A melting pot of cultures is a great thing. Growing up, living near, and working in New York City affords the adventurous food eater many opportunities to dine like they live in other countries. However ethnically diverse an area may be, there are the little things that make home-cooked foods and family traditions still difficult to find and experience. Sure, I like to taste every ethnic food available to me, but there are still many things that just don’t make it to the menu. There are two specific food traditions that have been handed down in my Chinese family: “fon saw,” a pork filled dumpling encased in a doughy rice-based flour that is like no other you’ve ever tasted and “Joong” a Chinese version of the tamale. You can find forms of these in Chinatown but I’ve never purchased one that tastes as good as the recipe that was handed down in my family.
As my aunts are aging, I have decided to make sure that I am as adept at making these delicious treats so that I may continue the tradition for many more years. I’m going to document the recipe for the Chinese tamale called “Joong” from start to finish. Like most Chinese things, this food has a fantastical story to it. In 278 BC, Chinese scholar and poet Qu Yuan, a favored minister of the people but unpopular with the ruling regime, drowned himself out of despair because of accusations of conspiracy and wrongdoing by his prior sovereign. He was so beloved by the people that in order for the fish to spare his body, they threw joong into the river so that the fish would eat the tamales and not Qu Yuan.
Making joong is an undertaking that starts 30 days before by salt-preserving duck eggs. Amazingly, even in Manhattan, it was extraordinarily difficult to find duck eggs even at all the upscale foodie markets. I didn’t want to go to Chinatown for these - who knows, they could have been made with melamine. Instead, we got a dozen eggs from our friends Dan and Larry at By Pond Farm in NJ and the other dozen from John and Alex at Camp Hill Farm in Pomona, NY.
RECIPE: SALT-PRESERVED DUCK EGGS
2 dozen eggs
2 1/2 cup kosher salt
7 Tbs white wine
3 tsp peppercorns
14 cups water
Using a large vessel with a tight lid, add water and salt and mix until dissolved. Add the wine, peppercorns and carefully add all the eggs. Seal the container and let sit in a cool location out of direct light for 30 days. Drain and eggs are ready to use. For this recipe, you will want to use only the yolks. Look how gorgeous they came out.
You want to make this traditional food in large quantities both to share with family or to freeze and enjoy in the coming winter months. This is not a recipe that is easy and there is definite technique to the wrapping portion but once you get it, it’s easy to make. The effort is well worth it. It is a carbohydrate dense meal packet that is satisfying and takes little time to defrost and prepare once it is made. There is flexibility to this meal and ingredients can be added or taken away based on preference.
24-36 duck eggs done salt preserved 1 month in advance. See first recipe. The day of assembly, separate whites from the yolk and use only the yolk. They should look like large salmon eggs, congealed. Cut into quarters or halves depending on your preference.
2 packages of dried bamboo leaves submerged and soaked overnight
5-7 lbs Sweet Rice soaked for 30 minutes and drained. Add 2TBs sea salt and mix throughly. Set aside.
3-4 lbs split mung beans, soaked for 30 minutes, drained. Add 1 Tbs sea salt and mix throughly. Set aside.
1-1.5 lbs Chinese sausage “lap cheong”, steamed, skin removed and cut into 1/2” diagonal strips. Don’t get the lean variety.
3.5 lbs pork shoulder roast (or pork butt) cut into 3/4” pieces and salted overnight. My pork was from White Thunder Organics.
1 lb Dried Shrimp soaked for 30 minutes and drained
1 lb raw peeled peanuts
2 lbs chestnuts, frozen, steamed and drained
1 DAY IN ADVANCE:
Soak bamboo leaves in a large basin for at least 24 hours. You will need a few pots or bowls filled with water to weigh down leaves so they are completely submerged.
Soak and steam all necessary ingredients and have them “mise en place” for assembly.
2. For assembly see this video
on how to layer, fill, fold, wrap and tie the tamale. You will need 4 bamboo leaves for each Joong.
Have several large stockpots 3/4 full of water ready. Bring to boil and place joong in the pots enough to submerge them in the water. Bring back to boil then reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 4 hours.
4. Remove joong, cut twine, discard leaves and ENJOY! The rest can be easily frozen for 6+ months. To defrost, steam for 25-30 minutes.
This recipe was from my Aunt Betty and it is in memory of my Uncle Wing.