Citizens – this recipe is specifically for the half of TFD Nation that brings the miracle of life into this world – yes, ladies, this recipe is for you!
Pork Knuckles and Ginger Stew (pinyin: zhū jiǎo jiāng) is not an everyday Chinese meal. It is a traditional postnatal therapeutic food in the Guangzhou region of China, eaten to aid the recovery of new mothers after giving birth. It helps in the recovery of maternal health from the fatigue of pregnancy in the first forty days of post-partum confinement known in Cantonese as choe yuet (坐月).
The ingredients used in making pork knuckles and ginger stew are very nutritious, which help the new mother to recover. Calcium in the bones of the pork knuckles will be dissolved by the vinegar during the cooking process – a major nutritional value of the dish is to replenish the loss of calcium in pregnancy.
Moreover, not only is ginger rich in Vitamin C, which helps to strengthen the mother’s immune system, it also has the function of removing the “wind”, which is known as “fong” in Cantonese, that is generated during childbirth and when the body is at its weakest; ginger also helps lactation. Eggs provide the new mother with large amounts of protein, which is especially good for repairing muscles and the shells also dissolve calcium into the stew. A bowl of pork knuckles and ginger stew has nearly 600 kcal.
The main ingredients of Pork Knuckles and Ginger Stews are: pig trotters, ginger, sweet vinegar, eggs, salt, and oil.
The tradition is to cook this dish in a tall earthenware pot with a glazed interior. The acidic vinegar and cooking method will leach metals from iron or aluminum pots into the stew, more so than with water-based stews, so please do use the traditional earthenware pot or an equivalent.
According to legend in the early Ming Dynasty there lived a butcher who had the good fortune to marry a very pretty, kind and gumptious girl. However, their happiness was broken by the fact that even after several years of marriage, the wife was still without child. Now in traditional Chinese feudalism, there are three unfilial sins, and of these failure to bear a descendant to carry the family name is by far the most unforgivable. Therefore, the butcher’s mother forced the two to divorce.
The wife was heartbroken, leaving the family home she moved to a hut on a hill. However to her own surprise she found that she was now pregnant.
The butcher still loved his wife and visited her. When he received the news of her pregnancy, he was afraid that his wife and the newborn would be malnourished, so he brought her some unsold pork knuckles and stewed them in sweet black vinegar in a big pot together with ginger and eggs.
After several years, the child finally grew up. The wife forgave the butcher’s mother and returned with her son to the marital home and asked her son to take with him a pot of sweet vinegar stew as a gift for his grandmother. His grandmother was elated to receive him and the stew.
Thereafter, whenever a baby is born, the family will make a pot of sweet vinegar stew and share it with friends and neighbors.
According to Cantonese custom, Pork Knuckles and Ginger Stew is used to celebrate the birth of a child. The new parents will distribute this dish to their relatives and friends to herald the arrival of the newborn twelve days after the baby’s birth.
As a traditional ritual, families usually make the stew themselves, sometimes according to their own secret family recipes. In modern times people are less able to spend the time for the time-consuming preparation of the stew. In Hong Kong, Chinese herbal franchises such as Hung Fook Tong and vinegar maker Pat Chun have started selling ready-to-eat Pork Knuckle Stew.
Citizens, here is my secret and totally authentic version of this classic recipe. My version calls for the traditional black sugar of the region, called 黑糖 (hei tang in Mandarin), as well as the finest in aged, top-quality Chinese Zhenjiang vinegar. My secret addition used to be a few spoonfuls of the Chinese female tonic Dong Quai Jin, but that is now very difficult to find.
My new recipe uses a surprise ingredient from France – Chartreuse élixir végétal! This alcohol-based tonic uses more than 130 different roots, flowers and herbs of which angelica (the primary ingredient in Dong Quai Jin) is a primary recipe component. This recipe is more than 400 years old and was created specifically as a health tonic – read all about it here. If you decide to use it, you can purchase it here.
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