Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Internal Organ-isation

They say ignorance is bliss. I must be very blessed then.

My knowledge of food is a little skewed, eclectic and haphazard. Pretty much like everything else in my life! While I might know the most unusual and bizarre things, there are huge blind spots in certain areas of my culinary education. I fully admit my inadequacy and am always willing to learn. Just like dance, I believe that the following hold true –

The more you know, the less you know
You can never learn enough
Those who always believe that they know it all, know nothing at all

I find people who are always so busy trying to impress their superior knowledge on others, because they believe that everyone else is an idiot, incredible bores. I have a very well intentioned friend who is perpetually trying to tell me what to do, convinced she is right even when she is wrong. While I never call her on it, being a well brought-up child, I have noticed that she constantly dismisses any information, opinion or knowledge that I share with her. When I make an observation about something, she would immediately dismiss it. It is an instinctive thing with her. She dismisses or discredits it before she even processes it in her brain.

The strange thing is that she will later present my observation as hers. Mind you, this is a good friend of whom I am inordinately fond of, so being a passive-aggressive person with a long fuse but devastating explosions, I just let it pass … for now.

Knowledgeable people fascinate me. I enjoy learning from them but I notice the line between experience and temperance is extremely fine. Typically, when they are so convinced of their knowledge, they refuse to accept or consider any other point of view. Which is a pity as it closes them off to so many new experiences.

A friend’s mother-in-law is reputedly an excellent cook. Being Chinese, she habitually cooks up a storm of Chinese delicacies which my friend assures me I will never enjoy in any restaurant or food court. True home cooked, authentic Chinese cuisine. Having heard so much about her mother-in-law’s cooking, I was thrilled when H offered to bring some to me yesterday.

It was extremely fortunate that I was not hungry as what she brought curled my toes. In a bad way. While I do not balk at many things and am always game to try something new, I was not quite expecting my friend’s generous bounty. She brought me pig’s stomach. And intestines.

I’ve had pig’s stomach and intestines before. In Teochew porridge. In feng. In some Spanish dishes the names of which I cannot remember now. I don’t really have a problem with that. What I had a problem with was the fact that the pig’s stomach was just boiled. With nothing else to disguise the taste or look. It was even in huge chunks as large as my post-it pad. It was disgusting.

And the intestines were raw. I mean raw as in just out of some little piggie. Apparently, H was supposed to add the intestines to the stomach. Except that H does not cook. She obviously did not want to cook this or particularly enjoy this dish, whatever it is called or supposed to be. And she had decided to offload this superbly disturbing dish to me since she knows I cook and live near her.

It was a truly shabby gesture which reveals her true regard of me but I was too polite to chide her. I just thanked her and chucked the lot in the fridge, thankful I had some leftover pulut hitam to eat for dinner.

But that did not solve my problem. I had the biology experiments lurking in my fridge. Whatever was I supposed to do with them? My grandmother had inculcated the post-war mentality in me not to waste anything so throwing them out was abhorrent to me. And here’s one of my culinary blind spots. I had no clue how to clean and prepare stomach and intestines.

I went to the best place I knew. My computer. Surfing the net for hours for a clue, I gleamed the basic information on how to clean and prepare intestines or chitterlings. Most advocate running a paste of garlic through the intestines to clean the inside. Made sense. But being a trifle queasy, I decided I would add coarse sea salt to my garlic paste to give it the grit to abrade and clean the intestines more thoroughly.

I used a Kylie Kwong recipe for Slow-Cooked Tripe as inspiration. So I did not have tripe but I reckoned that what works for tripe should work for the stomach and intestines. Braising also sounded like the wisest choice to make the Goodyear Tyre-textured stomach edible. Rolling up my sleeves I got to work.

Measurements are extremely iffy here as I worked intuitively and things just bubbled and toiled till I decided I was happy with the dish.

Sweet & Sour Slow-Cooked Pig’s Organs Steph Style
1 plate of boiled pig’s stomach, probably about 150g
1 bowl of small intestines –
at least I think they were small since they were only a wide as my finger

1 whole head of garlic, peeled – for cleaning the intestines
1 tsp of salt – for cleaning the intestines

2 ripe tomatoes
6 garlic cloves
1 tsp of salt

1 inch thick disc of palm sugar, grated

½ fennel, sliced

1 red onion, sliced
2 sticks of celery, sliced
¼ cup white wine
2 tbsp red wine – I ran out of white
1 tbsp Choya – or mirin will do too
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp white rice vinegar
1 chicken stock cube
20 black peppercorns

1. Coarsely pound the garlic with the salt and stuff a teaspoon of this into one end of the intestines

2. Squeeze and press the mixture through the intestines, right to the other end, pushing out the garlic paste and all the really gross stuff out

3. Rinse and run the water through like a hose, making sure not to puncture or break the casing

4. Repeat this process another 3 times. Most people seem to do it only twice but I am paranoid so I did it a total of 4 times till the garlic paste came out clean.

5. Cut the stomach and intestines into fairly large bite sizes

6. Pound the 6 cloves of garlic with ½ tsp salt into a fine paste

7. Dissolve the palm sugar in about ¼ cup of water and reduce it on a low flame, without stirring till it is syrupy

8. Sauté the garlic paste in a claypot or any earthen pot on medium flame till fragrant, making sure it does not burn. Add the fennel, celery and onions with ½ tsp salt and sauté for 2 mins

9. Squish the tomatoes over the vegetables till the juices flow out. Tear them roughly into chunks with your hands (this is a rustic dish so go for it!) and chuck them in with the stomach and intestines

10. Add the syrup, wines, stock cube and vinegars, mix well and simmer on very low heat for 1 hour

11. Taste to see if it needs adjusting. Add more balsamic vinegar if it needs more piquancy, or some brown sugar to kick up the sweetness

12. This would be fabulous served hot with crusty or garlic bread

I did not have any bread so I ate this as is. With a plate of kai lan which I had blanched in salted water, drizzled with some oyster sauce flavoured with dried scallops as well as a little sesame oil and sprinkled with my crushed fried garlic and peanuts concoction.

