When Epigram Books contacted me asking whether I wanted to review a copy of their Heritage cookbooks, I jumped at the chance; it's very rare to see a Teochew cookbook available here. I love Teochew food, but have a very limited knowledge of it, and there aren't many (if any?) restaurants in London serving this kind of food.
Teochew people are native to the Guangdong province of China, but as far as I know most Teochew people (at least, the cuisine) is mostly found in Singapore and Malaysia. Teochew cuisine, in my limited experience, involves a lot of braised dishes and judging by this cookbook, is heavy on seafood. I recognised a lot of dishes listed, such as preserved radish omelette, but there are also a lot of intriguing dishes that I can't wait to make, like fish bladder soup. Yup, I have the dried bladders, all ready for a day I'm feeling brave.
The book is very simply laid out. If you're someone who likes a lot of glossy, heavily styled pictures of dishes then it is not really for you, as it has none. Instead, all the recipes are simply laid out within a clean, simple border. The introduction is a sweet story about the author's father, a self-taught cook, who the recipes are from. A lot of the ingredients from the book aren't available in normal supermarkets, but have a wander around the Asian supermarkets or a browse online and you're likely to find what you want.
I wanted to try the most straightforward of the recipes, so I went for Braised Pork Spare Ribs - come on, of course it was going to be pork! - or, Ang Sio Bak Kut. I had to do a little butchery to get the ribs down to the size I needed them, but otherwise it was very easy indeed. The ribs, on the bone were flavoursome and tender. The star of the show might have been the mushrooms which soaked up all the porky, cinnamon star anise flavour to fill your mouth with deliciousness and my friends I had round raved about them.
Ang Sio Bak Kut
Serves 6 with other dishes
1.5 kg pork spare ribs, cut into 3 - 4cm pieces - I left these a little larger; use a cleaver or a brute force 1/2 tsp salt 1.5 tbsp dark soy
75ml Shaoxing rice wine
4 - 6 stalks of spring onion, cut into 6cm lengths
10 - 12 dried shiitake mushrooms - soak in hot water to soften and remove the stems
4 tbsp light soy sauce
1 - 2 star anise
3cm stick of cinnamon (I used cassia bark)
1 dried mandarin peel
1.5 tsp rock sugar
1 sprig coriander to garnish (I went for spring onion)
Place the spare ribs in a bowl and rub with the salt and the dark soy sauce. Transfer to a heavy bottomed casserole and pour in 100ml water and the Shaoxing rice wine. Add the ginger and spring onoins. Bring to a boil and then reduce the hear, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking, turn the ribs over.
Squeeze the excess water from the mushrooms and add to the pot with 1/2 cup of the mushroom water. Add the light soy sauce, the cinnamon, star anise, mandarin peel and rock sugar. You can use a muslin bag for this - instead I had my guests look out for it in case they munched on it. Simmer for another hour, uncovered; add more water if it's looking dry. The sauce should have a syrupy consistency when it is done. If the sauce is too thick, add water.
Taste, adjust seasoning and garnish.
I also made Stir-Fried Vegetarian Stew (Chap Chye) but I ballsed that up quite royally by misreading the recipe and then running out of time. Instead of a soupy dish made with glass noodles, I ended up with a stir-fried rice vermicelli. It was still good though, despite my misunderstanding.
If I have any gripes about the book, I found that the page numbers being in the top left hand corner of the page difficult to flick through and find what I wanted easily. There aren't any suggestions on how many each dish might serve, but from what I can gather it seems to be 6, with other dishes as is typical of Chinese meals. Otherwise, I loved the book.
I can't find it for sale anywhere online but you can contact Epigram Books (based in Singapore) here if you want a copy.