Braised Pork Knuckles (Yin Tai)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

I have promised that I will post some braising recipes. Check it out for  tips for the home cook.  

Slow poached Yin Tai (Cantonese for Braised Pork Knuckles) was a regular feature at our Chinese New Year reunion dinners. It was one of my mum's favourite festive dish. 

Unlike the German Roasted Pork Knuckles, where the skin needs to be crackly and crispy, this Chinese version goes the opposite direction. The skin and fats need to be soft, creamy and yet firm enough to be picked up with a pair of chopsticks. 

If you are trying to diet (and that is a forbidden word during Chinese New Year), knuckles done this way will literally bring you to your knees. It is spectacular as the skin and fats are the first things you see. In fact, cooked and presented correctly, it should be the only thing you see at first. And when it is placed on the table, the whole thing shimmers. No kidding. Like the shimmering glass of water on the car's dashboard in the movie Jurassic Park, it will make for a spectacular effect as the dinosaur approaches.

If you look carefully, you can also see an image of yourself after the shimmering stops. You dig in with your chopsticks, shattering your portrait. You let it melt in your mouth. The flavor and texture hits you as the unmentionable swirls in your chops – rich, creamy, fruity, spicy and aromatically complex.

Swine can be better than wine, as they say.

The key is to a braise it very slowly on low fire. 

This dish may look complicated at first sight but just think of Toyu Bak and that you are cooking one large lump of pork belly. Pork knuckles is not something you can just walk up to the butcher and buy, especially during the CNY period. You must order it beforehand. I heard that turkeys ran out last Christmas because no one travelled anywhere and more were cooking at home. I won't spread rumours that pork will run out but it is not difficult to figure out that pig knees may be in short supply. I know there are wild boars running around but...perish that thought. Just go to your butcher early.  

Try to use the best soy sauce you can lay your hands on. You can also braise some dried mushrooms alongside. 

1 pork knuckle, skin on
3 tbsps rock sugar
3 slices ginger
6 cloves garlic
10 white peppercorns (crushed)
240 ml (1 cup) light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsps Chinese rice wine
580 ml (2 cups) water
Salt and sugar to taste
2 tbsp oil
2 tsps cornflour made into a slurry with 2 tbsps water

For garnishing
Butter lettuce leaves or iceberg lettuce
Coriander leaves

  1. Add the rock sugar and simmer over low heat till it melts. You are caramelising the sugar.
  2. Add the ginger, garlic and spices and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the pork knuckle (skin up) and the rest of the seasoning. Pour in the water to cover the knuckle. The whole knuckle need to be covered. 
  3. Simmer for 2 hours or till it is soft enough. The meat should not be falling apart on its own. To test for doneness, the fork should go smoothly into the skin. 
  4. Add the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. 
  5. Adjust the taste with salt or sugar if needed.
Place the pork on some lettuce leaves and garnish with coriander leaves. Serve it hot with chili sauce on the side.

For Thermomix users:
This is recipe is great for Thermomix because the pork knuckle will fit nicely. But you need to use the blade cover or find a way of keeping the blades from moving if you do not want to end up with shredded pork. 

Follow steps 1 to 4 to stir fry the ingredients and make the sauce. Put the knuckle skin up into the TM pot. Braise it at 98˚C for 1.5 to 2 hours. Note that the heat transference in TM is more efficient than the wok. Check periodically. If the fork go into the skin smoothly, you know it is done. At some point, I will shoot a video on cooking this in the Thermomix.

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