Bakuteh & Chili Dipping Sauce

I love coming across a dish I've never heard of. More than that, I love cooking a recipe from another country and having my house come alive with aromas unfamilier and beautiful. Aromas that, for others far away, would remind one of the kitchen smells of childhood. That's the magic of cooking, the power to evoke the smells and flavours of others in your own kitchen. Flavour combinations completely foreign but delicious. At the wheel of your stove it takes you only a short time to arrive in Rhône-Alpes, Louisiana, or even Malaysia (as with this dish). When I came across the recipe for bakuteh I mistakenly thought it was a Korean dish called gamjatang (Pork Bone Soup - my mistake will be evident below). Gamjatang is one of my favourite soups of all time, along with French Onion Soup and Japanese Fish Broth. But this is not gamjatang, it is a more herbal dish, less spicy, but just as hearty. I decided that it needed to be tried. After a couple of weeks of reading though the many different versions I came up with this one. There were a few changes that reflected my kitchen pantry such as using ginger instead of dang gui (also known as female ginseng) which I couldn't find. I also used fresh cremini mushrooms in place of dried shitake, because that is what I had.

OK, now the history. Bakuteh, usually translated as pork rib (or bone) tea, is a herbal soup that is very popular throughout Southeast Asia. It is widely believed to have been created in the Klang Valley in Malaysia which is still famous for its many bakuteh restaurants. The story goes that the dish was invented in Port Klang for workers in the early 20th century, "to supplement their meagre diet and as a tonic to boost their health." Traditionally served for breakfast as an "invigorating tonic" to begin their day.

Recipes vary but essentially the dish is made with pork (or chicken in a version called Chikuteh) simmered for a long time in a complex broth of herbs, spices (including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, and garlic) and dried shitake mushrooms for a touch of earthiness. Additional ingredients may also include offal, other varieties of mushroom, lettuce, and pieces of dried tofu. The usual accompaniment is rice or noodles, chili sauce to dip the pork in and often youtiao (strips of fried dough) for dipping into the soup. Various kinds of Chinese tea are also usually served with the belief that it dilutes (or "dissolves") the copious amount of fat consumed in this pork-laden dish. The numerous variants of bakuteh reflects geographical location. There are three types of bakuteh; the most common variant is the Teochew style, which is light in color but uses more pepper in the soup; the Hoklo (Hokkien), who prefer saltier food, uses more soy sauce (resulting in a darker soup); the Cantonese, with a soup-drinking culture, add medicinal herbs to create a stronger flavoured soup.

500g pork ribs, cut into 2' lengths
225g pork loin, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
5-6 star anise
1-2 tsp goji berries (wolf berries)
12 cremini mushrooms, brushed clean
250 ml dark soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar sea salt and fresh ground pepper

1. In a large pot place the pork ribs, pork loin, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, goji berries, mushrooms, and spice bag (see below). Cover with 10 cups of water and bring to a rolling boil.
2. As it heats remove fat and foam that forms from the surface. Stir in th soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Partially cover and seduce the heat, simmer for 2 and a half hours.

Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

5 cloves
1 tbsp dried orange peel ground (recipe follows)
1 tsp each of black peppercorns, coriander seeds and fennel seeds

1. Lay out a square of cheese cloth and put all the ingredients in the middle. Pull the corners together and tie the pouch with some butchers twine or string.

Juice of 1 lime
3-4 tbsp Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
3 garlic cloves
1/2" piece ginger, peeled
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt

1. In a small food processor or blender grind the first 4 ingredients together, then salt and sugar to taste. Serve in individual bowls for each person.

To serve
Divide the loin and ribs between 4-6 bowls and ladle the hot broth over the top. Serve with individual condiment bowls of the Chili dipping sauce for the pork.

N.B.- This is one of those magical soups that is even better the next day, after the flavours have a a chance to get together and cuddle a bit. This is a personal thing, I haven't seen anything online saying this is wrong but I have also noticed that all the pictures I've seen of bakuteh seen very clear (or "tea-like" if you will).


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff! I love that this recipe offers an authentic use of goji berries. I learned a lot from your post. thanks!

Paul said...

Thank you, Dana.

jordan said...

These looks so yummy. Yours look so delicious, I’ll have to give it a try.