Red Glutinous Wine Lees
Update (5 Aug 2014): First posted in Jul 2009 as a recipe, now updated with write-up and links to various recipes and resources associated with the ingredient “red glutinous wine lees”.
Red glutinous wine lees (hong zhao, ang zao or 红槽; picture above) is the residual product of fermenting rice and red rice bran to make red glutinous wine. Both the wine lees and the wine are used to cook traditional Foochow dishes. They keep for years in the fridge – and according to my mum, they “never” spoil, but please don’t quote my mum on that ;) For the uninitiated, red glutinous wine dishes are well known as a “confinement dish” – a must-have for women recuperating after child birth. But thankfully, you don’t need to be having your confinement to enjoy dishes cooked with it. In my mother’s hometown in Malaysia (Perak), red glutinous dishes are actually everyday home dishes. Almost every family knows how to make the wine and every one has their own secret home recipe. They are norishing and are said to boost benefits such as lowering bad cholesterol, strengthening cardio, regulating the female monthly cycle, and so on.
One of the most popular uses for the red wine and lees is to cook with chicken and mee sua (flour vermicelli), a superbly tasty one-dish meal. The recipe can be tweaked according to preference. For instance, those eating this as a confinement dish will add a copious amount of sesame oil, ginger and wine, though this will generally be too “heaty” for a normal person.
Good red glutinous wine lees are not be easy to find in Singapore. They must taste good on their own, but unfortunately, the ones from the supermarket I have tried so far (mass produced and China made) taste really terrible (sour, tart tasting and ruin the soup). The most reliable source to get them will be from relatives or friends who make their own. I now get my supply from my mum who returns to her hometown a few times a year to bring back the ingredients.
Even the hand-made mee sua made all the difference. The shop we buy from in Perak is still operating today, and their mee sua is still hand made. If you visit their shop, you can see the mee sua being sun dried on poles. Being hand-made, they are not the thinnest mee sua out there, yet the texture is superior! Our car boot back from Malaysia is always filled with friends and relatives requests for them. Their particular mee sua is (deliciously) salty on its own, so it is recommended that you cook them separately in a pot of water.
Other than cooking it with mee sua, you can cook the red glutinous wine with chicken to make a big pot of hong zao chicken (to be served with rice). This was my mum’s specialty dish in the past and she cooked it once a week with her home-made wine, no less. But back then, my love affair with anything cooked in this precious ingredient did not get off to a good start. I did not even try the chicken at all because it looked red and scary to me. Regret! 我真不识货! When I grew older, I somehow became a lot more adventurous with food (greedy?) and upon trying the dish, it was love at first bite. Now I wished I had tasted my mum’s home made wine back then, because she had apparently “forgotten” how to make the wine. How I wish to have a time machine (like the Tardis) so that I can go back in time to learn from her. I hope my mum will change her mind one day and teach me how to make it, for it will be a shame to lose this skill.
By the way, the Foochow wine stocked in our local supermarkets is yellow (see picture above, the bottle on the right) and not red. They are not that aromatic as the home-made ones I am using now, but they do a decent job of substitution (you may also use normal rice wine).
Lastly, although this post have been updated with the latest information, I will still like to thank a very generous food blogger, Rei from All That Matters. She gifted me her delicious home-made wine and lees when she read my post at a local food forum asking where I can purchase them in Singapore. She gave them to me for FREE, even though I did not know her before that. You can check out Rei’s recipe for making your own wine at home. Thank you, Rei. I still remember and feel touched by your generosity after all these years :)