There’s something to be said about recipes that are passed down in families. Somehow, your fondest memories of food are always what you ate growing up, and everything else that you eat later on in life is compared to those memories.
I grew up eating my grandma’s (I call her ‘Nai Nai’ 奶奶) bak chang, and this to me, has always been the best kind I can get anywhere. I’m sure everyone else will claim that their family’s version is the best though!
For those of you who are not familiar with bak chang (肉粽): These babies are glutinous rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves. They’re also known as zong zi (粽子). There are many versions, including a sweet version made with alkaline water, and eaten with a sweet sauce. I haven’t had the sweet version for a good few years now, I must really learn how to make them (my grandma only makes the savoury pork ones).
They’re traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie 端午节), which usually falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar – which falls on the June 23rd this year. They are eaten to commemorate the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo river after his country’s capital (Chu state) was captured by the Qin state. The villagers then threw rice dumplings into the river, to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. And now, these rice dumplings are eaten every year as a way of remembering Qu Yuan. (Thank you Wiki and Wai Yee Hong for educating me.)
Anyway, I convinced my grandma to teach me how to make these bak chang during a recent trip home (is November of last year still recent?). Because I figure, I might as well start now – the wrapping takes years to perfect, and I’m not getting any younger!
I made these whilst R was at work, so unfortunately did not manage to take any step-by-step photos of the wrapping process. Next time. I did find a fairly good video on youtube though, which you can view here. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards for the wrapping process.
Although it took me 2.5 hours to make (excluding the cooking time) to make these, they were definitely worth it. Plus I now have a stash in the freezer for ‘times of need’.
A few notes:
- All amounts are approximate. Please taste as you go along, and adjust as necessary!
- Ingredients for the fillings (e.g. lap cheong, heh bee etc) can always be omitted if you wish to do so. There are no compulsory items when it comes to cooking this – well, except the glutinous rice that is.
- Please place each ingredient in a separate bowl. This is because we want to place approximately equal amounts of each ingredient into each bak chang.
- I highly recommend watching this video to get an idea of how to wrap the bak chang. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards.
- 500g pork belly, chopped into ~ 2cm chunks
- 1 kg glutinous rice
- 20 dried chestnuts
- 1 chinese rice bowl of dried shrimps (heh bee)
- 1 chinese rice bowl of dried Chinese mushrooms – I used approximately 40 tiny ones
- 1 Chinese sausage (lap cheong)
- 6 salted duck eggs (we will only be using the yolks)
- 20 shallots
- 3 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 tbsp five spice powder
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 5 tbsp oyster sauce
- 5 tbsp dark soya sauce
- 1 tbsp light soya sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp white pepper
- at least 60 bamboo leaves (you need 2 per bak chang, with some spares in case of tears/holes in leaves)
- cooking string/hemp leaves
The night before :
1. Soak the bamboo leaves in a large pot of cold water (I used my 28cm Le Creuset pot). Try to submerge as much of the leaves in the water as you possibly can.
2. Soak the glutinous rice in cold water.
3. Soak the chestnuts in cold water.
4. Mix all the ingredients for the pork marinade together. Pour it over the pork belly pieces, and leave to marinade overnight in the fridge.
Preparing the ingredients:
5. Cook the duck eggs in a pot of boiling water, for 10 minutes. Leave to cool sightly, peel, separating the yolk from the whites. We will only be using the yolks, so store the whites in the fridge for another use – I use them for steamed eggs, and as a condiment for porridge. Cut the yolks into quarters.
6. Soak dried shrimps in a bowl, using hot water.
7. Soak the Chinese mushrooms in a bowl, using hot water. If your mushrooms are very large you may want to slice them in half.
8. Slice the Chinese sausage into 1 cm slices.
9. Peel and finely dice the shallots. I cheat and use my mini food processor, which does the dicing in 5 seconds flat.
Cooking the ingredients:
10. Heat 1 tbsp corn oil in a large pan/wok. Using high heat, fry the Chinese sausage until they brown slightly and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
11. In the same pan, fry the dried shrimps until they become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
11. In the same pan, fry the Chinese mushrooms until they become fragrant, and brown slightly. I usually season with a pinch of salt (old habits die hard). Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
12. In the same pan, fry the pre-soaked chestnuts until they brown slightly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
13. In the same pan, fry the pork belly chunks until they turn lightly browned. We’re not aiming to fully cook the pork belly here – the aim is to sear it briefly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.
14. Add 1 tbsp corn oil to the same pan. Fry the shallots until they become fragrant. Add the glutinous rice flour, and stir for 1 minute. Add all the ingredients for the rice marinade, and any leftover pork marinade you have. Taste, and add extra oyster sauce/dark soya sauce etc as necessary. Switch off the flame, and leave rice in the pan. You can always transfer the rice to a bowl, but why wash an extra bowl?
Wrapping the bak chang:
15. Drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.
16. Select two leaves, and place them in opposite directions (i.e. the tail end of one lining up with the top end of the other). Do not use any leaves which already have holes in them, as they will cause water to seep into the bak chang during the cooking process.
17. Form leaves into a cone.
18. Fill the cone about 1/3 of the way with the glutinous rice.
19. Then, place each of the following atop the rice: one chunk of pork belly, one chestnut, one/two Chinese mushrooms (use two if mushrooms are small), two slices of Chinese sausage, 1/2 tsp dried shrimps, and a piece of duck egg yolk.
20. Top with more glutinous rice, till you reach the brim of the cone.
21. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.
22. Repeat with remaining leaves and ingredients, until everything is used up.
Cooking the bak chang:
23. Boil water in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the bak chang’s into the water. Make sure the entire bak chang is submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 2-3 hours. You may find that you need two pots if yours isn’t large enough.. I had to use two!
24. To test if they are cooked through – you’ll have to unwrap one and check. And taste. (The perks of cooking.)
25. Once the bak changs are cooked, remove from the pan and place in a colander – I use a colander as it allows any extra water to drain away. Alternatively you can hang them up, but I didn’t want water to drip all over my stove!
26. Once they have cooled slightly, unwrap and eat! I strongly recommend pairing it with Maggi’s garlic chilli sauce.
Note: Uneaten bak changs can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for 2 months.