The title of this post is almost tongue-in-cheek.
What has science or philosophy to do with this traditional Hokkien "leftovers" dish, you may ask.
As always, what goes on behind a dish always piques my curiosity, especially something as unique as Chai Buay or Choi Keok.
If you are reading it, chances are, you or someone in your household already knows how to cook this. This weekend, I had great difficulty finding the long leaf Mustard Green ("Kai choy") and I assume many households are not throwing away their leftovers.
Yes, this is what makes Chai Buay great: the way it uses the leftover meats and bones. Roast duck and roast pork is great for the stock. To that, you add some fresh pork bones and chicken feet. I had a huge bone from the bone-in ham I was given for Christmas. That also went in.
|Second life for meaty leftovers|
While good meat stock is essential for Chai Buay, the heart of the dish is the Mustard Green veg. This veg is almost tasteless on it's own. But it absorbs flavors very well. Sponging anything you cook with it, and with a luscious texture, it is fantastic for this.
|Hum Choy - Salted/Brined Mustard Green|
Getting down to it
Make the meat stock first. What meat you have for it will be good for eating. Lots of bones will be good. Roast duck is essential as it imparts a smoky flavor to the dish. Add lean pork, spare ribs and roast pork if you have any. Add a lot of dried chillies (or fresh red chillies) as it is important that this is spicy. For the sour, you need a few assam keping (dried tamarind slices). A good meat stock needs about 2 hours at least. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cut down the time by a third.
Then add the cut up mustard greens and simmer for another hour or so.
Towards the end, adjust the taste. Add some chicken stock concentrate (or chicken powder), some oyster sauce and rock sugar (ping tong). Taste your soup. It needs to have a tinge of sourness. At this point, add some tamarind sauce (assam) and taste to get the balance right. The texture of the veg needs to be soft enough and yet, have a nice bite to it.
Good ChayBuay= Good meaty stock + Mustard Greens + Chillies (Spicy) + Assam Keping & Tamarind Sauce (Sour).
This is best eaten the day after as the flavors will continue to develop. We will normally leave it overnight on the stove. Just boil it and leave it undisturbed. This pot can be "rolled over" over a few days, i.e. stuff, meat or veg can still be added. While you can add other veg into the pot, I advise that you stick to just mustard green. Almost any meat (and especially skin) will go well in it. Chicken or duck feet taste great in it. I will not add any leftover Chinese sausages or fish bones. These will spoil the taste. Yes, use your leftovers but not any leftovers.
Eat this hot in a bowl with chopsticks. Some white rice if you like some carbo to complete the meal.
Don't let the CNY end without at least cooking this once. After all, you need to do something with your leftovers. They will be delicious in your Chai Buay. The funny thing about Chai Buay is that the "second rate" meat there actually tastes very good.
As I reflect on this, I think of the verse from the Bible in Isaiah 41:3
"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice..."
Yes, God specializes in turning nothing into something. Chai Buay reminds me of this. If you think your life's usefulness is exhausted, think again. In His hands, the best is yet to be.
Have fun cooking the discards this CNY.