Of the many weddings I attended in the past two years, only two have been Chinese banquets. There are typically many small courses much like a degustation menu and usually starts with roast suckling pig. There is something rather special about this fine, tender, young meat which doesn’t taste as strongly of pork as its older cousins and has a thinner layer of skin which yields a smoother, crispier crackling. It tends to be reserved for special occasions in Chinese tradition and is not always readily available in Cantonese barbeque stores.
At one of these weddings where Mr Awesome was also a guest, we were discussing our love of the baby pig when I mentioned it was common practice for guests to ask for the roasted head and trotters to take home to be used in a soup base or congee much like you would a ham hock. We were most disappointed when we brought this up with our waiter and were met with the response that all uneaten parts had already been thrown out. What an absolute waste! Mr Awesome then had a most brilliant idea – for his next birthday he would eschew the usual birthday cake and cut open a roast piggy instead. Mmmm…
A couple of months later and we were met with the most amazing sight of Mr Awesome being wheeled in his birthday pig on a trolley and taking to it with a heavy meat cleaver from head to tail. The crunch of beautiful crackling was heard by all as he was doing so and, afterwards, I was duly offered the head and trotters to create something beautiful.
You may find the above picture disturbing and/or confronting but it is a reality that all meat-eaters should face. Meat comes from animals and these animals are raised and slaughtered to give us the meat; just because it comes neatly butchered or pre-packaged should not sanitise this fact. Nevertheless, I found myself face-to-face in my kitchen with said piggy and didn’t quite know how to tackle it – it’s not everyday that I have a roasted pig’s head sitting around!
So if you find yourself with leftover roasted suckling pig parts on your hands this Chinese New Year, here are a couple of ideas. I decided the trotters would be used for congee and trimmed away any large fatty chunks. From the head, I removed the cheeks and then the lobes of fat from those before finely slicing the remaining skin and meat to be used in a noodle stir-fry. Although the cheeks were not terribly large once the fatty bits had been trimmed away, they did produce a handsome tub of sliced meat.
The congee did require some seasoning as the marinade for the roast pig is rubbed in the cavity of the pig and not on the limbs, which mainly just taste of roasted smokiness. The noodle stir-fry was done in two batches due to its size but apologies as we hungrily dug into it before any photos were taken. You’ll just have to imagine and visualise how it tasted and looked!
Roasted Pig’s Trotters Congee (serves 4-5)
· 1 cup of long grain rice (unrinsed or rinsed only once), soaked in 2 cups of cold water in a large pot overnight
· 4 roasted pig’s trotters from a suckling pig, fat trimmed
· 1 tsp finely shredded ginger
· salt, to taste
- Add a cup of cold water to the pot of soaked rice and bring to the boil over medium heat. Add ginger and stir a few times to prevent sticking at the bottom.
- Add pig’s trotters and increase heat to high to bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, half covered, for about 45 minutes. Stir the bottom occasionally and skim any large charred bits which float to the top.
- Remove pig’s trotters to a chopping board to cool a little but keep the congee simmering on a low heat, stirring occasionally. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from trotters and roughly chop before setting aside. Return pig’s trotter bones to the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes or so until the mixture is fluffy and there are no discernable grains of rice. You may need to add water if you prefer a thinner consistency.
- Remove bones and return chopped trotter meat to the pot. Stir through and season with salt to taste. Serve in bowls with ground white pepper and finely chopped spring onions alongside for sprinkling on top, if desired.
Roasted Pork Cheek Noodle Stir-Fry (serves 4-5)
· 500g pack of Hokkien noodles
· 2 roasted pig’s cheeks from a suckling pig, fat trimmed, cut into strips
· finely shredded ginger (optional)
· 1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
· 2 tbs hoisin sauce
· ⅓ medium Chinese cabbage (‘wom bok’/’wong nga bak’), shredded
· 4 tbs hoisin sauce
- Bring a large pot or wok of water to the boil and briefly blanch the noodles to remove its excess coating of oil. Do this in batches if necessary. Drain and set aside.
- Heat a wok over medium-high heat and briefly stir-fry the pork cheek strips until lightly browned and some of the fat is released. Toss ginger and chilli with this, if using. Add 2 tbs hoisin sauce and toss until evenly coated before setting aside.
- Increase heat to high and add cabbage to the pan. Stir-fry until wilted and set aside.
- Place half the noodles in the pan and toss briefly to evaporate any clinging moisture before adding half the pork cheek strips and half the shredded cabbage. Stir-fry until well mixed, adding a tablespoon of hoisin sauce if needed. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
happy chinese new year & happy cooking!