Summertime Larou 腊肉? (Part 1)

Larou (腊肉), better known in the west by its Cantonese pronunciation lap yuk, is made from inch-thick strips of pork belly. These bacon-look-a-likes are brined and marinated in a pot or crock in the cool late-fall temperatures of southern China. After the salt and spices are properly absorbed, the meat is air-cured and sometimes smoked. Unlike air-dried lachang (腊肠; Cantonese lapcheong) which use curing salts, larou is made with only salt.

In an era before climate control, the most critical ingredient was the season itself. Like the regions in Europe and America known for of pork preservation, late fall and winter is when nature provides the ideal temperatures for processing. Slaughtering and processing become safer. Once temperatures drop below 50, brining is possible: cool enough to prevent spoilage but warm enough to absorb salt quickly. Too close to freezing (like the refridgerator) and brining takes much more time. Before central heating, ambient temperatures in the home would be in 50s and humidity would be high enough to produce a decent product.

Larou has a different flavor profile in different provinces. Homemade larou can be found in a belt stretching across southern and southwestern China, primarily through the provinces of Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Hunan, Guangdong, but also in Yunnan, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Hubei. People in the countryside do more household preserving than city dwellers, but larou production can be found everywhere south of the Yangtze. A few places to the north as well. The basic processing steps are largely the same, much like the continuum between salt pork and hams.

There are many good recipes for larou on the internet. At From Belly to Bacon, Mark shares his experience making lap yuk in his suburban Chicago garage. He air-dried his meat for 2-3 weeks in a “cool, dry place.” Takes great photos too. Over at EdiblyAsian, Kroocrew hung his meat in the sun for 3-4 days. Back in 2011, the then New Zealand based Malaysian expat Yin experimented with making lap yuk in the summer time. John of Sybaritica fame is probably the first person to make Chinese-style larou so far north. He lives in Iqaluit. Its great to see the English language internet sharing experiments with Chinese preserved meat.

While most larou is made in the winter, smoke opens up four seasons of possibility. There aren’t any English language recipes that explain how to incorporate smoke in this process. For that matter, I didn’t find anything in Chinese. So I did an experiment, and though there were many moldy, dried sticks of meat:

Cured with pink salts, but 70 degrees was just too hot to keep the mold off.

All methods that omit cold-smoking grew white and off-color patches

But one method incorporating smoke produced this result:

IMG_8218

This method resembles techniques used by people in Sichuan and western Hunan. But these were made in the Atlanta suburbs. More about the failures and this ultimate success to come!

 

Advertisements

Lost in Translation: “Old sour water makes the best pickled mustard greens”

One of the most elegant recipes for lacto-fermenting mustard greens, requires an ingredient you probably don’t have. Old sour water.

Sounds disgusting right? It’s not. Old sour water (老酸水), also known as old crock water (老坛水), is the highly acidic liquid saved from previous ferments.

In early 2013, a women in a Guiyang market taught me to how to lacto-ferment mustard greens. In Sichuan and Guizhou, mustard greens are not called jiecai (芥菜) or xuelihong (雪里蕻)Instead, they are known as qingcai (青菜). Auntie Zhang has been using qingcai to make “suancai” (酸菜) for over 30 years, and she swears, “old sour water makes the best pickled mustard greens.” This is her recipe.

You will need your very own “old sour water”. When Auntie Zhang first taught me this recipe, she gifted me a plastic coke bottle filled with her own mustard green ferment juice for my Beijing-based pickle experiments. Here in the states, I’ve found sauerkraut juice (the kind teeming with lactic-acid bacteria) works as a good substitute for your first batch of pickled mustard greens. My first batch tasted a bit like baijiu and Sichuanese peppercorn, but by the second or third ferment, it smelled and tasted like Guiyang Auntie’s pickled mustard greens. I used my kraut juice from the North China sauerkraut, refrigerating it in glass jars these past 4-5 months. If you have a cup of sauerkraut juice in your fridge, you’re ready for this recipe.

If you don’t have old crock water, check out Taiwan Duck’s method to start from scratch.

Length of ferment:
1 day to months

Equipment:
Large sink or basin for washing greens
Kitchen scale
1-liter canning jar (I use Le Parfait style flip-top jars)
Small glass bowl or porcelain tea cup

Step 1: Sun-dry the mustard greens until limp

Ingredients:
1kg Chinese mustard greens (typical varieties available in Atlanta’s Asian groceries include large leaf, small leaf, and xuelihong)

Method:
1. Wash the greens. Use clean water to wash your mustard greens of dirt and debris. Remove any damaged leaves.
2. Dry the greens until limp. Hang the mustard greens on a clothes line in full-sun from morning to night. If not limp by evening, leave out over night and through to the second day. I’ve found they become limp and lose 50-60% of their weight with only one day in intense sunlight.
3. Inspect the greens. Remove any yellow or dehydrated leaves.

Step 2: Make taomishui 淘米水 (water from rinsing rice)

Ingredients:
4 cups water1/4-1/2 jasmine rice

Method:
1. Place rice in a bowl.
2. Pour in water, stir. Use your hand to cloud the water, moving the rice about until the water is a milky white. Remove the rice and set aside the now cloudy water for the next step.

Step 3: Pack the canning jar

Ingredients:
limp mustard greens
1 cup old crock water
3-4 cups taomishui
2 tablespoons salt

Method:
1. Pack the jar with mustard greens.
2. Pour the old crock water into the jar.
3. Pour the taomishui into the jar. Stop pouring, approximately 1 inch from the jar’s lip.
4. Add the salt. Close the jar, sealing it and shake to mix the ingredients. Reopen the jar.
5. Submerge the greens. Place the small bowl or tea cup on top of the mustard greens to keep submerged.
6. Close and seal the jar.

Step 4: Ferment!
1. Place in a cool dark place.
2. After 1-2 days, taste the greens for level of sourness. I’ve left them on the counter up to a week before moving the jar to the refrigerator for storage

***

Recipes

Lacto-fermented mustard greens are used in soups and stir-fries. A quick search of the English language internet came up with these results:

For those of you with Fuchsia Dunlop’s books, don’t forget about her chicken soup and fish soup in “Land of Plenty” and her fava bean recipe in “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.” All three recipes use lacto-fermented mustard greens. When you’re improving a fried rice or a noodle soup, this version of suancai makes a great addition. Auntie Zhang is partial to suancai in fish soups.

And don’t forget to save your old sour water!