Why It Works
- Joong has lots of variations, but my family's uses dried scallops in place of shiitake mushrooms and never skips the cured duck egg yolk for maximum flavor.
- These savory bundles are not difficult to make, but careful planning and a group of friends for assembling will make it even easier.
When I was a kid, my mom chastised me for running in the house, but I'd run even faster towards the kitchen when the fragrant smells of her savory joong filled the air. I couldn't wait to dig into the fat, pillow-shaped Toisanese joong the size of my dad's hand.
My mom's joong are hefty bundles filled with lightly salted glutinous rice, studded with split mung beans, and generously stuffed with delectable slabs of cured pork belly, juicy slices of salty-sweet lap cheong, golden, creamy orbs of salted duck egg yolks, pungent dried baby shrimp, and flavorful shredded dried scallop all snugly wrapped in aromatic bamboo leaves and tied with string. I anxiously watched her joong boil in a large pot of water on the stove, waiting for the time to pass when each ingredient melded together to create a delicious package.
She only made joong during the Double Fifth Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The fact that she prepared joong only once a year made them even more special. My mom always made enough joong to feed an army, but unfortunately half were earmarked for the annual exchange between our relatives and friends.
I didn't like it when someone else's joong came into our house. Not that I was a picky eater, but her friends' joong (and some of our relatives') just didn't cut the mustard. Some made their joong with just plain, unseasoned pork, or—even worse—only lean pork, and some joong were just wee, palm-sized bundles, too small to be a meal by themselves. The greatest tragedy of all: the joong with no salted duck egg yolk. A salted duck egg yolk is a happy, tasty, gloriously rich ball of sunshine, and the disappointment of eating a joong and not finding a salted duck egg yolk is like going to bed expecting no school from a forecasted blizzard then waking up to just rain. My mom's joong never disappointed me.
Variations of Joong
As I got older, I learned there are many regional variations and different family recipes for joong (Cantonese: joong, Mandarin: zongzi, Taiwanese: bah-tzang, Toisanese: doong). Typically, joong are considered a homemade food and not something found in restaurants or fine dining, but they're Chinese rustic food at their best. There is no one standard joong recipe, but what they all have in common is the basic bundle of rice, stuffed with a filling, wrapped in bamboo leaves and then cooked. A few regional styles* of joong are:
Cantonese: Raw glutinous rice seasoned with salt, mixed with split mung beans and stuffed with salted duck egg yolk, sliced lap cheong, cured pork belly, dried shrimp, and dried shiitake mushrooms, then boiled.
Nyonya (Chinese in Malaysia): Raw glutinous rice colored blue with butterfly pea flower (Malay: bunga telang) and stuffed with sweet candied winter melon, peanuts, and pork, seasoned with a spice paste featuring coriander, ginger, shallots, and garlic. Pandan leaves may be added in the filling or as part of the outer wrapping in order to enhance the fragrance before the final product is boiled.
Shanghainese: Raw glutinous rice seasoned with soy sauce, dark soy sauce, rice wine, star anise, five-spice powder, and cinnamon, stuffed with fatty pork, then steamed.
Taiwanese: Pre-cooked regular short grain rice or raw glutinous rice seasoned with soy sauce and stuffed with a mixture containing stir-fried shallots, dried shrimp, dried shiitake mushrooms, seasoned lean pork and fatty pork, and peanuts, then steamed or boiled.
*(Please note these are very bare-bones overviews because, as mentioned above, every family will have their own recipe.)
The dried scallops in our family's recipe are my mother's substitution for dried shiitake mushrooms. For a treat, my father likes to add Chinese-style roasted pork (Cantonese: siew yook) to make the joong extra special (a.k.a. the supreme porky joong, aka The Robyn Lee joong).
How to Make Toisan-Style Joong
Every region and every family has different methods and recipes for making joong. My parents are from Toisan (Mandarin: Taishan), a coastal city in the Guangdong providence of China. I am sharing my mom's joong recipe, which is a variant on the Cantonese style. I learned this recipe by watching her make joong each spring and pestering both of my parents with many questions. (In our household, the rule is watch first, hands-on training comes later.)
Joong aren't complicated to make—the most critical ingredient is time. You'll need some planning and a bit of work. It seems daunting at first, but don't worry! Once your joong are done, you'll understand why people greatly appreciate receiving these tasty bundles—they really are a labor of love. I recommend making these as part of a group because it's a great way to spend time together and to ensure you have plenty of help assembling and wrapping the joong.
If you plan on salting your duck eggs and pork belly yourself, you do need to plan out the process. Here is a timeline of how I prepare my joong:
- 4 weeks prior: brine duck eggs
- 4 days prior: cure pork belly
- 1 day prior: prep joong leaves
- Day of: final cleaning of leaves, prep ingredients, assemble, cook, EAT!
Toward the end, you may have more filling than necessary for the 15 joong. What I usually do is make a special joong by placing all the stragglers into one super-sized joong for myself. Cook's treat!
