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.
Sweet & Sour