Inside story of love and hate
Intestine, from a pig, duck or goose, may not sound as appealing as fish or steak, but they are one of the more fascinating foods in Chinese cuisine and have a massive and loyal following.
The fattier pork intestines can be stewed with loads of herbs and spices, deep-fried or braised in rich sauces, while the “lighter’ and crunchier duck or goose intestines are the star in spicy Sichuan hotpot.
“Not everyone I know is a fan of intestine dishes, whether from pork or poultry, it’s something that you either love or hate,” said Wu Li, who always orders a couple of plates of goose intestines when eating hotpot.
“I am a big fan of duck or goose intestines, they don’t carry the strong flavor and have no obvious fat, they are crunchy and delicious when cooked in spicy hotpot, and I think they are not difficult to accept for someone new to the idea of eating more unique offal dishes.
“As for pork intestines, I can eat the spicy stir-fried pork intestines or the crunchier deep-fried ones, they are quite bold, fatty and satisfying. It’s just not very healthy by today’s standards.”
As Chinese cuisine is very diverse in techniques and flavor, there are more ways to explore the different tastes and textures that intestines can bring. This week, we’ll take a look at the different dishes incorporating various types of animal intestines.
Hard work rewarded
Intestines are certainly a very difficult ingredient to work with because of their nature: dirty and oily with a strong smell. Cooking intestines always starts from the tedious cleaning process to remove all the unpleasant residue and fats.
Though it’s more convenient to enjoy intestine dishes in restaurants and save all the trouble, hygiene has always been an issue and many people prefer to get their hands dirty and cook the delicacies at home.
Raw pork intestine known as dachang (big intestine) or feichang (fatty intestine) are sold by pork vendors in markets. They must be rubbed thoroughly and continuously with starch and salt (another method is to use with shredded ginger, Chinese white liquor and vinegar), the inside must be turned out and rubbed as well before excess fat and tissues are removed. The second round of cleaning and rubbing uses the water from washing the rice and the intestines must be smooth and clean at this point.
The intestines have several parts: the big intestine, the small intestine and the head of the intestine, which has different fat content and flavor. The head is usually fattier.
Before the pork intestines are cooked in dishes, they must be boiled in water with ginger, peppercorn, rice wine and soy sauce to further remove excess residue and smell. When the intestines are cooked and cooled, they can be used in stir-fries or braised dishes and frozen for later.
Wok-fried pork intestine is an all-time classic. With the cooked intestine sliced and ready to go, the wok is heated up to fry peppercorns, fermented broad-bean paste, garlic, ginger and green onion. The intestines are then added and fried until golden in color, and soy sauce and sugar are added. After turning down the heat, a pinch of cumin powder and dried chilies are added to bring more spiced fragrance, fresh green chilies are added the last minute to preserve the spicy taste and crunchy texture.
One of the most famous pork intestine dishes in China is the Beijing snack known as luzhu, a humble delicacy which originated in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It’s a bowl of pork intestines, lungs, streaky pork and fried tofu with chunks of huoshao, a plain flatbread made with leavened dough.
The dish is very traditional in Beijing and strong flavored, so it’s not widely accepted outside the city. Ideal beverages to pair with luzhu include white liquor and the classic tangerine-flavored Arctic Ocean sodas.
Pork intestines can be braised and stewed in soy sauce with a classic combination of herbs, spices, ginger and scallions. The intestines will darken in color and absorb the delicious flavors. Many people prefer softer pork intestines and they usually take an hour to stew.
Braised pork intestines are also served as a hotpot dish so that the already soft, chewy and flavorful intestines gain another layer of spicy and tongue-numbing flavors. In Chengdu, an authentic breakfast experience is not complete without a bowl of sizzling hot pork intestine rice noodle, which is bold-flavored braised pork intestine served on top of spicy rice noodles with lots of chili oil. The ultimate enjoyment is to have a bite of the pork intestine and rice noodles at the same time — a heavenly combination of chewy pork intestine and smooth noodles.
Shaanxi Province is known for several beef or mutton soup dishes that stew tiny bits of baked bread made of non-leavened dough that has a thin, chewy skin. One variety of the culinary tradition is hulutou paomo, which is braised pork intestine heads served in a hot pork soup with sides such as green vegetables, vermicelli, cilantro, chili oil and more. It’s more heavily flavored and fattier than beef or mutton soups, but the locals cannot get enough of the strong-tasting delicacy.
Jiuzhuandachang, or braised pork intestines in brown sauce, is a classic dish from Shandong cuisine that cooks the middle portion (also the longest) of the pork intestine through repeated steps of boiling, frying and braising until the intestines have a bright and glossy color as well as a compound flavor of sweetness, sourness, saltiness and spiciness. The intestines are cut into bite size and the presentation is also more elegant.
Pork intestine sausage is a traditional folk dish from Chaozhou in Guangdong Province. It’s more of a staple snack that stuffs seasoned glutinous rice into raw pork intestine together with minced pork, shitake mushroom, dried shrimp and lotus root. The pork intestine is then sealed and boiled in water. The special sausage is sliced and served with a dressing on the side.
Duck and goose intestines are quite similar in nature, they differ slightly in size and texture, and the goose intestines are always more expensive. The poultry intestines, in general, are quite pink in color and look like wider noodles.
Duck or goose intestines are usually sold as a hotpot ingredient so they are already cleaned. With the fresh ones purchased from the market, the process is similar to cleaning pork intestine and it’s best to remove all the fats.
Apart from cooking the duck and goose intestines in hotpot, the ingredients can also be stir-fried with sour pickles, soy sauce, leek or lots of chili sauce. The idea is to make the crunchy intestines more flavorful, so such dishes are always great with beer or spirits.