Aug 25

Bak Kut Teh: Done two ways

Bak Kut Teh Soup1



Bak Kut Teh ~ almost everyone back home can relate to this dish, and it is a thriving food business, especially in the Klang Valley. It is made using pork ribs, pork belly and sometimes, offal … all stewed (for hours) in a fragrant herbal broth; good for banishing the chills on a wet rainy day. Large vats of this stuff is simmered to perfection and is served simply, with steamed rice and deep fried dough sticks called  ‘yu tiao‘. Bak Kut Teh is usually served after dark, and there are some establishments that serve up this stuff all night long and well into the early hours of the morning.


Now, I don’t cook a lot of pork in my house and there are a limited number of pork dishes I truly like. Most of the time I live on chicken, but there are days where the urge to have Bak Kut Teh just hits and there is no turning it off; I have to just shut up and make it. It’s just one of those things I guess.


All my life I have only ever known one version of Bak Kut Teh, and that is the soup variety … but just a few years back, when I was visiting Kuala Lumpur, my friends introduced me to the braised version and, OMG, it was stellar! Rich, unctuous chunks of pork, all coated in thick sauce and flecks of dried chilli. Often there would be okra in there too, but my homemade version today will omit this ingredient since R. has an aversion to all things green on his plate.



Bak Kut Teh Dry2



R. only likes the dry version of BKT, I like the original version … so today I had to make both as a compromise. Turned out really good, even though it’s not as good as the ones sold at the shops. It can never be as good as the shop’s, EVER … they all have their secret recipes so I will have to contend with second best. Never the less, this attempt was a rounding success and R. ate all his dinner. Whew!


The important thing to have when you embark on BKT is to have the appropriate spices. They are very specific, and come in a single packet … hooray, convenience! I guess you can also buy the herbs and spices individually but I do not know their names. I do know cinnamon and star anise are in there … but the rest remain a mystery. Pieces of bark and a few roots, some weird curly stuff … etc. No idea what they are called, but the minute you rip open the sachet you will instantly know they are for making BKT soup, the fragrance is that distinct. I guess we all take the herbs for granted because we all can simply pop down to our local grocery store and pick up one of these packets.



Bak Kut Teh3




The other important component is thick, juicy chunks of pork ribs … the bones help flavour the broth and the meat holds up to the long simmering process. Whole heads of garlic are tossed into the pot as well (vampires beware!) and if you wish you can add mushrooms, puffed tofu and cuttlefish too, depending on your taste. For me, I like sticking to originals, so I am keeping mine pretty basic ~ just ribs and pork belly.




Bak Kut Teh Soup.


1.5 – 2 kg pork ribs + pork belly

1 packet Bak Kut Teh spices

1 whole head of garlic

2 shallots, whole

2 tbsp oyster sauce

3 tbsp soya sauce

Enough water to cover all the meat.



First, portion up the meat into manageable pieces. Then fill a large pot with cold water and place the meat into the pot. Blanche on high heat  to remove impurities and skim off all the grey froth that collects on the top.


Reduce the heat and now add in all the herbs and spices. Sometimes they come as loose components, and sometimes they come in a teabag, already ground to a fine powder. Just dump everything in along with the shallots, garlic and all the sauces. Leave to simmer for 2 hours. And that’s pretty much it. You have now made yourself a pot of basic Bak Kut Teh. Garnish with coriander and serve with rice.



Bak Kut Teh Soup (640x426)



Now to make the braised version, a kind of sauce has to be make using the broth of the BKT and some of the softened meat. To be openly honest, I have no idea how to go about making this braised version, so I am simply taking tips from other blogs and food articles I have found on the internet.


Typically, the braise is simmered and served in a claypot, but since I have no such thing here, I simply made mine in a regular saucepan. I removed some of the meat from the bones and I used some of the pre-cooked pork belly. I also added some fresh ginger, dried chillies, shallots and garlic. To make the sauce I used dark caramel, soy sauce, sugar and vinegar.



Bak Kut Teh2 (640x427)



Also, keep the softened garlic and shallots from the soup pot. These add a different layer of flavour to that of the fresh ingredients. Heat oil in the pan and sautee off the ginger, garlic, shallots and dried chillies on low heat. Once they are soft and fragrant, add about a cup of BKT broth.


Now add the soy sauce and thick dark soy sauce, sugar and a splash of vinegar. Heat on high until mixture thickens and liquid has reduced to almost a syrup. Taste to see if you are happy with your seasoning.


Add in the cooked meat and coat in the sauce. Simmer gently until you achieve a semi-sticky, glossy dark sauce. Flavour will be intense considering you have reduced the liquid down by three-quarters. Watch how much soy sauce you use in the beginning … and be sure to balance out the flavour with the sugar and vinegar.



Bak Kut Teh Braise


2 cups cooked meat, taken off the bone

1 garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

3 slices ginger

3 – 8 dried chillies

1 cup BKT broth

1 tbsp light soy

1 tbsp thick dark soy

2 tsp light brown sugar

1 tsp vinegar

fried shallots, for garnish

spring onions, for garnish



Dish out into bowls and garnish with spring onions and fried shallots. In the shops, the dry BKT is simmered in a claypot and served in the same receptacle. Hot tea is almost always taken with this meal to undercut the richness of the meat and the greasiness of the fried dough sticks.



Bak Kut Teh Soup2



Bak Kut Teh Dry3



Some people swear that you have to eat these delectable pork dishes with onion rice (white rice that has been cooked with sauteed shallots and broth) … but again, I have yet to learn that recipe. For now I prefer to have my BKT with plain rice, as I have always done since I was a kid.


So, the next time you find yourself in Kuala Lumpur, treat yourself to one of the best food in the world … I URGE you!! The flavour can’t be beat and it will seriously make your insides happy. It is not easy getting the herbs if you are living overseas, so I rely on good friends to supply me with the stuff. Hence, it is my humble opinion, that if you choose to live overseas, choose to live in an area close to Chinatown.



~ Enjoy!! ~




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