Bak Kut Teh is a popular meat dish in Malaysia and Singapore. It is a meat and pork rib dish cooked in a broth flavored with various Chinese medicinal herbs. The name is derived from the Chinese name 肉骨茶 spoken in the Hokkien dialect, which means ‘Pork Ribs Tea.’
This article explains how I prepare my favorite version of Bak Kut Teh at home. I am trying to recreate my favorite Bak Kut Teh serving at the store five minutes away from where I live.
Let dive in right away on how to prepare my favorite Bak Kut Teh.
How to prepare Bak Kut Teh
You can either prepare Bak Kut Teh from scratch or use the ready-made herbal pack. This herbal pack is available in every supermarket in Malaysia. If you live in other countries, it is available at most Asian grocery shops, or get it online. I prefer to make it from scratch because I can decide the types and quantity of each ingredient.
Below is the step-by-step instruction on how to prepare the Bak Kut Teh. Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions section below for the in-depth information.
1. Blanch the pork and the ribs
- Clean the pork belly with the skin on and wash the pork ribs under running water to remove any debris and shattered bones that may adhere to it.
- Place the pork in a pot of cold water enough to submerge the pork.
- Bring the water to a boil, and continue to simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
- Skim off the scum floating on the surface with a small colander. This process helps to remove the undesirable pork smell and blood.
- Remove the pork and wash it with cold water. The pork and the ribs treated this way will yield a clear soup.
2. Boil the herbs and spices
- Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Insert the herbs and spices in a spice bag, then place it in the water along with two bulbs of garlic.
- Let the broth boil for 30 minutes until the flavor of the herbs and spices is fully extracted. You may want to boil it longer if you like a more concentrated soup or vice versa.
The irresistible aroma is the result of the complex interplay of various Chinese herbs and spices. At this point, this signature aroma will waft up from the pot and drift into the sitting room, and everyone in the family knows that you are preparing Bak Kut Teh!
Tip: Add a piece of pork bone to boil to enhance the flavor.
3. Braise the pork over low heat
- Add the pork and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes, or until it is tender, and the flavor of the herbs and spices have penetrated deeply into the inner part of the pork.
- Skim off the scum floating on top from time to time.
- Remove the pork from the broth. Let it cool and then cut into pieces.
It is crucial to cooking at a bare simmer temperature so that the pork is soft and tender.
4. Season the broth
I prefer to season the broth lightly while cooking the pork so that the salt and soy flavor will penetrate the pork.
Since the broth will become saltier over time as the broth is reduced, you need to do a taste test at the end to make the final adjustment.
You can use only salt, sugar, and light soy sauce to season the soup. Some people like to add some oyster sauce. You can also add some dark soy sauce to get a darker color.
5. Add the mushrooms and vegetables
You can return the pork and ribs pieces to the same pot, but I continue with a clay pot for better presentation.
Here are the steps:
- Bring a portion of the broth to a boil in a clay pot.
- Add the quantity of the pork and ribs you want.
- Once it is boiling again, add the enoki and button mushrooms. Let it simmer for half a minute.
- Remove from heat. Place some lettuce on top and serve.
The Bak Kut Teh is best to serve with some tofu puffs, youtiao and steamed rice.
Other ingredients served along with the Bak Kut Teh
A few typical side dishes are served along with Bak Kut Teh, namely tofu puffs, youtiao (Chinese breadstick), and some vegetables.
Tofu puff: Tofu puff is a type of deep-fried tofu. Cut it into half and let it soak in a separate pot of broth and boil for ten minutes until it becomes soft and absorb the broth’s flavor. It is not proper to cook the tofu puffs with the meat and ribs because it is oily.
Vegetables: The most common vegetable for this dish is lettuce. Since it can be eaten raw, you just need to add it to the finished pot of Bak Kut Teh and serve. If you use Choy Sum, cook it for at least one to two minutes.
Youtiao (Chinese deep-fried breadstick): This specialty item is best to eat while freshly fried. If it is no longer crispy after keeping for some time, dip it into the broth to soften it before eating.
The pros and cons of the ready-made Bak Kut Teh herbal pack
There are pros and cons of the store-bought mixed Bak Kut Teh herbs specially packed for making Bak Kut Teh. It is handy if there is no Chinese herbal shop near you and saves you time to hunt for each type of herb separately.
The downside is you cannot control the type and amount of the herbs. Once I purchased this herb bag, I only realized the herbs’ random mix is not what I want. (It has a large amount of Polygonatum odoratum (玉竹) with relatively less other herbs.)
Frequently asked questions about this Bak Kut Teh recipe
Here is a list of frequently asked questions, hoping to answer all your questions before trying the recipe.
1. Should I blanch the pork with cold or boiling water?
According to On Food and Cooking (p 871), it is better to start blanching the meat in cold water. The author explained that a cold start allows the meat’s soluble protein to escape the solids and coagulates slowly, resulting in large aggregates easily removed from the surface. On the contrary, the hot start will yield many tiny protein particles, remaining suspended, and clouds the stock.
I blanch the pork with cold water, and you can see in the video on this page that there are lots of large coagulated scum removed from the surface.
2. Can I use other cuts of pork instead of the belly and ribs?
You can also add some lean meat, giblets, and pork intestine like those served in the local restaurants. I do not use them in this recipe as not everyone likes giblets and intestines!
