If I were to describe bak kut teh as per my very own experiences with them, it will have to be a claypot dish on its own in which the pork ribs are cooked in a herbal soup base infused with a concoction of herbs and spices. Savory in general, the pot of soup with such a herbal richness is made wholesome and complete with the addition of other simple ingredients - assorted mushrooms (shiitake, button and enoki to name a few), fried tofu puffs, deep fried bean curd sheets and some greens, among the common few. Great served with a bowl of plain white rice, yam rice or the fried shallot oil infused rice, they go exceptionally well with a side serving of crispy crullers with birds eye chilies and minced garlic in sweet dark soy sauce as the dipping sauce on the side. Too big a picture to take in? Maybe lol. But when you have found a good place serving bak kut teh that suits your very own taste according to your personal liking, having bak kut teh has got to be one of the few that always comes a maximum satisfaction guaranteed each time.
Making this at home comes rather easily especially when you have managed to recognize and get hold of a spice mix meant for making a good serving of bak kut teh. With that in hand and those few essential ingredients to be incorporated together, time will be the remaining factor before you have a pot of bak kut teh simmering away within your very comfort zone, filling your home with a lingering robust and intense aroma as the cooking goes on. Moving here, it was months later before I spotted the first pack of bak kut teh spice mix with a brand most Malaysian will be familiar with - Yeo's. One single try and I have ended up going back to the same Chinese grocer to stock up on these spice mix since. They are in fact the best that I have come to try thus far, and never could I have been more satisfied with the pot of bak kut teh that we do get at home these days.
Making bak kut teh at home is one that I have always made sure that they come more than enough for just a meal or two. The fact that they never fail to taste better the longer they are left to simmer makes it a reason good enough to be having the same for the day or two after. So do aim a little more than what your tummy can accommodate - chances are they will always leave you wanting for more as soon as you are done with your first round of bak kut teh!
Bak Kut Teh (Spare Ribs Soup) 肉骨茶
2 packs pre-packed Yeo's Bak Kut Teh herbs and spices mix
~3.5lbs pork ribs (or baby back ribs)
12 shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and soaked to soften then the hard ends trimmed
1 can button mushroom, drained
2 small packs enoki mushrooms (~5oz each), trimmed
100g fried tofu puffs
4 whole bulbs garlic, outer skin removed, rinsed
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
4 tsps light soy sauce
2½ tbsps oyster sauce
salt to taste
Side ingredients (amount decided according to personal preference)
1/4 iceberg lettuce, leaves loosened and rinsed
2 large dried bean curd sheets, torn to 4 to 6 smaller pieces, deep fried over medium-high heat
2 pairs crispy crullers, heated as per instructions on the packaging then cut into bite sizes
8 birds eye chilies, cut thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps ABC sweet dark soy sauce
½ tsp light soy sauce
1. Begin with getting the pork ribs ready. Trim any visible fat off the ribs, rinse and have them chopped into smaller and manageable sized pieces. Bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch these ribs in batches to have the scums removed. Set aside.
2. In a stock pot, bring 6L of water to boil. Bring in the bags of spice mix, pork ribs, shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, fried tofu puffs and garlic bulbs into the pot. Let boil for about 15 minutes then turn the heat down to medium low. Let simmer for a minimum of 3 to 4 hours (I will usually have mine started early in the morning and left to simmer undisturbed right until dinner time).
3. Just slightly before they are ready, add in the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, oyster sauce and salt to taste. Toss in the enoki mushrooms. Let simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Transfer the bak kut teh to a claypot. Top the clay pot with some lettuce leaves and deep fried bean curd sheets. Serve the crispy crullers in a separate bowl on the side alongside the dipping sauce.
5. Serve with a bowl of rice of your choice. I had mine served this time around with the fried shallot oil infused rice. To make this, cook the rice as usual with a rice cooker. When the water starts boiling, add in about 2 tbsps of crispy fried shallots and 1 tbsp of the shallot oil into the rice cooker. As they get cooked, the rice will eventually get infused with the aroma coming from the shallots.
With plenty of bak kut teh remaining from the first night, I had them served with some vermicelli the next day - comforting one especially a chilly weather, wholesome on the whole and simply refreshing an idea. Try it for yourself, they will not disappoint!