Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Secret (Foochow Red Wine)

Ok boys & girls, time for a little Aunty Nee's history lesson.

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.

The Science:
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.


Anonymous said...

Hmm What should I call my beloved sister?

Freddy Kruger? Psycho? Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Scream? Or Shining?

"Here come Nee!!!!!! HEHEHEE!"

Yik! :P

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

gosh, it looks like u killed someone and 'jarred' him. greg, u still there??

i made the yellow chinese wine once, n altho the wine was good, i had no idea tt you have to strain it thru a fine basket or muslin, and me n hub spent a whole afternoon ladleing it into bottles, spilling half onto the counter. then the bottles were prolly not clean enuf n the wine went bad after a few days. never tried it again *shudders* You are heroic, and SO capable!

Anonymous said...

Whoa, that was a lot of work but I love this red wine in cooking, especially mee sua.

Happy New Year to you! =)

WoMbOk™♂ said...

Very educational post. Have always wondered how it was done. Thanks guys~

Anonymous said...

Roger: I am your Queen Sister who commands over her slave brother. MUAHHAAAAAAAA......

A Terri: Usually it is the case of if you dont know what you are getting into, you will dive straight into it. Nothing to do with being heroic, just plain silly eagerness and ignorance. To be honest, would do it again cause hooked on my own red wine. BTW i also washed my bottles with hot water first and sun dried. My fren mum even smarter, she buy cheap cotton pillow case and drain her wine in them.

Jo: hi hi. youhave taste hehehe.. HAppy CNY to you too.

Wombok: Now you know what you are putting in your stomach. looks gross the process but heay you have to be super clean to have good red wine. My father in law says dirty ppl wine also come out bad. So the wine is super clean too. So am I.

My Sweeties said...

Hi there! My grandma is also from Foo Chow, and she likes to cook the Red Wine during special days. However, sad to say that not many of my family members like to have the dish (and I'm one of them :))... I think our first turned off was of the colour... it makes the whole dish red in colour...

I admire you for being able to cook so many things, and even capable of preparing these things. Keep up the good work!

Yan said...

Hi, I have linked one of my posts to your Foochow Red Wine, hope you don't mind!

Unknown said...

It is alot of work by the look of it but what i love most is the residue, the 'ang chow'more than the wine. I used to live in KK and get a regular supply but now that am living overseas its just impossible to get any unless i beg anyone heading back to Kuching to carry some back for me. Loves to cook it with chicken. Its an acquired taste.

Anonymous said...

yes with chicken is so nice. i am blogging that tonite..what a coincidence!

Rei said...

Hi there, I just read Terri's post and followed the link here. Although I have made the wine successfully but I am no expert, it was my 1st attempt. After reading your post, I have some doubts and hope you can enlighten me. I'm a Teochew who is trying to learn Foochow wine. :D

For my attempt, I did not add water. If the utensils must be dry, wouldn't adding water defits the purpose?

I have seen in another blogger's post, the mould spreaded, covering the entire surface and she stirred it only on the 7th day. Would it still be safe for consumption?

I'm from S'pore and the wine biscuits here is about 20g per piece. I used about 1.5pcs for 1.5kg. How much does the wine biscuit sold in M'sia weigh? If we add too little or too much of it, how will it affect the wine?

Thanks in advance.


Anonymous said...

hi rei i check your posts too. really nice. i think our methods are very similar except towards the end. My method is a hand me down oral ones from my great granny to grand aunt to us.

first of all water in utensil is no because water to utensils you would not how long the water is stuck there and hence bacteria which may spoil the wine. we sterilise our utensils. adding water, we add less than one liter of filtered and preferred boiled water. This will make your wine slightly more diluted and hence yield more harvest. if you bought tasteless wine then it is too much water added. my aunt make her without water it only yield about 3-4 bottles with same recipes whereas mine was about 4-5 bottles.

for the mould, if whitish mould is seen first day and two, it is ok but must be stirred. alcohol in wine kills the bacteria but we dont wait till it spreading all over and stir on 7th day. high chance wine will go bad if you wait so long. our family ones, we stir day one, day two and day three and four esp when the fermentation is happening to prevent overflowing. Day 7 onwards we leave it to settle on till harvest. there should be no more moulds at all at this stage.

wine biscuits here i never weigh but i have a feeling is slightly lighter but i suspect not so much. adding too little slows fermentation, adding too much i am not sure whether the taste will be affected. but your recipe is fine. mine is 2-3 pieces, which is not so much different and also because i used 3 different containers so i had a little more to distribute among containers. i used different container to 1)spread risk of one whole jar going wrong 2) i only half fill each jar because i dont want any flowing during fermentation which will happen if you fill up too high in one jar.

