Rich and hearty is the best way to describe the Pork Vinegar Soup. In Cantonese it's known as Zhu Jiao Jiang which means "pigs feet in vinegar." This soup does require a little bit of an adventuresome spirit, but it is well worth it. If you like deep sweetness of BBQ, this isn't that far off. Most people who try it can't get enough.
Pork Vinegar Soup is the ultimate traditional Cantonese post-natal healing soup. Sweetened rice vinegar extracts the marrow from the pork in this rich broth. Ginger gives this soup a distinctive flavor. Boiled eggs are typically added for protein. This soup is traditionally made to fortify mother's milk, but it is often brought by family members (male and female) who like to share it in celebration of the new baby. If you have dry skin, it is also a soup that helps bring more vitality to your complexion.
- 5-8 lbs pork trotters
- 3 lbs ginger
- 2 gallons of sweetened rice vinegar.
1. First find yourself a ceramic pot. OK, it's fine to use other pots, but ceramic pots have different thermal properties than a metal pot and it makes a difference in the way it stews. Good alternatives to your standard metal stock pot are a slow cooker or dutch oven.
2. Next, go to the butcher and get yourself some pork trotters. Front feet or back feet will work. You should get enough to fill about half the pot. I recommend getting about 5-8 lbs total of either trotters, pork butt and/or pork hock. Call around to western butchers first and see if they have these cuts. And, ideally you would get a naturally raised, non-corn fed pig. If you are lucky enough to have a Chinese market nearby go there! Ranch 99 was a great place to go, all the meat was cut to fit in a pot.
Here's a disgusting part of the prep - pigs are little bit hairy, so it's nice to remove the hair with a razor before you cook it. I was using a straight razor to get some of the tough hairs. My sister-in-law suggested burning the hairs off with the creme brulee torch. That wasn't that easy. Plucking the hairs was also hard. So, razor it is!
Get those pork pieces into the pot and immerse it all in water to blanch the meat. Bring it to a boil and discard the water. You'll find that this is another test of your moxie for making this soup. There are so many impurities in the pork that come out with this first boil. If you don't do it, it's not the end of the world, but it is recommended!
3. It's time to prep and toss in the ginger. The ginger needs to be peeled and cut into 1/2" discs. I like using gloves and a spoon to prep the ginger since the ginger juice really stings and burns the hands. There's a lot of "heat" in ginger and when you handle it like this you realize how true that is.
4. Now, add the sweetened rice vinegar. This is a special ingredient that you will only find in a Chinese market. And once you're there you'll find many types of vinegar on the shelf. Which one should you choose?
Vinegar uses a natural fermentation that has been linked to health benefits in many traditions. They come in many different flavors (think rice vinegar to red wine vinegar to apple cider vinegar, this is the tip of the iceberg!) In China, vinegar is commonly believed to prevent the spread of disease. In traditional Chinese medicine, vinegar enters the Stomach and Liver to invigorate the blood, stop bleeding, and improve digestion.
I decided I needed to see what the difference was. I bought a few different brands. And then, my brother Ed got out the cups, and we started to sip and smell, just like wine. Oh, but not entirely like wine tasting at all! In comparison, there were notes that tasted saltier, or sweeter, or spicy. Our favorite also had the shortest list of ingredients! If you would like to make your own pork vinegar soup, I recommend picking up Pearl River Bridge brand of sweetened rice vinegar at your local Chinese grocery. You can also experiment by adding black rice vinegar (not sweetened), apple cider vinegar, or brown sugar. These are all variations found in our research about this soup.
5. Put it on simmer. So, it's all in the pot - pork, ginger, and vinegar. Bring it to boil on low and let it simmer for hours. A minimum cooking time is 3 hours. If it's in the slow cooker let it go all day or all night. You may start with more vinegar than fits in the pot, but just restock as it gets boiled down. Skim the fat from the top as needed. Throw in a dozen eggs to boil in the soup. It's ready to serve once the meat has fallen off the bone and the eggs are cooked through.
Pork vinegar soup is an amazing traditional soup. It was one of the only soups that squelched my hunger when I was nursing. I know I had more energy after eating this soup on a regular basis and it did help milk production. You can ask my sister-in-law Lien, she filled her freezer and my freezer with milk after having this soup every day for a few weeks straight.
It is most effective when eaten on a regular basis, but a word of warning - this is not a skinny soup. Regular consumption is great for someone who needs tons of energy because their body is being put to the test with recovery and milk production.
There were some warnings that the elders gave me about the soup. Don't drink it during pregnancy, it simply has too much "heat" and don't drink it if you are recovering from a Cesarean. Wait until the incision has healed. Then dig in!
The smell of this soup always fills the house with its sweetness and will forever remind me of the times when my babies were first born. I look forward to making and tasting the soup again when the next little baby comes along.