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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Somen in Pig Maw and Chicken Soup 猪肚鸡汤寿面

It officially marked the very first day to winter yesterday, so promptly greeted with the snowy weather that we had throughout the day yesterday. Returning from our anniversary trip to Las Vegas just the past weekend, hubby and I both are now again in our battle against the seasonal flu that we thought we had just recovered from not that long just prior to our trip - pretty much thanks to the sleepless nights and overindulging ourselves in the endless lines of great food, particularly the part on overdoing the liquor (oops). With our lifestyle going haywire in the sin city, the few crazy nights had surely knocked some consciousness into me at the end of the trip, something that I have to involuntarily accept now - that I probably am slightly beyond my age for those stuff ever again lol. Day 5 of feeling under the weather (and still counting), well this should prove that there must be some truth to that little fact check there, and that I should really be thinking twice before ever engaging myself in any of those again in the future. Sign of repentance? Oh yea, I bet it is lol.

We have an unusually cold weather here in Michigan yesterday, the lowest it has got thus far (but then again the tough days are just about to start! grrrrrrrrrrr). Feeling all so sulky on the whole, I guess it's a thing good enough that I have this little craving left stirring in me still - chicken soup! This somen in pig maw and chicken soup 猪肚鸡汤寿面 is pretty much a fusion of my mom's chicken soup and my mom-in-law's somen. Mom's chicken soup comes with a whole chicken cut into pieces, a variety of mushrooms, and dried scallops - clear and yet so very flavorful and nutritious it makes itself such a great comfort food on its own. Mom-in-law's somen on the other hand, has always been the iconic dish at home (in which the noodle represents longevity in general) especially to the many auspicious days Chinese do celebrate - Chinese New Year and birthdays among the few. Served with pig maw soup with some greens, crispy fried seaweed and deep fried shallots, this is a tradition of the Putian people, or Xinghua 兴化人, a Han ethnic group from Putian, Fujian - dad-in-law's origin.

Cleaning the pig maw is one that really only gets better with experience. I can never forget how my first experience with it turned out to be a real disaster. I spent some good four hours at it before I was convinced that they are good to be incorporated into my pot of simmering chicken soup back then. Your second try will naturally take a lot less time than the first and the next time you are at it again, you will then realize that you would have gotten the hang of it by then. But generally this is how I usually get mine done.
  • Trim off any visible fat on the stomach lining. 
  • Inverting the stomach cavity, scrape the lining with a butter knife, mainly to remove as much slimy impurities as possible. This is where it takes up most of the time with cleaning a pig maw. So do practice a little patience here, because once this is over, you are pretty much done. Keep the scraping going - rinse occasionally, and repeat all over again. My cue to stop? When you get less and less from scraping, you hold it better with hands (especially with the slime lessening over time) and the smell gets more tolerable.
  • It should be good to go now, but I usually do end mine with a bout of dry rubbing with corn flour in and out to remove whatever it is capable of removing, followed by a good rinse after.
  • Repeat the dry rubbing now with a good amount of sea salt. Finish with a good rinse using warm water. A little more boiling and dry frying (a little more elaborated in the recipe part as they come) and that is it! 
Tedious? Maybe, but practice really does make perfect. These days, it takes not much more than half an hour to get them squeaky clean. And the best part about it? Doing it yourself at home means you know exactly the quality of the pig maw you are getting into the pot of chicken soup and of utmost importance, what your family ingests as it gets served on the table later. So worth it!

Somen in Pig Maw and Chicken Soup 猪肚鸡汤寿面   
Serves 4-6
4-6 bundles of somen (or mee sua or any other types of noodles)
1 bunch of Chinese mustard green (choy sum), rinsed and trimmed then cut into 2" sections, stems and leaves separated
4-6 hard boiled eggs (one per serving)
crispy fried shallots for garnishing 

Pig maw and chicken soup
1 whole chicken (~4.5lbs)
1 pig maw (~1.3lbs), cleaned
1 handful dried scallops (optional), rinsed
12 shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and soaked to soften then sliced thickly
2 small packs of enoki mushroom (~5oz each), trimmed
3 tbsps whole white peppercorns, lightly crushed
~ 7L of water
salt to taste

1. Begin with preparing the soup. Have it started early in the day and leave to simmer for as long as you possibly can. The longer the simmering time, the better the soup will be infused with flavor coming from all the ingredients. Start with bringing the water to boil in a stock pot over high heat. The starting amount of water may look a bit too much to begin with, but as the simmering goes, the water will eventually drop to an acceptable level.
2. Meanwhile, trim and cut the chicken into pieces - thighs, legs, wings and breast. Whether to further cut them into smaller pieces is optional. I usually opt not to, so that they are at a smaller chance of disintegrating after the long simmering hours. Blanch them briefly in a pot of hot water and set aside.    
3. Transfer the chicken pieces into the stock pot with boiling water. Add in whole white peppercorns (preferably in a wire mesh or a spice bag), dried scallops and shiitake mushrooms. Let boil for about 15 minutes before bringing the heat down to medium-low. Cover and let simmer away.
4. With the cleaned pig maw, bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch the pig maw for a minute or two. The pig maw will appear to set taking the shape of a pouch. Remove from heat and drain.
5. Bring a wok or skillet to heat on high heat. Bring in the pig maw and dry fry it against the wall of wok or skillet (my mom's golden piece of advice - it should further reduce the smell of the pig maw which I indeed find true!). Turn and keep moving the pig maw around the wok or skillet until it dries up and the skin gets slightly browned. Set aside and let cool. When cooled down enough, cut into pieces. Be sure not to slice them into pieces too small. Moderate size always gives better texture (I will recommend pieces measuring about 2"x1"). At this point, you can choose to bring them into the pot of chicken soup and simmer along (they get softer over time) or you can choose to bring them in later to retain a firmer texture. I personally like their texture after having them simmered for about 2 to 3 hours, so adjust your time according to how you personally prefer them to be.
6. Right before serving time, add in salt to the pot of chicken soup to taste. This is when the enoki mushrooms should go into the pot too.
7. Bring a pot of water to boil and add in a pinch of salt. Begin by blanching the stems of the Chinese mustard green first before bringing in the leaves. Once wilted and turning slightly translucent, drain well and set aside.
8. Cook the somen according to the instructions on the packaging. Divide into individual serving bowls.
9. Ladle in the soup with chicken, some shiitake and enoki mushrooms and some pig maw slices. Top with some greens on the side and a hard boiled egg each.
10. Garnish with the crispy fried shallots, and serve with birds eye chilies in soy sauce on the side.

And considering that it was the winter solstice yesterday, our dessert for the night had got to be this - the glutinous rice dumplings with black sesame and peanuts fillings in ginger syrup! Happy Winter Solstice to everyone!

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