Above: Absolut Vintage
After a 3-week whistlestop tour of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, we're back in Singapore briefly, primarily to celebrate my maternal Grandma's 95th birthday.
I could babble on and on about how and why Grandma is my role model. A few inadequately short anecdotes: she fought my grandfather to get her daughters secondary education (a privilege usually reserved only for sons in that generation), managed most of the finances and customer relations at my grandfather's tailoring business, spent many of her retirement years cooking up a storm of of delectable treats and sewing epic cross-stitch landscapes to raise funds for her church, and even now, is on top of all the ins and outs of all the clan's happenings probably more than any other younger individual in the family.
I spent many pf my younger years poring over Grandma's cross-stitch books and projects and skeins of threads. From time to time I also played the role of kitchen hand (or more probably kitchen underfoot) when she made Nonya desserts such as ondeh-ondeh or ang ku kueh, but stupidly was too young and clueless then to take detailed notes. Now that my interests have drifted and taken firm root in the kitchen, however, I'm racing to learn and collect as many of Grandma's old-school family recipes as I can.
Top on this list is her homemade Foochow Ang Chow (red rice wine), an increasingly disappearing craft in ultra modern Singapore. This recipe is Grandma's, handed down to my Mum, and now handed down to me, and all of you!
To Mum's credit, it sounds like she's improved on the original -- Grandma prefers Mum's wine to her own, so now has a call option on a portion of each batch of wine Mum makes!
2kg glutinous rice
5 pieces jiu piah (wine cake, right) from Chinese medical hall or grocery
75g ang kek bee (red yeast rice, right)
1/2 cup water, boiled, then cooled back down to room temperature
1 big glass or clay container with cover
*Top tip from Mum*: The wine cakes affect the taste of the wine significantly. Experiment with vendors until you get a taste you like, then stick to them like white on rice (or in this case red on rice).
- Wash and soak glutinous rice for at least 3 hours (preferably overnight), completely submerged in water
- After soaking, drain the water. Use fingers to poke holes all over the tray of levelled rice. The holes serve 2 purposes. From the holes, we can see the level of water. We want it to be half the depth of the rice. The holes also help the rice to cook faster
- Steam the rice for 30 min or until it is thoroughly cooked
- Loosen and spread the rice out to cool completely
- Dry-blend the wine cakes and the red yeast rice and pour the resulting pink powder into a big bowl
- Wet your hand in cooled boiled water
- Take handful of the cooled cooked glutinous rice (see photo below for approximate size of 'handful' and coat it with the pink powder)
- Put the powder-coated glutinous rice into a big container
- Repeat coating the handfuls of rice and placement in container until all the glutinous rice and powder is used up
- Use any remaining water to rinse any remaining glutinous rice or powder from working bowls into the large container
*Top tip from Mum*: If globs of rice fall on the floor, leave it and throw away. Do not pick it up and rinse and put it in the container. Bacteria picked up can ruin the wine.
- Place the container's cap, but do not tighten
- Set aside container in a cool dark place for 7 days
- On the 7th day, stir mixture in container then replace the cover, again loosely
- Set aside for another 23 days
- Harvest the wine and the rice residue on the 30th day
*Top tip from Mum*: It is imperative not to screw on the container's cap tight, as the fermenting process produces a lot of gas. Grandma once had a new, not-yet-fully-orientated housekeeper who took the initiative to screw on the container's cap. A few days later the container exploded in the middle of the night, scaring everyone in the house half to death! It didn't help that the bright red contents of the jar made the room look like the climax of Stanley Kubrick's film rendition of Stephen King's The Shining.
Harvesting the Ang Chow and Wine (Day 30)
The fermented mixture is in two sections, the bulk of which is on top. Scoop the drier fermented ang chow at the top of the container into jars. (This is a great opportunity to recycle coffee and salsa etc glass jars.)
Place a sieve on a pot and drain the wetter ang chow until most of the wine is in the pot. Scoop the drained residue in the sieve into jars. This residue is the key ingredient in the signature Foochow dish Ang Chow Mee Sua soup, usually eaten on a birthday or as part of a wedding because of its auspicious colour.
You'll end up with a couple of large jugs of cloudy wine.
Stick a funnel into a screwcap bottle (another great recycling opportunity), and hold a muslin sieve (or coffee 'sock') above the funnel. Slowly ladle the cloudy wine into the sock and let the clear wine drip through into the bottle.
The "cloudy" residue collected in the sock can be jarred separately and used as a very tasty coating for Ang Chow Fried Chicken and Ang Chow Fried Fish.
Cap the bottles of wine. The wine can be used for marinating meat and cooking, but also tastes pretty damn good on its own! Left alone, the wine will continue to mature.
In the spirit of being investigative (ahem) Mum and I did a sampling of a couple of ang chow wine vintages. The lighter wine you see here is 2 months old, and had a lighter, fruity taste, which could work as a hefty dessert wine. The darker wine on the right is 8 months old, and had a heavier, Chinese-herb-wine-esque taste.
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine prescribe this wine to por, or "mend" the health and strength of mothers who have just given birth. They also recommend this wine for lowering cholestrol (check with your doctor first though!)
Wine making anywhere is an art, and the variations and idiosyncracies of each winemaker are integral to the craft. Here are a couple of slightly different recipes I found elsewhere on the web for further reading if interested.