3. How the herbs taste like, and the health benefits?
Here is a brief description of the herbs. The bracket shows other common names in English and the Chinese character, followed by the taste and the key health benefit. You can get more information in the Herbology section at EuYangSang.com.
Dong Gui (Chinese Angelica, 当归) is sweet, pungent, and slightly bitter. It has an unmistakably distinctive aroma and flavor. It relieves anemic symptoms, helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, and eases menstrual pain.
Chuan Xiong (Szechwan Lovage Rhizome, 川芎) has a strong fragrance and is spicy and bitter, ideal for improving blood circulation in the body to ease pain,
Shou di (Rehmannia Root, 熟地黄) has a sweet and bitter flavor. It nourishes the body by improving the functions of the blood. It is black and can darken the color of the broth significantly if you use too much. Reduce the amount of Shou di if you prefer a lighter color broth.
Yu zhu (Fragrant Solomonseal Rhizome /玉竹) has a pleasant and sweet taste. It is ideal for individuals with chronic respiratory ailments.
Dang Shen (Tangshen / 党参) is sweet. It has a similar effect to ginseng but is weaker. Dang Shen helps to boost and improves digestive and respiratory functions.
Goji berry (Barbary Wolfberry Fruit / 枸杞子) has a sweet and neutral taste. It helps to improve the functions of the liver and kidney and to ease anemic conditions.
A few more Chinese herbs are used in Bak Kut Teh, for example, red dates, licorice root, and dried tangerine peels. There isn’t any fixed formula, but the combination of herbs I use in this recipe is popular.
4. What if I do not have the tofu puffs and youtiao?
You can use deep-fried firm tofu to substitute the tofu puff. Bak Kut Teh is best to eat with youtiao but is not an essential item. A bowl of steamed rice is necessary and is customary to add a few scoops of the broth to the rice while eating.
5. Is this a Malaysian or Singapore style Bak Kut Teh?
There are two different versions of Bak Kut Teh. The Teochew style, which is more common in Singapore, is prepared with plenty of white pepper and garlic. The amount of herbs is less, and the color of the soup is light. The Malaysian version has more herbs, and the color is darker.
My version of Bak Kut Teh is skewed towards the Malaysian style. I am trying to recreate the Bak Kut Teh similar to my favorite roadside store. It is not surprising to me that this old hawker makes the best Bak Kut Teh. He makes a living by selling only one item for decades.
6. Can I use other types of mushrooms?
The commonly used mushrooms are Chinese dried mushrooms, enoki, and button mushrooms. If you use Chinese dried mushrooms, you need to soak it with warm water to rehydrate it, then simmer to soften it. If you use enoki or button mushrooms, you can add it at the last minute because they only take a minute to cook.!
7. I do not eat pork. Can I use chicken?
You can substitute the pork with chicken. The method of preparation is the same. There are few pork-free restaurants in Malaysia serving the chicken version of Bak Kut Teh, called Chi Kut Teh.
8. How long can I keep the Bak Kut Teh?
It is not advisable to keep it for too long, but it is OK to keep it in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. It tastes better if you keep it overnight after the broth’s flavor has absorbed fully into the meat.
Related recipes that you may be interested
If you like Bak Kut Teh, chances are you may also like some other similar pork and ribs recipes. I have hand-picked two of my favorites recipe for you:
Chinese spare ribs recipe – If you regularly use herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme, black pepper, and olive oil to make braised pork ribs, now think of replacing them with a plethora of Asian spices- cloves, scallion, star anise, cinnamon, sesame oil, and soybean paste. Try this!
Braised pork belly (红烧肉) – It is a well-known pork dishes prepared with a combination of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce and a myriad of aromatic spices and cook over an extended period.
The main ingredients: A
- 500g pork belly
- 500g pork ribs
- 1 packet enoki mushrooms
- 6 button mushrooms
- 1 packet fried tofu puff
- 1 pair YouTiao (Chinese breadsticks)
- Some Chinese lettuce
- 2 liters water.
The herbs: B
- 10g Angelica sinensis (当归 / dang gui)
- 8g Rehmannia root (熟地 /shou di)
- 10 g Ligusticum striatum (chuan xiong / 川芎)
- 15g Polygonatum odoratum (玉竹 / yu zhu /Solomon’s seal)
- 20 g Codonopsis pilosula (Dang shen / 黨參
- 1 tbsp goji berries
The spices: C
- 2 star anise
- 2 bulbs garlic
- 3 cinnamon bark
- 2 tsp white peppercorn
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- Clean the pork belly and pork ribs under running water. Place the pork in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil, and continue to simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
- Skim off the scum floating on the surface. Then remove the pork and wash again with cold water.
- Place B and C in a cloth bag. Boil it with the garlic for 30 minutes.
- Add the pork and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Season the broth with D.
- Bring a portion of the broth to a boil in a clay pot.
- Add the pork and ribs.
- Once it is boiling again, add the enoki and button mushrooms. Simmer for half a minute.
- Remove from heat. Add the lettuce on top.
- Cook the tofu puffs with some broth in a separate pot for ten minutes.
- Serve the Bak Kut Teh with the youtiao, steamed rice, and the tofu puffs.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1215Total Fat: 92gSaturated Fat: 29gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 48gCholesterol: 316mgSodium: 3166mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 4gSugar: 5gProtein: 78g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 10/9/2020