A classic soup that I grew up having at home, this is by far one of my mom's regulars, my brother's favorite. Mom's version comes loaded with whole white peppercorns and I used to dislike this soup for that particular reason. Nothing to do with its peppery nature; in fact I loved the kick! I just happened to really hate those chances of me biting into them randomly with every mouthful of soup that I took, especially those hidden in between the many foldings of those bean curd sticks.
So while it continued to make an appearance at home, I would usually give it a pass. Nope, I didn't even resort to just having the soup plain and simple - no ribs, no bean curd sticks, nothing at all; there's always a risk of stumbling upon a peppercorn still! Is there a term for the phobia for peppercorns, by the way? I think I must have had that! lol.
Things took a turn for the better when mom brought home with her something new for her kitchen collection - the stainless steel wire mesh ball! This has got to be the best invention ever! lol. So thereon, no more loose peppercorns swimming around in the pot, and especially none gone hidden anywhere at all. Now stress-free, I then declared myself a fan too!
Cute little thingy huh? lol. I'm not sure if mom eventually bought another one for herself after that replacing this, but this has ever since been a little treasure of mine. One that comes with a memory no money can buy, no time can erase...
Quoting from my previous post on the White Radish Soup 白萝卜汤,
"The longer the soup is left to simmer, the better it will be infused with all the flavors coming from the different ingredients. The water level will drop slightly as the simmering goes on but additional water will be unnecessary unless the water content has really decreased considerably. I would maintain it around 4-5L. Should you need to add in more water into the pot, make sure you add in only hot boiling water to ensure that the simmering does not get disrupted with the water of a different temperature. Add in just slightly more than enough to cover the ingredients comfortably. Any more will have the soup diluted rendering it less flavorful. If you are left with enough leftovers from this for the next day or two (I always do! lol), you will be amazed with how much better they taste after a night out. Try adding in some noodles of your preferred choice while using this as your soup base; you will have a good meal in a snap of time!"
And a few last notes to end this...
- RECONSTITUTE The bean curd sticks come dehydrated in a pack. Before they are fit for the pot of soup, they have to be reconstituted in water. Depending on their quality and thickness, they can take some time in between half an hour and up to 2 hours. So do make an early start. Have them soaked in advance and leave them soaked until it's time to bring them into the pot.
- COOK and TIME
Different brand comes with different qualities and thus different time needed to cook them well and thorough. Some get cooked in a matter of minutes, others are just way tougher against heat and water. So you may want to get to know the ones you are using. If you have found a good one, stick to them.
Get the soup base with the pork ribs started first (while the bean curd sticks are getting soaked). Add the bean curd sticks into the pot of soup and simmer with the rest only for the last two hours prior to serving. If you are unsure of their quality and texture, check them out about half an hour after adding them in. Well cooked and all soft - you should just stop the simmering there and then; intact and tough - let the simmering continue and recheck half an hour later.
Keep watch to avoid over simmering; they break the bean curd sticks up. The taste will still be there, just not the mouthfeel, not to mention the not-so-appealing appearance in the end. Just for the record, mine took about 1½ hours.
Pork Ribs with Bean Curd Sticks Soup 腐竹排骨汤
3lbs pork ribs (I opted for baby back ribs)
10 dried bean curd sticks
12 red dates, soaked to soften then seeds removed
2 tbsps whole white peppercorns, lightly crushed
~6 L water
salt to taste
1. Wash the pork ribs trimming away excess fat and then chop them into smaller pieces. Blanch the ribs in a pot of boiling water in batches to remove the scum. Set the ribs aside.
2. Boil about 6L of water in a large stock pot. Transfer the ribs into the pot. Add in the whole white peppercorns (preferably in a wire mesh or a spice bag) and the dates. Bring to a rapid boil.
3. Leave to boil for about 15 minutes on high. Cover, turn the heat down to low and let simmer away for optimally at least another four hours.
4. Meanwhile, soak the dried bean curd sticks soaked in a pot of warm water and leave undisturbed until cooking time. Just about 2 hours prior to serving time, drain these bean curd sticks. Trim off the hard ends and cut them into smaller sections of about 2" in length.
5. Bring the bean curd sticks into the pot of soup. Turn the heat up and bring to boil. Let boil for about 5 minutes before turning the heat back down. Let the soup continue simmering. Check for the bean curd sticks readiness at 30-minute intervals.
6. Once the bean curd sticks are well cooked (soft but intact still), add in salt to taste. Let simmer for another 5 minutes, give a good gentle stir, turn off the heat and it's good to be served!