KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — You know the happy season of feasting has begun when lap mei fan appears on restaurant menus.
And if you're avoiding dining out, there's an array of waxed meats already available at the shops.
With lap mei fan, its awesomeness starts with selecting the best waxed meats. The term "best" is subjective though since it can also depend on individual taste buds and preference.
For places such as Restaurant 195 that specialise in fine Cantonese cuisine, they use their many years of expertise to select waxed meats. It's all about the whole taste of the dish which includes selecting the rice to give you the most delicious experience whether you dine at their premises or takeaway the festive dish.
For those who prefer to cook at home, you can approach veterans that sell waxed meats like Chai Huat Hin which has been in business since 1972.
Originally dealing in dried seafood, they have since branched out to offer herbs and other imported goods. It is now run by Brian Lim and Lim Bee Bee, who are the second generation of the family.
You also have Lana Ng who is the third generation of the family who runs the website. With online shopping and the promise of convenience with delivery to your doorstep within one to two days, this has kept their business going during the recent lockdowns.
Walk inside Chai Huat Hin and you will be greeted by various types of waxed meats. It goes beyond just the usual meat sausage (lap cheong) or liver sausages (yun cheong). Even their lap cheong has 10 types from various brands.
There's also waxed sausages with dried oysters that are more fragrant. For the liver sausages, you have a choice of duck liver or the prized goose liver that Brian quips will "make your ears twitch from its deliciousness."
You will even spot preserved duck bottoms or even duck livers. If you let them know you need help, they will offer invaluable advice on selecting which type suits your needs. Think of them as a concierge of sorts, helping you to perfect the taste of your lap mei fan.
That's why Janie Chang visits every year for her waxed meats as festive gifts. She is happy to get recommendations from Chai Huat Hin's Uncle Ling who gives her helpful pointers.
At Chai Huat Hin, they sell two brands from Hong Kong, namely Wing Chow and Wu Yang. Both of them are well regarded for their waxed meats, which are prepared using the traditional method of air drying the meat.
Wing Chow is more popular as it has a stronger aroma of mei kuei lu chiew rose wine that is used to season the meat. Apparently Wing Chow also offers a more consistent quality for their waxed meats.
They also offer local brands which are much cheaper. For instance, Wing Chow's waxed sausage is RM19 per pair while the local brand is sold for RM3 per pair.
The marked difference in pricing is due to the rose wine used, in terms of fragrance and quantity. Even the ratio of meat to fat is different as the local lap cheong tends to be more lean.
For the lap mei fan, Brian explained, the basic waxed meats used are usually lap cheong, yuen cheong, waxed duck leg (ngap pei) and waxed pork (lap yoke). Some even add Jinhua ham and sweet duck slices (ngap peen).
What's interesting is how different dialect groups prefer their lap mei fan. For instance, Brian explained, the Cantonese prefer a sweeter taste. Hence sweet duck slices (ngap peen) is used rather than the saltier waxed duck leg. As they prefer leaner waxed meats, they select those with less fat. Their lap mei fan also boasts more varieties that go beyond just the usual types.
If you visit China, the varieties can be mind boggling. For the Chiuchow, it's a simpler village or kah heong style taste that is sweeter. Some can be an acquired taste, like the Sichuan mala sausage which has pungent, spicy, tingly and smoky flavours. It's not for traditionalists like Brian but for some younger folks like Lana, it's an exciting flavour with the spiciness.
Some of the waxed meats are eaten for health reasons too. Brian elaborated that preserved duck bottoms are prized as they are good to boost one's skin since it's all fat. The taste can be quite strong but for those seeking plump skin, it's the way to go.
Even the duck liver is used to brew soup. Usually, this is paired with watercress as it is believed to relieve heatiness in one's body. You also have whole preserved ducks. Each part is slowly used in cooking to give additional flavour to various dishes.
If you're going for ultimate decadence, try the pork liver lard sausages or kam ngan yun cheong. It may not look appealing with its black colour but it's a flavour bomb that gourmands seek. Just slice a piece of the steamed sausage and pair it with arrowroot to enjoy.
As tastes have changed over time, some waxed meats have grown out of favour. One such item is kwong tou yuk or three layer pork belly that is flattened and dried. If you want to savour this delicacy, Brian explained that you will need to order this at least six months ahead.
Once you purchase the waxed meats, just remove the string and store them in the refrigerator. Brian explained that you need to remove the string since it may contaminate the taste of the sausages. It can last for a year or so, if carefully stored.
There's no need to freeze the waxed meat. If you are using it immediately, it can last for one to two weeks without chilling it since it is air dried.
For this Chinese New Year, Chai Huat Hin has introduced curated gift sets for the first time. Each set is RM388, with three choices. If you're looking for waxed meats as a gift, their Happiness set includes two types of waxed meat sausages (meat and duck liver), canned abalone, ready to eat bird's nest, Nu Er Hong rice wine and dried sea cucumber.
Over at Restaurant 195, their famous lap mei fan is what many regulars look forward to every year. You can dine in or order the lap mei fan to enjoy at home.
Under the watchful eyes of chef Teh Chee Meng, they go through a rigorous selection for the waxed meats that grace their signature dish. There are four types of waxed meats such as lap cheong, yuen cheong, lap arp and lap yoke.
When selecting the waxed meats, the ratio of fat to meat is important. Without the fat, the meat will be too lean leading to a much harder, unpleasant bite when you relish the dish. Teh explained that a minimum meat to fat ratio of 75: 25 to 70:30 is preferred.
Teh also believes in leaving the sausages for a few months before using them as the oxidation helps to create an umami bomb. Even though the sausages are brought in around August and September, it only appears on the restaurant's menu this month to allow the flavours to age. He added, "It's like a glass of wine, you need to leave it to oxidise so the taste is stable, otherwise there is a bitter aftertaste."
For their waxed ducks, through practice, they buy the whole box as once the canned version is exposed to air, the ducks deteriorate quickly. Even the texture of the dried meats is important. If you get one where the texture is softer, chances are they have not been air dried properly hence the quality is compromised.
The restaurant also goes a step further for their lap mei fan as they serve the waxed meats with a mixture of fragrant rice and basmati rice. It's the best of both worlds as the fragrant rice when cooked in a claypot, yields a crust at the bottom that gives a nice, crunchy texture to cooked rice grains. With the use of basmati rice, it makes the whole dish a little healthier as the grains are fluffier.