Confinement period is both medically and culturally recognised as a vital period for the new mum to restore her strength through special foods and strict regimes; and to focus on caring for her newborn.
In SE Asia, confinement is usually a 30 to 40-day period practised mainly by the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. A new mum is re-conditions her body with the help of family members, hired doulas and perhaps masseurs.
Among the Chinese, this dish (猪脚醋) is so closely associated with a new mum’s confinement period that is can be said to be akin to “a horse and carriage”. Her mother-in-law has the time honoured task of cooking this dish and other confinement dishes. Some households believe that this dish should be eaten several times from the 12th day till end of confinement.
Health benefits commonly associated with this dish are numerous. Black vinegar is believed to purify the body, stabilize pH levels and enhances digestion and energy. Old ginger warms the body, sesame oil is rich in vitamin E, iron and calcium and the collagen from the pig’s trotters promotes good health.
Some Comments about the Ingredients
I didn’t think that it is necessary to take a photo of the pieces of the Pig’s Front Trotter and clumps of ginger since these are common ingredients. Photo above shows Black Sweet Rice Vinegar, Chinkiang Vinegar (besides the health benefits of vinegar, this adds tartness, gives balance and cuts through the richness of the collagen and pork), white sugar, Chinese black sugar (黑糖), sesame oil, and eggs.
HINT: There are 2 types of pig trotters, the front (猪手) and hind (猪脚). The front trotter tends to be bigger and meatier. My butcher advises that the hind trotter is less fatty and gives more collagen!
Preparing the pieces of old ginger
Even though the skin of the piece of ginger on the left of the photo above looks damp and thin, it is nonetheless old ginger. It looks this way as it has just been unpacked from its carton box. In a few hours, when it starts to dry out, it will look like the piece of unpeeled ginger in the centre. Both pieces look slightly different but they are both old ginger.
Ginger from either Indonesia or Bentong, Malaysia are more expensive but they give sweeter flavour and stronger fragrance.
Some do not slice the large knobs of ginger but lightly smash them with the back of a cleaver. That makes it difficult to serve after this dish is cooked. Some households cook an enormous amount and ginger and black vinegar, store them in a very large clay urn for a month. Thereafter, portions are then taken out to be cooked with pieces of pig trotters and hard boiled eggs.
STEP 1. There’s lots of ginger to peel for this dish. If you use a metal spoon with a sharp edge to scrap away the skin on each piece of ginger, your peeling job will be completed much faster.
STEP 2. Whilst you are preparing the other ingredients, use this time to grill the sliced ginger pieces in the oven. Drying the ginger concentrates its flavour.
A comparison of the slices on un-grilled ginger on the left with the drier and slightly caramelised ginger on the right.
Preparing the pieces of Pig Trotter
Bring a large kettle of water to boil and blanch those pieces of pork trotters.
Cooking the Dish
STEP 1. Heat wok on high heat for a short while, add sesame oil and fry grilled ginger slices to enhance the ginger’s flavour. It takes about 5 mins.
STEP 2. Add blanched pork trotter pieces. Continue to stir fry ginger and pork for another 7 to 10 mins. Let your sense of smell confirm when to proceed to the next step, fragrance will permeate your nose which confirms stir frying may stop.
STEP 3. . Meanwhile, add water, vinegars and sugars into the stainless steel Thermal pots. Cover and cook over medium heat to melt the sugars and to bring mixture to boil.
STEP 4. Once the liquid mixture in Thermal pots boils, add the wok ingredients into these pots. The ginger and pork should be almost submerged in the liquid. Cover and boil over medium heat for another 15 to 20 mins.
STEP 5. Add eggs, roll eggs in the liquid to darken. Cover again. Boil for 5 mins.
STEP 6. 6. Lift Thermal pot/s into their host pot. Leave in the host pot for 1 to 1.5 hours. Dish is done when the pork trotter pieces are tender and gelatinous. Photo of the cooked dish is below.
RECIPE ( using a Thermal Pot)
Makes 6 to 8 servings
- 1 pork trotter (front leg and not hind feet) weighing about 1.2 to 1.4 kg. Butcher cuts into smaller pieces. Blanch in hot water.
- 6 to 8 hard boiled eggs, cooked and peeled
- 1 kg of Indonesian or Bentong ginger. Peel using a metal spoon, slice cross-sectionally
- 600 ml Bull Dog Black Sweet Rice Vinegar
- 150 ml Chinkiang Vinegar
- 650 ml water
- 100 gms black sugar
- 100 gms sugar
- 4 Tbsp. sesame oil
Preparing the Ginger
Set oven to “Grill” function. Meanwhile, place the sliced ginger onto an oiled grill pan and grill for 15 to 20 mins. This process dries and caramelises the ginger.
ALTERNATIVELY, if an oven is not available, just add a Tbsp of cooking oil into a wok or large saucepan, heat and fry sliced ginger till it dries and lightly caramelises.
Preparing the pieces of Pork Trotters
Meanwhile, either blanch pig trotter pieces in a pot of boiling water or pour a full kettle of boiling water over those pieces, drain and set aside.
Cooking the Dish
1. In a wok heat sesame oil, add grilled ginger. Stir fry for about 5 mins to further enhance flavour of the ginger.
2. Add blanched pork trotter pieces. Continue to stir fry ginger and pork for another 7 to 10 mins. Let your sense of smell confirm when to proceed to the next step, fragrance will permeate your nose which confirms stir frying may stop.
3. Meanwhile, add water, vinegars and sugars into the stainless steel Thermal pot. Cover and cook over medium heat to melt the sugars and to bring mixture to boil.
4. Once the liquid mixture in Thermal pots boils, add the wok ingredients into these pots. The ginger and pork should be almost submerged in the liquid. Cover and boil over medium heat for another 15 to 20 mins.
5. Add eggs. Roll eggs in the liquid to darken. Try to hide eggs under the trotter pieces so that eggs will darken evenly. Cover again. Boil for 5 mins.
6. Lift Thermal pot/s into their host pot. Leave in the host pot for 1 to 1.5 hours. Dish is done when the pork trotter pieces are tender and gelatinous.
If you don’t possess a Thermal Pot, you can still cook this dish using either a Stainless Steel Pot or a Tanyu Pot. Do not pour the vinegar into the carbon steel wok to cook this dish. All ingredients will have to be transferred into the stainless steel pot or Tanyu pot for stewing to tenderise and infuse all flavours into the pork trotters.
Cooking times will vary a little.
Serve with steamed rice. This dish is so popular that it is also served to diners who are not in their confinement month. It is not only appealing to female palates.
Depending on the number of people and their dietary preference at mealtime, this dish may be accompanied with any one or more of the meat, seafood and vegetable dishes listed below.
The suggested dishes may not all be suitable to those who adhere strictly to a complete Chinese confinement menu.
1. Jin Hua Ham and Winter Melon Soup. Click here.
2. Lotus Root, Peanut and Pork Ribs. Click here.
3. Radishes and Dried Squid. Click here.
4. Pork Stomach with Peppercorn (suitable for confinement). Click here
5. Tang Ho with Fishballs. Click here
6. Watercress and Red Dates. Click here.
Chinese Main Dishes
1. Spinach in broth with 3 types of eggs. Click here.
2. Pari Pari Chicken Wings. Click here
3. Broccoli and Meat/Tofu Stir Fry. Click here.
4. Pork, Spinach and Egg Stir Fry. Click here.
5. Fried Fish with Fermented Black Bean Sauce. Click here.
6. Shanghai Cabbage with Oyster Sauce and Garlic. Click here.