The Foochows in Sibu have a deep dark secret.
In the Fujian province of China, seafood are abundant and hence the love of seafood in the dishes. There was also an obsession with soup. In terms of taste, sweet and sour seems to be more prominent. These preferences were indirectly brought into this land when the foochow farmers enlisted by Wong Nai Siong, started settling along the Rajang Basin.
Foochow red wine or "Uang Chew" in foochow is distinctly sweet with a tinge of sourish end(not completely sour. That would be a sign of Uang Chew going bad) as compared with other cooking alcohol like Hua Tiaw.
The Foochow community in Sarawak, to be very blunt, cannot live without this item in their cooking. Our friend Tez used to say that Foochows are alcoholics. Him and all his brothers and cousins for that matter are such good drinkers and they credited Ah Ma (their grandma) for feeding them with dishes cooked with this. We all started on Foochow Red Wine since babies (Mothers in confinement used bottles of this in their confinement food and it went into our system as they breastfed. See the link?!!). Hmm.. hopefully, this article will not cause any Child Protection Agency to go knocking on doors. Foochows do have a pretty high number of doctors, lawyers and engineers, and of course shrewd businessmen.
The Foochow Red Wine features in practically most of their famous dishes ~Mien Xien, Chao Chu, Chow Chai Soup and Mee Fern, Midin stir fry with Red wine, Ang Chaw Duck/Chicken and so forth. It is just so tantalising nice to have a few drops of it in our food.
Another distinctive feature of this wine is that it's a backyard industry. It used to be that you can only find it in Sibu. With the migration of Foochows all over the place, this item can now be found in many backyards. Greg went "Is this legal?" It's culture duh. Nowadays you can ask around and they will be certainly some hawkers or homemakers selling it. Per bottle it ranges from RM6 to RM8. The only thing is some may be more diluted which we foochows consider poor. Good quality ones are rich and concentrated with a reddish colour and has such wonderful aroma (just like durians to some people), sided towards fruity and sweetish in taste.
With reference to Sarawakiana who is an avid and detailed foochow blogger, Uang Chew (13.8 - 15% alcohol content) involves fermentation of Glutinous Rice, Red Rice Bran also known as Monascus Purpureus or Red Yeast (Thank you, Sarawakiana. Been trying to find a proper name for it) and Wine Biscuit or “Jiu Bing” (available in most groceries stores). Monascus Purpureus is an essential fungus used in the production of certain fermented foods in many Asian countries particularly in China and Japan.
Thanks to Yi Po who gave me the recipe and method, which is handed down from my Great Grandma, and of course Aunty Linda who had tried this before. I was ecstatic to try it out and document it. And here it goes.
The process is as follows:
1) Clean all utensils well and dry them properly. Any dirt will cause the end product to turn sour, i.e. FAILURE. So even the whole process looks gross. It actual requires absolute cleanliness. According to some grandma's tale, ladies having menses must not touch the red wine making process as it would turn sour immediately. I tend to see it as hormone. So ya, my Uang Chew is absolutely clean and I am clean too.
2) Cook approximately 1.5 kg of glutinous rice with water in normal rice cooker. Once cooked, take it out and set aside to cool overnight.
3) Once the glutinous rice is properly cooled, take in lumps and coat with blended red rice bran (use approximately 300gm). Place in clean jar. And add some crushed wine biscuits. For this amount, crush 2-3 wine biscuits and apply some on every layers . Pour in approximately 800 gm to 1 litre of filtered water. Less if you like your Uang Chew really concentrated and more vice versa.
4) Cover with a piece of clean cloth held tight with rubber band/strings.
During the fermentation process, the red rice mixture will start to float upwards causing 'boiling' bubbles and these form the essential Uang Chew. This stage will happen between 24 to 48 hours and will last for another few days. At this stage, it is important to stir the mixture at least twice a day to avoid overflowing or use only half a jar/container. During this process, the red rice mixture will separate from the liquid and stay afloat.
The mixture will then stabilise and red rice will slowly sink back towards the bottom of jar after a week or so (This is when the cloth can be taken off and replaced with a proper lid or on top of the cloth, cover with a metal bowl). The entire procedure will take approximately a month or so.
The whole content will then be filtered with a piece of white clean cloth hanged and allowing it to drip. In my case, I place a piece of cloth on a strainer. Pour the whole jar content onto the cloth and strain it overnight. To squeeze dry, I placed a huge bottle of water on the bundle. The liquid is the Foochow Red Wine (Uang Chew) . My recipe yeilds 5 bottle of concentrated red wine. Beer bottles were washed and dried. Then a little Uang Chew was poured into each bottles and thrown away. Then filled each bottle. This way the Uang Chew will last better.
And the lees or the residues is the Ang Chow, which is kept for various cooking purposes and of course to make the famous Foochow perserved vegetable Chow Chai. I did not strain my mixture too dry as what some people would do. Because wetter chow would make tastier dishes as it still contain some Uang Chew.
All utensils must be clean and dry.
It is normal to see mouldy substance on top of the red rice mixture at the early stages especially during the 24 -48 hours as fermentation is only beginning. Stir the mixture if you see this as alcohol will kill the mouldy substance off and hence making it negligible. But if mouldy substance is seen floating on the Uang Chew, it is a goner.
Water vap is also normal at the early stages.
I worried so much during the initial stage and go peeping on my concoction so many times a day, so i hope these tips will help.