Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chai Boey with Pork and Duck

OK, this isn't really a soup. It's more of a dish than a soup but I want to share this recipe with everyone because my first time trying this recipe was truly a success. And if I can cook this dish, so can you.

"Chai boey" is a Hokkien term - we Cantonese call it 'choy mei' or 'leftover vegetable' (literal translation). It's a tangy, salty, sour dish of mustard greens boiled with meat (usually roasted pork/ roast duck). It's great on its own and even better eaten with rice.

In the olden days, it's called 'chai boey' because people really used leftovers in this dish. My aunt makes this dish each Chinese New Year eve, once we're done with the reunion dinner. In our reunion dinner, we'd have lots of leftover dishes - roast meats, minced pork balls, etc. One should have leftovers for Chinese New Year as this signifies that we would have "plenty" for the coming year. It's symbolic most times.

For the chai boey dish, my aunt would put all these leftovers in a pot and boil with fresh mustard greens. Lots of mustard greens. The vegetable will wilt as the dish is simmered slowly.

For my chai boey, I had advice from my vegetable-seller and my butcher from the wet market. I pre-ordered a roasted pork leg (RM13) from the butcher. Here's a tip: get the front leg and get the leg chopped up into bite-size pieces. The front leg (or what the Chinese call the pig's hand) is less fatty. The back legs of the pig is oilier and makes your dish very oily! Enough to throw your cardiologist into a heart attack!

You will need to get a huge bunch of mustard leaves too. My vegetable-seller, once she knew I was going to cook THE dish, helped me cut up the greens into bite-size pieces too (see how useful it is to make friends with your market folks?). She reminded me to get some fresh serai root too.

Chai boey is simple, and now that I've cooked it successfully, wonder why I didn't cook it earlier. Hmmm. The good part of this dish is that it tastes much better the next day, and the next day... you will get a huge pot of it. Nic and I got sick of eating it after 3 days! We had it for lunch and dinner and then again the next day. Chai boey is a family dish - it means get lots of family members to partake in this dish. (Personally I felt nauseous after eating too much of it but that's another story again. Anything that's overdone can be rather offputting.)

Here are the chai boey ingredients:

1 roast pork leg (chopped)
some roast duck (chopped)
some cooked/roast chicken feet (get this from your chicken rice seller - he'll have plenty)
mustard leaves (chopped into big chunks)

dried chillies, about 10 pieces (or more if you like it spicier)
2 stalks of serai, bruised
8 pieces of dried tamarind slices (or more if you like it extra tangy)
2 tablespoons of tamarind paste, mixed with water and strained (to get tamarind juice)
Salt and sugar to taste

How to cook chai boey:

Bring a pot of water to boil (about 2 liters). Into the boiling water, add serai, dried tamarind slices and dried chillies. Boil for 20 minutes. Add meat at this stage (roast pork leg, chicken, duck, etc). Lower fire, cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add mustard leaves.

Add in tamarind juice, salt and sugar. Now it's time to taste your chai boey. Adjust the seasoning and tamarind juice accordingly. If the water's reduced, you can add more water to thin out the dish. The dish shouldn't be too soupy though. If you like, you can simmer for another 20 minutes to allow the taste to mellow out. Serve piping hot. As I said before, this dish tastes excellent when left to mellow overnight.

*There are some extra stuff you can add to the dish - some recommend adding tomatoes (for added sourness instead of adding a lot of tamarind) and some suggest adding cili padi instead of dried chillies. Whatever you add, it's up to you. You can even add Chinese cabbage (torn up into fairly large chunks) if you wish.
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