Storing Soups & Stews Without Refrigeration
Many soups and stews in Straits-Chinese cooking (commonly referred to as ‘Peranakan’ or ‘Nyonya’) include generous mixtures of ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal (a rhizome in the ginger family), coconut milk, candlenut (very similar to macadamia nut), tamarind (a sourish fruit), shrimp and chilli paste, etc. Each family will have their own proportions for recipes, passed down through generations. With the dwindling population of Straits-Chinese in the world, each will claim their mother will have the best recipes.
Because of the number of ingredients used, soups and stews, particularly of Peranakan origin, actually taste better when stored for a period of time instead of consuming right away. The idea is for the flavors from the ingredients, herbs and spices to infuse and be absorbed deeply into the proteins, such as chicken, pork, beef, prawns. Ideally, soups/stews should be prepared and cooked at least a day in advance. Prior to the popularity of refrigerators, our grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers before them stored soups/stews in the open. The dishes do taste more complex when stored, the longer the better.
- To store, allow the soup/stew to cool after cooking, according to the recipe.
- Leave the soup/stew in the pot, cover and leave on the stove or tabletop.
- In the evening (our mothers always did this step before going to bed), bring the soup/stew to a boil, with or without the lid. Give it a few stirs to mix the settled ingredients evenly. Once it’s boiling, cover with the lid and continue boiling for about 1 more minute. Turn off the heat and leave the pot with lid untouched. Do not open the lid anymore for any reason. The belief was that the condensed water droplets under the lid would fall into the soup/stew and result in spoilage.
- Repeat step 3 in the morning.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 daily. I have successfully done this for up to 4 days.
- To eat, bring soup/stew to a boil and serve.