I started living on my own since I was 18. Cooking was clumsy at first. I remember being a guest at a friend’s house, and being the sweet girl that I am, I offered her some help. She took up my offer and requested that I chop up some garlic. So I did, I grabbed a butcher knife and hacked up that garlic with movements Paul Bunyan would have been proud of. Of course, the garlic was flying everywhere but at least some decided to stay on the cutting board. It was chopped splendidly albeit wastefully. I received encouraging looks from my friend that day (don’t you just hate those looks?). I may not be an expert, but now I can make just about anything. I can make a cake from scratch, wrap up some spices and boil some broth to make pho blindfolded if I wanted to. And yet, if you look in my cupboard, there are some instant pho noodles. There’s no doubt in my mind that mine tastes immensely better, but sometimes I just want something that’s familiar, something nostalgic from childhood.
Cambodian Kaw Sach Chrouk: Comfort food that feeds the heart
My parents recently moved to Cambodia, and lately, I’ve been thinking about them a lot. Before, I can just go over to their place if I crave my mother’s cooking. She’ll act annoyed saying I should learn how to cook like a proper lady since we apparently still live in the 1920s. She’ll start snipping at my failings, all the while grabbing the various spices and ingredients, and by the end of our long conversation, the food would be done. And am a better cooker after it all (no need for a weekend culinary school for me). I always found that annoying, but yet endearing because she cares enough to notice everything little things about me, even the little bad things, no matter how far apart we live (am I the only one who enjoy long distance nags over the phone?). During Cambodian festivals, she’ll call me to come with her to the temple. I would go to the morning ceremony at the temple, but would usually skip out on the night celebration, it was just too chaotic for me. For the temple, she’ll wake up at 6:00 am to prepare elaborate meals such as Cambodian curry, complex stir fries she usually wouldn’t make, and a variety of sweets and Num Ansom. But the main dish I always look forward to was her Cambodian caramelized pork —one of many Cambodia’s classic meals. Till now, it has always been the food that I seek for comfort, that something familiar that brings you home.
There are many different cuts of pork out there, and depending on my mood, I’ll make a different variation of it —the full-blown comfort food version with whole slabs of pork belly, fat, skin and all, or the low-calorie comfort food version using pork shoulder/butt. The latter being much healthier, but I do love my pork belly, and when it comes to comfort food, I usually go for the gusto! For this meal, to balance out the rich, hearty flavour of the braised pork and eggs, we usually accompany it with freshly sliced cucumbers, Cambodian pickled mustard greens or slices of tomato and herbs. If you enjoy comfort food, give this recipe a try. It is simply delicious.
Cambodian Kaw Sach Chrouk
- 2 lbs pork belly or shoulder or feet or combo cubed
- 5 hardboil eggs peeled
- 1 can bamboo shoot tips guartered
- 900 ml chicken broth
- 1/3 cup can or palm sugar to caramelize
- 3 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 knob ginger minced
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon shallot minced
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sweet soy sauce
- 2 pinch salt
- Mix the marinade ingredients into a large bowl. Slice your pork into medium sized chunks and put it into the same bowl. Marinade for at least an hour to as long as overnight.
- Remove the bamboo shoots from the can and drain the juice. Rinse and cut them into quarters. Set aside for now. Boil some eggs for 10-15 minutes then let stand in how water for another 10 minutes. Peel.
- Place your thickest-bottomed-pot on the stove and put the heat to medium. Evenly coat the bottom of the pan with your cane or palm sugar. Allow it to melt and caramelize. Once it starts caramelizing, stir it frequently until the sugar is a dark brown. Don't let it burn or there will be a burnt taste in the stew. You definitely don't want that. When the sugar looks brown enough, add your pork into the pot and stir to distribute the sauce evenly on the pork. Allow the pork to cook in the sugar for at least five minutes.
- Add the bamboo shoots, fish sauce, chicken broth, and eggs. Add just enough water to cover everything. Now add in the star anise and stir the entire mixture well. Bring the entire pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer (medium low heat). Simmer for at least two 30 minutes. Skim any scum that rises. Taste it after it simmers for 30 minute and see if it’s salty enough for you. If not, add some more fish sauce or salt. I usually leave the lid uncover, and simmer for an hour or more until the meat is super tender and the broth is thicker.