In preparing this traditional Hokkien meal, a true Chinese chef would prepare their own herbs bought from a traditional chinese medicine hall. As I am a fraud posing as a true chef, I get all my spices pre-packaged from the supermarket. The real secret to giving your pre-packaged herbs that authenticity lies in what you add to your packaged herbs – so I discovered from the master cheat herself.
Notes on selecting your pre-packaged herbs
There is a large variety of pre-packaged herbs out there. I honestly don’t know what the differences are but I do know that you can’t follow the instructions they give you because it’s a sure-fire way to disaster. For instance, the first packet of Bak Kut Teh herbs I bought instructed me to add black bean sauce and bean paste sauce which did nothing to add to the authenticity of the Bak Kut Teh flavour.
The brand that has worked the most successfully for me is the Claypot brand. There are two variants we come back to – Klang Bak Kut Teh and Bak Kut Teh “Kau”. Ignore the instructions at the back of the packet though. Here’s how we do it:
- 1 packet Claypot Bak Kut Teh spices
- Pork spare ribs (For a family with two adults and two young children, you will need about half of what you see in the picture if you click the link.)
- Pork belly (1 strip or your total meat quantity should be about 1kg)
- Water (I fill half a large pot – which should be about 6 cups)
- 2 bulbs of garlic
- 2 Dried scallops
- chinese black mushrooms (optional – this is supposed to be really good for you but my kids won’t eat it so I don’t bother adding it)
- dried bean curd sticks (optional – I don’t put this in because my kids don’t eat it either)
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce (cameralised soy sauce)
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Your garlic and scallops are the real secret to tweaking the flavour just right – without them, it wouldn’t taste quite right so make sure you don’t forget them. Don’t be stingy with the garlic either.
- Before making any soup, the norm is to boil the meat in water for a few minutes to remove the “meat scum” (or albumin). After that, you wash the meat and put it back into fresh water. If you can’t be bothered, the easier way is to boil the meat in water, skim off the meat scum, then add your remaining soup ingredients.
- If you can’t wait around for the cooking time, you can always through everything into a slow cooker in the morning before you head out for the day.
- Add everything except the sauces into the pot and bring to the boil.
- Reduce fire to a simmer and continue simmering for at least 3 hours.
- Add your sauces and stir. Add extra water to dilute if it is too rich.
- Serve with rice and youtiao.