Before you begin – soy sauce

Soy Sauce. Not so very long ago you could simply buy a bottle of ‘soya sauce’. There were, in fact two other sauces available, produced by Conimex and called ‘bentang ketjap manis’ and ‘bentang ketjap asin’. You did not have to be a genius to work out that ‘manis’ meant ‘sweet’ and ‘asin’ meant ‘salty’. I am not sure that it occurred to any of us that bentang ketjap was simply Indonesian soy sauce and that sweet and salty were two preferred Indonesian varieties. The point I am making is that each country in Asia has its own version of soy sauce made from soy beans. They are not interchangeable. Using bentang ketjap manis in Japanese cooking instead of Japanese shoyu is absolutely unthinkable. Chinese soy sauce is not a convenient catch all for all other Asian countries’ versions of soy sauce, although I found Korean soy very similar to Chinese soy in some cases, and more like Japanese shoyu in others. Not surprising, I suppose when you consider where Korea is situated.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that every Asian country has different kinds of soy sauce. China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam all have dark and light soy sauces. Those of Thailand and Vietnam are fairly interchangeable, as are those of China and Korea. I am not sure about Malaysia. Geok uses Chinese soy sauce, but then her parents were Chinese. I suspect that many Malays use a soy sauce similar to that used by the Indonesians, in which case the two main kinds are sweet and salty, rather than light and dark.

As a general rule, use light soy sauce with seafood, poultry and white meats, dark soy sauce when cooking red meat.

San choy bow

My original recipe for San Choy Bow made with pork mince was typed out on a scatty bit of paper and given to me by Mr.Bradfield, that scandalously expensive butcher at Oriel Park. I have no idea why he gave it to me, since I bought meat from him very rarely.  The scatty bit of paper has long since disappeared and of course, we have all since realised that San Choy Bow should be made, not with pork mince, but with cooked duck meat as part of Peking Duck.

So pork San Choy Bow is probably not authentic, (although the Thais do have a similar recipe also made with pork and served wrapped in lettuce leaves, called Issan Ground Pork.) Nevertheless San Choy Bow is a welcome relief from the boredom of normal meals. Kids, if ever any of you remember to have any, think that eating their meal out of  a lettuce leaf is just great. San Choy Bow is just as good made with chicken mince or finely chopped duck meat.

1 kg pork mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 good knob of peeled fresh ginger, crushed or grated
Oil for cooking
4 – 6 green onions, finely chopped
1 small tin of water chestnuts,
2 – 3 small red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
250ml (approximately) chicken stock
2 tablespoons shaoshing rice wine
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornflour dissolved in ½ cup of water or chicken stock. to thicken

Fresh young lettuce leaves, preferably iceberg,  to serve.

To separate the lettuce leaves so they don’t tear, use a knife and remove the stalk of the lettuce and run cold water into the lettuce for a minute. Soak the lettuce in cold water for an hour, then drain, cover and chill until ready to serve. This will ensure its texture remains crisp.

Heat oil in a wok, add garlic and ginger and cook to release the flavours. Remove garlic and ginger with a slotted spoon. Add minced pork to the oil and cook, stirring until all the mince has changed colour and has broken up. Add green onions, water chestnuts and chilli stir through.

Add chicken stock and cook, uncovered until pork is cooked. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and shaoshing wine and stir well to combine. Allow the mixture to reduce and thicken a little if necessary.

Give the cornflour mixture a big stir and add.  Stir in well. Toss and stir the pork until
cornflour has glazed all of the pork and the mixture has thickened.

Transfer to a serving dish with another platter containing fresh young lettuce leaves.

Guests take a lettuce leaf, place a spoonful of San Choy Bow, in the leaf, wrap it and eat it as finger food.

Serves 4.