May 17, 2009
By Chris Tan
Q I have a recipe for 'kow yoke' (steamed yam with pork belly) which calls for red fermented beancurd or 'nam yu'. However, I can't find it in supermarkets. Is it the same as fermented soya beans? What can I substitute it with? Is it necessary to deep-fry the sliced yam and pork? Can I just steam them?
Olivia Wong Phaik Leng
A Nam yu melds pungently beany notes with a sweet, aromatic, almost wine-like funkiness - a unique character nearly impossible to mimic with other ingredients. The closest substitute would be taucheo (salted fermented soybeans), red miso or barley miso, spiked with a little sugar and some good rice wine.
Fortunately, you can buy nam yu from most wet market Chinese dry goods stalls, and supermarkets well-stocked with Asian condiments, such as Sheng Siong. It is typically packed in small square glass jars or ceramic crocks and keeps indefinitely in the fridge if you're careful to scoop it out with only clean spoons.
In the orthodox recipe method for kow yoke, the pork belly is first par-boiled, has its skin pricked all over and marinated with soy sauce. Next, pork and yam are deep-fried before being steamed together.
The deep-frying serves several purposes: It blisters the pork skin, which helps it to soak up sauce and flavour during the steaming; it browns both ingredients, adding colour and caramelised flavour notes; and it forms a thin crust on the yam slices so they hold their shape better during steaming.
Instead of deep frying, you can sit the marinated pork on a rack in a roasting tin and blast it in a very hot oven (200 to 220 deg C) until it browns and the skin blisters. Less oil and less hands-on work but your oven will likely need a cleaning after. As for the yam, you can pan fry it in just a little oil until it browns. Skipping the browning step entirely for either ingredient would result in a paler, more insipid dish.