Tuesday, August 11, 2015
"Why is the soup called ABC?"
I asked on Instagram and got all sorts of (some rather weird) answers. I don't remember asking my mother. I just know it remains as my all time favorite Chinese slow-cooked soup even now. Yes, it's up there with lotus root octopus, watercress duck or pig stomach but ultimately, I can have this soup every day, at any hour.
Life in the food and beverage service industry is hard, truly only those who are living it can understand. Sometimes we don't eat well, other times we don't get to eat at all until we're simply too tired to be bothered with lifting a spoon. Forgotten meals in the fridge is commonplace and going to bed hungry a job hazard, because sleep trumps food when the next shift starts in just a few hours. As we strive to take care of our customers, it is easy to forget about ourselves.
In most establishments the team is like a dysfunctional family, ours is no different. Each crew with his or her own character and various nuances, trying to find a balance between life at home while maintaining the energy demanded by those who walk through our doors. Relationship problems, ailing parents and fatigue due to constant moonlighting are not what we need on top of those long hours. With all that, when it comes down to that moment our bodies protest in raging hunger, we just need something that will go down easy.
Something warm. Preferably with some love. Tasting delicious an appreciated bonus.
As Lee Westcott put it so accurately in his quote in this article about family meal, we try to make them right. While prepping for dinner service, that favorite cast iron pot tenderly brew a simple concoction over a low, gentle heat. As the crew pass by the kitchen bussing tables and doing dishes, they inhale with anticipation and sometimes wonder, what the cook on makanai (まかない Japanese for staff meal) duty is preparing for everyone.
So with this tiny encouragement, they scrub that plate harder and walk to that rather loud customer faster, looking forward to that short moment of solace when they can finally sit down by the pass with nourishment for themselves, temporarily forgetting about the hustle and bustle at the front of house.
A Bowl of Comfort is what I'd say this is all about.
Recipe is completely based on estimation of how my parents made the soup, in Malay we say "agak-agak". Adjust accordingly to your own preferences.
- 500-600 grams pork ribs (I like soft bones mixed with some hard ribs)
- 1 large carrot, sliced diagonally
- 1 large boiling or russet potato, peeled and halved
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved
- 1 tomato, skin on
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorn (optional)
- 1.5 liters water
- salt to taste
In a medium pot or wok, bring about 1 liter of water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables accordingly. As this soup is slow cooked, I like to cut them large so they don't disintegrate and cloud the soup at the end. At the end of 2 hours, the onion will peel its layers easily and potato soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, so go easy on the knife work.
Blanch pork ribs in the boiling water for about 2 minutes, then rinse with cold water, and set aside. (Blanching any longer will dilute the pork flavor, so I prefer to skim off any remaining scum from the soup as it begins cooking.) In the pot of your choice (I use a cast iron pot, you can use any pot suitable for slow cooking), place the blanched pork ribs and the rest of the ingredients (except salt). Add water and bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for at least 1 1/2 hours. For best results, cook on the lowest simmering heat possible for up to 2 hours. Season to taste with salt.
Serve warm as is or with the rest of your meal. When keeping leftover soup, remove the tomato (if not eaten). Soup keeps well refrigerated for up to 3 days.
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Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
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