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Taiwanese Ro Geng (One LOOOOOOOONG recipe)

Pei | Aug 28, 200604:43 PM     5

Well, I finally did it. I put to words what my mother always refused to write down.

I can't promise that this is the most refined and/or tested of recipes, and I know for a fact that ro geng can drive you nuts the first time you try to make it. It's also one of those dishes that changes in each person's hands, which is part of the charm.

But I don't think it's as hard as everyone thinks it is, and it's one of the most unique flavors in Taiwanese cooking.

http://www.chezpei.com/2006/08/ro-gen... for a picture and neatly bullet pointed recipe.


This recipe is interesting in that it doesn't involve any complicated techniques or particularly exotic ingredients, but the prep work can kill you if you don't plan ahead and expect to be in the kitchen for a long time. I don't mind doing everything in one day, but you can save a lot of time but cutting everything up the day before and having it ready in the fridge. This recipe will make a large pot (six quart pot, not filled all the way to the top) of ro geng, which was perfect for dinner for three and leftovers the next day.

I don't measure when I cook Chinese food. Sorry. But honestly, this recipe is so flexible that if you see something you like you can double it without affecting flavor at all. Just don't double everything because you'll end up with three gallons of food.

Pork butt (shoulder), about 2.5 lbs
Fish paste, about 3/4 lbs
two 12 oz. cans of chicken stock
a small napa cabbage, or half a large one
ten shitake mushrooms, fresh or soaked overnight in water
a handful of dried shrimp, soaked overnight in water
three carrots
one 16 oz. can of slivered bamboo (not whole, not sliced--slivered!)
one package fresh enoki mushrooms, or canned if you can't find fresh
one package wood ear mushrooms if you can find them and if you like them
black vineger
white pepper
soy sauce
sesame oil
hondashi (optional)
rice and/or rice stick noodles for serving
Prep work (things to do the day before if you want)

For me, ro geng is as much about texture as flavor. If someone gave me a bowl of ro geng with all the right flavors in it, but all the ingredients were chopped up differently from how I like it, I don't think I would be able to eat it. It's kind of like how mac n' cheese has to be elbow macaroni, but ten times more important to me. This is why I haven't ordered ro geng in a restaurant ever in my entire life. I'm serious. Never. I don't even know what restaurant ro geng tastes like. I know, I'm a brat.

cut the meat against the grain into three inch long slices. Because pork butt has so many sections, you're going to have to turn the meat a lot and constantly check that you're cutting against the grain. It helps if the meat is slightly frozen. I wish I'd taken photos, but for ro geng it's actually desirable to have some pieces that are two pieces connected by a little tendon or fat. Just be sure to trim all the biggest chunks of fat and throw them away. This is probably the toughest part of the recipe to get right. The first itme I cut ro geng meat for my mom, my dad noticed right away. The pieces didn't even look different, I just hadn't been careful about the grain. But he bit into it and said "Hey, did you make this?" and my mom laughed and pointed at me.
clean the napa leaves and cut them in half horizontally (that is, separate the top leafy part from the bottom white part). Stack the two halves, and cut into finger-thick strips the other way. So basically, you're cutting the napa into strips using the grooves in the napa as a guide. Don't cut it too thin, or it will melt into the soup. Finger-thick is a good guide.
slice the shitake thinly, squeezing out all the water.
cut the dirty part off the enoki and separate the lightly
slice the wood ear thinly
chop cilantro. Whether you include the stems is up to you. I like to leave just a little stem for crunch.
another hard part: cut the carrots into long thin strips. I hate doing this, and it's impossible without a freshly honed knife. I cut a thin piece off one side of the carrot to give it a flat surface to lie on. Then I hold tight and start slicing at a diagonal so I can get big oblong discs about a milimeter thick. This is crucial. You don't want paper thin strips, but you don't want big sticks either. If you crack open your can of slivered bamboo strips you can see what you're going for. It's a pain in the a*&. Stack the discs and cut into strips. The sad thing is, ro geng sucks without carrots so you'll spend a good amount of time doing this.
Putting it all together

Add chicken stock to a pot of water (about a gallon total). Of course if you have homemade chicken or pork stock you can use that. Bring to a rapid boil.
Meanwhile, mix the pork slices and fish paste until all the pork is evenly coated. When the water comes to a boil, start dropping the coated pork in one slice at a time. Be sure not to let the pork drop in the water in clumps. Stir occassionally. It helps to have someone else stirring while you do this.
Turn down the flame to a simmer and add the dried shrimp. I usually do my cutting at this point and let the pork cook for ten or fifteen minutes. If you've already done your prep work, let it simmer for ten minutes before you start adding things.
Add the napa, bamboo, mushrooms, and carrots. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Add half a cup of soy sauce, half a cup of black vinegar, and a teaspoon of salt. Taste, and add more if needed. I actually use about a cup of vinegar and then more upon serving, but that's just me. If you're not sure if it needs more of something, leave it out and give it a chance to cook into the ingredients and for the soup to reduce slightly before you add too much and can't turn back.
Cover and let everything cook together at a bare simmer for half an hour or until the vegetables are soft.
Taste again. You'll most likely need more salt.
Mix half a cup of cornstarch with half a cup of cold water and mix well. It should be the consistency of whole milk. Make sure there are no lumps. Bring the soup to a light boil. While stirring, add half the cornstarch mixture in a thin stream. Stir well so you don't get big clumps. Let the soup simmer so it thickens up. You're going for a gooey consistency kind of like gravy, but thinner than clam chowder out of a can. Add more cornstarch if needed. I usually need to use the whole half cup. People are weirded out that ro geng does look a bit slimey, but that's all part of the appeal.
Add a tablespoon or two of sesame oil and stir well. Like all stews, it's better the next day. But it's better straight out of the pot than many stews.
Serving suggestions

Ro geng can be eaten alone
Ro geng can be eaten over rice
Ro geng can be eaten with egg noodles
Ro geng can be eaten with Chinese wheat noodles
But my favorite way to eat ro geng is with rice stick noodles.
Top with tons of cilantro, plenty of white pepper, and additional black vinegar if you want to be hip with the in crowd.

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