No, I did not forget about all of you.
The weekend saw the Baba and I on a road trip with our Priest that took us on a gastronomical journey all the way through Johor (one day, remind me to tell you where to find the best Fuzhou food down south), landing up in Johor Bahru;
and ended with us paying a visit to an old friend’s first born in Muar.
I finally got about to cooking the buah keluak that’s been sitting next to my kitchen sink for the past fifteen-odd days yesterday, to splendid results – especially since this version did not contain pork in it.
Since I began cooking this dish and posting pictures of it online, the question I get asked the most (besides the recipe) usually falls along the lines of:
What the hell is that thing?
So, before I post the recipe up, I thought I’d compose a lil’ ditty about this nut.
Buah keluak / kepayang (depending on which side of the Malaccan Straits you look for it) is the nut from the Pangium edule tree. The tree is native to mangrove swamps found in Southeast Asia – which technically should include Peninsular Malaysia (and many of the other countries rich in nature for that matter… no, Singapore, Bukit Timah doesn’t count) – but I find that this ingredient is near impossible to find outside Indonesia & Malacca (and we import ours from Sumatra next door).
As so far as Malaysian cuisine goes, it is used only (as far as my limited knowledge of food goes) in a sublime Peranakan dish: Babi / Ayam Buah Keluak (Buah Keluak with Pork and/or Chicken).
In Indonesia, I do believe that it is used in rawon – a sorta stew made with beef.
Now, every Nyonya worth their salt will tell you that preparation for this dish must begin at least five days before by soaking the nuts in water, with a water change and a good scrubbing each day.
The reason why this has to be done however, is always a cause for much debate.
So they soak it anyway, from as short as 5 days to as long as 10, never really knowing why.
My Mum-in-law thinks it’s to soften the nuts (which if 20 or so were swung around in a bag, would give anyone in its way a massive head injury), while her sister thinks it’s to remove the soil on the shells (because she thought they grew like peanuts, bless her soul).
The reason however, is simple: in their raw untreated state, these buggers will give you more than your recommended daily allowance of hydrogen cyanide.
In fact, most every part of this tree is capable of giving you a one way ticket to meet your maker.
Long before scorned wives were finishing off their errant husbands with cyanide, natives in Java and East Malaysia were using this tree’s poison for anything from fishing to hunting.
Not to worry though, I’ve been assured that in recent times, all buah keluak sold for culinary purposes is usually made safe for consumption by various permutations of boiling & burying in earth+ash+banana leaves for the total duration of Jesus’ journey in the desert, imparting a black tarry appearance to the nut. The older bibiks still call it opium fruit due to this.
So, it is quite safe to postulate that one would need no more than an overnight’s soaking to remove whatever soil / ash is left behind on these nuts.
Though I still soak mine for 10 days lar. Wouldn’t want to make the papers the next day…
The fruit of the processed nut has a musky, woody smell to it.
Its consistency sort of like foie gras.
And its taste is one that must be acquired (like durians or well aged cheese). Reminds me of a very mild truffle.
Babi / Ayam Buah Keluak is truly a delicacy in Peranakan cuisine, a dish that every Nyonya worth her rempah should know.
It is my labour of love for the Baba, cracking the nuts is usually a 1/2-1 hour job depending on the quantity – and especially since I don’t like the taste, or smell, very much. 😀
Now, it’s about to rain, and I must start packing my things before the Baba picks me up.
How about I post up that recipe tomorrow? 😉