Hope my answer helps. i am no expert but it is good we can discuss.

Rei said...

Hi Nee, thanks for clearing my doubts. Appreciate your time. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting about this - fascinating, although I felt my stomach lurch a bit at some parts!

Hmm...interestingly, my MIIL has not introduced this to me after the mee sua, ter meng gong (some soupy noodle?), Foochow kolo mee and dried herbal chicken (sorry, its name escapes me now) and my fav, gong pneah!

Maybe she thought I may not be able to handle it YET, LOL

I'm planning for a second child and would love to have her do my confinement for me. Fingers crossed for 2009!

Anonymous said...

wow kitty cat you are really catching on with foochow food. a true foochow lady soon. Oh must get your MIL to make your red wine for confinement. nothing better than homemade. I am planning another batch for this year. running out already.

Anonymous said...

Oh Well Done!!! Ive been looking for how to make this for ages, fantastic that youve got it up online! I can't wait to make this.

stephtiew said...

I am so happy to find your site. I thought my foochow heritage would be lost forever!

Ann said...

Hihi, may i know where can i buy the red wine paste maybe in Penang or KL? thank you.

NEE said...

hi ann. i actually have no idea. but you could try asking anyone who is foochow. or anyone from setiawan. they prob will be able to direct you. or anybody selling ginger wine or homemade wine. that is all i can think off.

WinnieT said...

Hi Nee, my chinese name is Nee too :). I like reading your blog and looking at the beautiful pix of your food. I am sure they taste as good! Being a foochow myself, i love red wine chicken soup, not to be missed on birthdays and first day of CNY. There is never a day red wine is missing in our household. I am very lucky for I stay with my mom and she brews the red wine, at least twice a year. But she always prepares the ingredients and makes it when I'm not around. ...I'll try brewing one of these days. :)

Robin said...

Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I followed it and blogged about it in dutch. If you're curious for the result/photos, this is the link: rode rijstwijn .

I'm not sure I like the lees, but using the wine in some chickenbroth with mee suah noodles was brilliant!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Brunei and my dad is a Huchew from Sibu. Although I dislike alcohol and a lousy drinker, I love this sauce. Spare ribs and Hunggang are my favorites. There are no restaurants here serving this dish since it is associated with alcohol. So that makes me order it every time I am back in Miri.
I was looking for this recipe a long time ago. Only knowing the Romanized name (in Foo Chow) without the correct spelling is quite hard to google. This ingredient is like a "Miso" to Chinese in Sarawak, although I have seen a very few overseas Chinese chef use this as a sauce.
Really very grateful that you to have posted the whole procedure. Although it's harder than making yogurt. I am looking forward in trying this recipe.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Brunei and my dad is a Huchew from Sibu. Although I dislike alcohol and a lousy drinker, I love this sauce. Spare ribs and Hunggang are my favorites. There are no restaurants here serving this dish since it is associated with alcohol. So that makes me order it every time I am back in Miri.
I was looking for this recipe a long time ago. Only knowing the Romanized name (in Foo Chow) without the correct spelling is quite hard to google. This ingredient is like a "Miso" to Chinese in Sarawak, although I have seen a very few overseas Chinese chef use this as a sauce.
Really very grateful that you to have posted the whole procedure. Although it's harder than making yogurt. I am looking forward in trying this recipe.

Anonymous said...

I too from Sibu, a pure Foochow man but residing in Singapore now. I am so glad that I learn how to make "Uang Chew" from my mother just few years before she passed away. Both my wife (teochew) and 2children love to eat different dishes cook with "Uang Chow" especially cooking with duck and Mee Sua. For past few years, I have been cooking "Uang Chow" Mee Sua for my friends and relative during CNY and they all enjoy it very much.
So I am excited to start a stall to sell "Uang Chow" Mee Sua here when I am getting tired with my current job. Do you think it is a good idea? Try to preserve this sepcial Foochow traditional dish as long as possible and share with other food lovers.

So will you support me? Hahaha.....Looking forward for the day to come.

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Anonymous said...

You may try this place for red glutinous wine & mee suah. I recently found it at

家發手工福州麵線 Perusahaan Makanan Jia Fatt
No. 2179B, Kampung Bintang, 32000 Sitiawan, Perak, Malaysia
H/P: 012-5709507, 016-5003955

Anonymous said...

Where can i buy tis Uang Chew or u'ng zao at Kuala Lumpur? NSK got?

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