Tracing The History Of LapCheong Or Chinese Sausage
- Nicole Braganza
Updated : July 24, 2022 03:07 IST
Legend has it that modern Cantonese-style sausages were invented by a Cantonese porridge shop owner in 1894
Walk into any Cantonese butcher shop or the streets of a "Chinatown" in Singapore, London, or Kolkata, and you will be sure to see strings of dried, red pork links hanging at the facade of shops selling an array of Chinese sweetmeats. These are the famous Lap Cheong, a type of Chinese sausage that has traditionally been an integral part of winter cuisine in China.
The invention of the Chinese sausage dates back to the Wei and Jin dynasties (300–500 AD). Historical records from the period chronicle a special technique of sausage-filling, devoid of starch and developed primarily for the purpose of preserving the meat. The technique is followed to this day. The sausage-stuffing method was first documented in Qimin Yaoshu, China's first agricultural encyclopaedia, authored by Jia Sixie, dating back to AD544. The encyclopaedia detailed several essential techniques for the welfare of the Chinese people.
Legend has it that modern Cantonese-style sausages were invented by a Cantonese porridge shop owner in 1894. He stuffed intestines with the leftover pork and pig liver from his store.
In the Cantonese dialect (Southern provinces), the sausage is called Lap Cheong, meaning Chinese "winter stuffed intestine" or "waxed intestine" because "Cheong" means both "intestine" and "sausage."
In the Mandarin dialect (the Northern provinces), however, the sausage is known as La Chang, with the word 'La' having two meanings. The first denotation is of the time of year when the sausages were made, that is, the winter months. Pigs would grow fast and be of the perfect size by the month of December. Due to the freezing temperatures at this time of the year, it was expensive and impractical to keep the pigs and feed them indoors. Slaughtering the pigs was the most obvious and practical solution. The second meaning comes from the fact that the Chinese pronunciation for "wax" is "la." The dried sausages would develop a shiny exterior, resulting in the name La Sausages.
Selecting the right meat to fat ratio: The higher the amount of lean meat, the better the quality of the sausage. This applies to Lap Cheong as well. However, without the flavour of pork fat, the overall sensory attributes of the sausage would be compromised. For Lap Cheong, the back legs (ham) and the fore legs (cuts from the butt and picnic) are the ideal sources of lean meat.
Grinding and cutting: In homes where Chinese sausages are made by hand, they cut the meat themselves. In commercial kitchens, the meat is ground through a ¼-inch plate.
Mixing and curing: The cut or ground meat is mixed with salt, soy sauce, curing salt, sugar, rose wine or rice wine, and sometimes spices like Chinese five-spice powder. It is then left overnight in cooling to allow for curing.
- Stuffing: The seasoned and cured meat mixture was traditionally stuffed into animal casings such as stomachs and bladders using fingers or a special piston stuffer. Casings with a small diameter are preferred as they simplify the drying process. Commercial producers use small diameter 22-25 mm natural casings or small diameter collagen or synthetic casings.
- Drying: After rinsing, the sausages are hung to dry till they lose approximately 35% moisture. In homes, the natural flow of air dries the sausage, and the weather of the season affects the drying process. Sometimes the sausages may be placed in an enclosed area like a smokehouse. However, to ensure it does not get a smoky flavour, the wood used for smoking should be burned separately and only the embers must be let into the smokehouse.
- Storing: Chinese sausages can last for months in the refrigerator, making them an excellent addition to your pantry, especially for unplanned lazy Sundays. An interesting fact - the Chinese mark the grades and quality of different sausages by using hanging strings of different colours.
Chinese sausage is a dried, dense, hard sausage with a marbled pink-and-white exterior. It consists of lean pork and pork fat. The sausage is smoked, sweetened, and seasoned with rice wine such as Shaoxing wine, rose wine, and soy sauce. There is also a spicy variety from Sichuan, which uses a local Sichuan pepper in addition to the soy sauce, salt, and sugar. The taste is a piquant savoury-sweet mix with a rich, emulsified texture.
Drop a few thin slices of the sausage into any dish to elevate it with a savoury-sweet punch. It can be steamed or crisped up on a pan. Eat it by itself or add it to fried rice, noodles, stir-fries, and soups.
The traditional way to prepare it involves adding it to plain white rice as it is being cooked. The result is that the fat from the sausages seeps out and gives every grain of rice a beautiful silky glaze. It's as simple as it gets and packs in oodles of flavour.
Sausages are eaten all year round, but consumption is at its highest in February. Many Chinese settlers worldwide still consider homemade sausages a dinner staple during the Chinese New Year.
Quick Recipes with Lap Cheong or Chinese sausage
Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage
- 2-3 eggs
- 2 cups cooked, leftover parboiled rice
- 2 Chinese sausages
- 1 bunch scallion
- Handful of mushrooms
- Sesame oil
- Salt to taste
- Beat 2–3 eggs and scramble in hot sesame oil till almost cooked. Set aside.
- To the same pan, add 2 cups of cooked leftover parboiled rice and fry until fluffy.
- Toss in two finely sliced Chinese sausages, the soft scrambled eggs, diced mushrooms and finely chopped scallion. Fry for another minute.
- Season to taste and garnish with more fresh scallion and drizzle a bit of raw sesame oil for added flavour.
Congee with Chinese Sausage
- ½ cup rice
- 4-5 cups of bone broth
- Sesame oil
- Handful of shitake or wood ear mushrooms
- Salt to taste
- 1 bunch scallions
- Rinse ½ a cup of rice (quantity varies depending on the amount of congee you are making)
- Place the rice in a cooker, and pour in 4 to 5 cups of bone broth (you can use a chicken broth as well).
- Cook the congee for eight hours on the lowest setting. Then crank up the heat and continue cooking it for another two hours.
- Heat a bit of sesame oil in a pan, add finely sliced Chinese sausages and cook for a few minutes.
- Add shitake or wood ear mushrooms (or any other mushroom of your choice) to the pan and fry for another 2 minutes with a sprinkling of salt.
- Mix the stir-fried sausage and mushroom into the ready congee just before serving, so it retains its bite and contrasts perfectly with the mushy, hearty congee.
- Top with finely sliced scallions.