe is best served as a cold cut appetizer directly from the fridge together with the sauce prepared above. The attractiveness of the dish is how well is your slicing. The thinner it is, the more impressive it will be and you will need a sharp knife if you used lots of lean meat.
- In the event that your jelly refused to set beautifully, put the jelly back to a pot and continue to boil until it is more thicker. Alternatively, dissolve the gelatine sheets or powder in small quantity of cold water and add to the broth, this will help in the setting of the jelly. It is ok to boil and re-boil for this recipe. The longer you boil, the more collagen is extracted and the more springy is your jelly.
Though the ingredients are humble, but it was usually served at higher end Teochew restaurants and some families in Taiwan are preparing this as a Chinese New Year must have dish. It looks difficult to do but in fact, it is one of the easier recipes that need not much skills. Remember that you need not to throw jelly if it refused to set. Boil and re-boil or adding gelatine are the salvage methods. I am unable to give you a detail measurement of how much water be used as that will depend on the size of your pressure cooking pot and the size of your pig trotters.
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