It was a wonderfully satisfying meal considering that I made this on the fly and have never cooked pig’s stomach or intestines before. I believe if you are using fresh stomach (as in not boiled by someone’s mother-in-law before), the cooking time may be shortened. I had to slow cook it for that long in order to get the stomach and intestines to be fork tender yet toothsome.

The intense sweet and sour flavour subdued the strong, barnyardy pungency of the stomach and intestines. I really liked the almost malty, mulled sweetness in the braising liquid and was really surprised at how little pong there was in the dish. The normally aggressive odours of the internal organs were exceedingly mild and quite delicious enhanced by the braising liquid gently perfumed with a hint of aniseed. The one-two punch from the palm sugar and the balsamic vinegar both perked and soothed the palate. The braised vegetables were soft and meltingly buttery yet the fennel retained some of its texture, which made for some rather delightful morsels. I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this.

Honestly, I am rather proud of myself. I would normally never have chosen to make a dish like this but I decided not to close my mind to it and came up with something unusual and tasty. I bet my all-knowing friend would criticise or compare this to traditional Chinese or Asian dishes but like me, this dish is not “pure” anything. Just a surprising and happy hybrid.

I give my Sweet & Sour Slow-Cooked Pig’s Organs a 8.5/10 for taste and 9/10 for health. My kai lan side dish scored a 9/10 for taste and 10/10 for health. It was certainly a night of culinary exploration. I’m glad I was gastronomically intrepid but disappointed in my poor choice of friends.


Blogger OsloFoodie said...

Wow, all I can say is... bravo! I certainly agree with what you wrote in this post. As someone who likes cooking I don't think I can ever say I know enough to belittle anyone. You can always learn something. My sister doesn't cook that much but when she does, I still have a few things to learn from her! And you're a terrific cook to me.

3:30 pm  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

wow! u went thru the process of cleaning the intestine. traditional mum will turn the intestine inside out and rub with some salt and baking soda. Then using a chopstick they are stuffed back. Until u get a thick layer of intestine of abt 3 layer deep.

I will use them in my soup. Read my previous post for the pork tripe soup

7:58 pm  
Blogger Boston Chef said...

WOW! That was kick-ass, you really worked it. An amazing culinary feat produced from an inauspicious start. Good job! I'd even give it a shot (trying yours, not making my own!)...

10:48 pm  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Brave! I might have had trouble getting past step 11. Some flavors might have been left unbalanced. But I definately learned some things here! After reading this, I would give it a try as well.

1:40 am  
Anonymous petite said...

my hats off to you! you're not only a very patient friend but a patient and adventurous cook as well.

i've just "stumbled" into your blog today from shalimar's "for the love of food and travel" blog, and i must say i'm mighty impressed. you're making dishes i've never tried (or even heard of) before, and you have me drooling...i'll definitely try chicken cafrael one of these days (soon as i get all the ingredients together).

oh and btw, i totally agree with you about the "american idol" contenders just totally messing up the queen songs. grrr...

3:00 am  
Anonymous sha said...

i have not done cleaning intenstines at all but i love eating those yummy parts

man you actually took the gut to do biological gastro experiments.

just came back from st tropez

3:28 am  
Anonymous Ivonne said...

You rock, MM!

9:41 am  
Blogger neil said...

You're amazing Steph, what an incredible result. Wouldn't that look so good (and appropriate) in the pig baking dish from your wish list?
You've got great guts girl. Sorry, that just slipped out.

4:32 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Wow, thanks guys! All I can say is that it tasted superb the next day after reheating. The intestines and stomach were even more tender and succulent and all the flavours just married so harmoniously that it was quite wonderful.

OsloF - Ta, I've always liked your attitude and I think you are a fab cook who has inspired me many times - just look at the farikaaaaaal! LOL.

Foodcrazee - it really was a case of ignorance being bliss. I read about the twice stuffed and all that but I just could not get my head around it. Could not understand how it was done so I just went with what I thought was the easiest! Actually, cleaning it was not that hard at all ... just smelly and kinda gross. I actually put a clothes peg over my nose at one point!

Have you heard of how they cook pig's intestine in Sabah? I heard they slow roast it and it is delicious. Would you know how to cook that?

Bostonchef - Ta so much, guys! Give it a try but be prepared to be a little grossed out at first. You get used to it though.

Surfindaave - LOL, actually it tasted quite nice.

Hey petite! Thanks for visiting and your kind words! Do come back again and definitely give the chicken cafrael a try. Another visitor just tried it recently and she only used 2 chillies but she said it still got thumbs up!

Sha - that was fast! Glad you are back!

Aw, thanks Ivonne. You totally rock too! I just luuuuurve the photos on your blog ... the recipes too!

Tanled - Too funny. Your comment really cracked me up! I kept chuckling every time I read it. LOL. And you noticed the pig dish eh? Isn't it the cutest thing?? I didn't think of it but you are so right!

7:08 pm  
Anonymous paz said...

Wow! Great job!


10:53 pm  
Anonymous bea at La tartine gourmande said...

I fully agree with this:

The more you know, the less you know
You can never learn enough
Those who always believe that they know it all, know nothing at all

And man, you did a great job here figuring this all out!

6:28 am  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

never heard of the way Sabahan roast them. Will ask aroudn though

5:58 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Thanks Paz, Bea & Foodcrazee!

7:20 pm  

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