April 18, 2014

Salted Mustard or Gong Chai

 “If we could eliminate the concept of town and return to live in small villages, all world problems were solved.”
Rossana Condoleo

Gong in Foochow means a big earthern jar. Chai means vegetables. The Fujian people would pickle or salt their summer vegetables so that they could have enough preserved vegetables during the Autumn and Winter.

One of the favourite preserved vegetables the Foochows of Sibu love is the Gong Chai, or simply Jar Preserved (salted) vegetable. But the vegetable is the huge species of braod leaved mustard green only available in Fujian of China. Some people call it Heart Mustard, others call it Swatow Mustard. The Foochows call it Gua Chai.

Visiting my favourite Wet Market hawker for my preserved mustard greens. You need not buy half portion. She can cut the portion you want, so you need only to spend one ringgit or so. As we do not really need a lot if we just want to steam some fish.

This preserved vegetable is a good item to have at home.

When a visitor drops by unexpectedly, this vegetable can be prepared with some pork (meat or rib bones) to make an excellent soup. Another good soup is preparing it with fresh fish. And another good dish is using it to flavour steamed fish Together with some tofu, and steamed, it is a dish good enough for kings.

A good stir fry with some chillies can pep up the table too.

But what is most wonderful is its presence at the table when we have porridge. It is a must have as a condiment whenever we have porridge. The saltiness, the sourness and the great appetising flavours are beyond measures.

Even when it is cleaned, marinated in sugar and chillies, it is just a good cold salad by itself.

Eating this preserved vegetable always reminds me of the days when my maternal grandmother came to visit and we would always have the awesome rib bone soup with gong chai.

Perhaps you would like to make your own homemade pickled vegetable?

Heart Mustard Cabbage 包心芥菜

1/2 kg swatow mustard green
1 tsp sea salt

Solution for pickling
100 gm rock sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tsp sea salt
2 cups boiled water.

Soak the vegetable in a basin of water for about half an hour. Cut the vegetable vertically into two equal portions (trim away any brown spots) and wash it under running water until clean. Make sure the areas in-between stems are also washed.
Massage the mustard green (especially on its cut surfaces) with 1/2 tea spoon of salt and let it stand for about an hour. This helps draw out bitterness from the veggie.
Mix salt, sugar and water for pickling in a pot, swirl over heat to melt them down completely. Remove from heat, let cool and mix in vinegar.
Bring about 3 to 4 cups of water in a pot to the boil; put the salted mustard green (but discard any juice) in the pot to blanch. The water shall stop bubbling as soon as it is loaded with the vegetable. Wait till the water boils up again, about 1 to 2 minutes, then dish up the mustard green. Drain excess water, let cool and cut each half vertically into two equal portions.
Get a sterilized bottle or jar (with cover) which is large enough to contain both the solution and vegetable (mine is about 1 liter in volume). Plunge in the cooled mustard green into the bottle, and pour in the solution. Make sure the vegetable is fully submerged in liquid. Cover.
The mustard green shall turn yellowish the next day. Wait another 2 to 3 days at room temperature for the flavors to develop further before serving (see below). For storage, transfer to fridge.

If you do not like to use vinegar, you can use 1/4 cup cooled porridge water .

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