1 (12-ounce) package dried joong leaves (see notes)
3 links of Chinese sausage, about 6 ounces total (Cantonese: lap cheong)
1/2 pound cured pork belly (recipe)
8 raw salted duck egg yolks (recipe, see notes)
1/4 cup dried baby shrimp, about 1 ounce total (Cantonese: ha mai, see notes)
4 dried scallops, about 1 ounce total (Cantonese: ghown bhoy, see notes)
2 1/2 pounds glutinous rice (Cantonese: loh mai, see notes)
1 (14-ounce) package dried split hulled mung beans (see notes)
2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
4 teaspoons kosher salt
For the Joong Leaves: Place at least half of the package of joong leaves in a large container and cover completely with cool water. Soak leaves for 24 hours, changing water twice.
Place joong leaves in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Cover with water and place on stove over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes. Drain leaves and rinse with cold water. Using a vegetable brush, take one leaf and scrub each side and rinse again under running water. Trim off stem using kitchen shears and discard. Repeat until all the leaves are scrubbed, rinsed and trimmed. Put leaves in colander, cover with a damp kitchen towel, and set aside.
For the Lap Cheong: Rinse lap cheong under cold running water and drain. Cut each lap cheong in half crosswise. Split each half lengthwise twice into quarters (you should get 8 pieces out of each lap cheong). Set aside.
For the Cured Pork Belly: Rinse pork belly under cold running water to remove excess salt. Pat dry with paper towels and slice into 1/2-inch wide strips lengthwise. Cut each strip into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
For the Salted Duck Egg Yolks: If using cooked salted duck egg yolks, cut each yolk in half and set aside.
If using raw salted duck egg yolk, separate whites from yolks. Reserve whites for another use (they will keep for 1 month in the refrigerator). Cut yolks in half using lightly oiled kitchen shears.
For the Dried Shrimp and Dried Scallops: Place shrimp and scallops in separate small bowls. Wash 3 times in cold water and drain. Cover completely with water and let soak for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Shred scallops into strips and set aside.
For the Rice: Place rice in fine-mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Transfer to large bowl and cover completely with cold water. Allow to soak 15 minutes. Drain well and transfer to large bowl.
For the Mung Beans: Place beans in fine-mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Add vegetable oil and salt and mix well. Add mung beans to rice and toss to combine.
To Assemble: Take 2 whole joong leaves of approximately the same size. Make sure there are no tears or rips in leaves. Leaves should curve in same direction. Take one joong leaf in each hand holding it horizontally in front of you while making sure the ends match each other. Overlap edge of one leaf onto center spine of other leaf. Hold overlapping leaves together with your thumb in the center of the leaves and fold in half.
Fold bottom half inch of leaf upwards and tuck under thumb to create pocket inside leaves for joong. Hold the folded leaves in one hand and then use the other hand to open the leaves to make the pocket inside.
Holding leaves firmly, place 3 tablespoons rice mixture in pocket. Add 1 piece cured pork belly, half an egg yolk, 3 shrimp, 3 strands scallops and 1 piece lap cheong to center of rice. Cover filling with another 3 tablespoons rice.
Add third joong leaf by wrapping it around top of the two leaves in order to extend the height of the joong. You will be using this leaf to close everything up. Take outer edge of third leaf and fold it towards the center, sealing the joong. The joong should now be sealed at one end and open at the other.
Smooth out leaves towards open end and then gather all the ends, fold them towards the center and hold down with your thumb. Be firm, but do not rip or tear leaves. If leaves tear, start over. Secure with kitchen twine by making several loops around joong and securing with a knot. Pat finished joong with hands on both sides to compact. Repeat until joong leaves and filling are finished. Excess joong leaves can be dried at room temperature on a wire cooling rack and reused.
Layer finished joong in a large stockpot and cover with water. Place on stove over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook for 2 1/2 hours, topping up pot with boiling water to keep joong submerged and rotating joong every hour to promote even cooking.
Remove joong and drain in colander set in sink. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut open parcels and serve immediately with soy sauce. Extra joong can be stored in refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer for several months. To reheat, place in simmering water until heated through.
For the joong: Boiling the leaves in step 4 is very important. It will remove the impurities on the leaves that can cause the joong to spoil during storage.
Packaged, cooked salted duck egg yolks can be used instead of salted duck eggs you've prepared yourself, but the cooked duck egg yolk will not have a creamy, rich consistency in the finished joong. Rather, it will have a crumbly, sandy texture.
Dried shrimp: Purchase the baby shrimp that are the size of a split green pea. Make sure to smell before buying; they should have a pleasantly fishy, briny aroma. If there is an off odor or no smell at all, do not buy it. Also, do not buy ones that are extremely bright orange; this means they were most likely treated with food dye and aren't good quality.
Dried scallops: Dried scallops are an expensive ingredient, but for joong there's no need to purchase the top quality. Purchase a middle grade; never buy the lowest grade of any dried preserved ingredient because it's a waste of money. Smell your dried scallops before purchasing and check for the savory, almost meaty smell. Remember, no smell means they'll have no taste. Make sure you buy whole scallops and not ones that are broken or have dried edges.
Glutinous rice: I prefer Koda Farms Sho-Chiku-Bai Premium Sweet Rice because the rice cooks up firmer than other brands.
You can find these items in large Asian supermarkets in most major cities or online. In New York, my go-to place is Po Wing Hong in Manhattan's Chinatown because they have a good inventory of quality products at a reasonable price and a staffed dried preserved food section. A plus is that all the non-perishable ingredients are listed above so it offers one stop shopping. The packaged, cooked salted duck egg yolks are available at Po Wing Hong as well.
Gather your family and friends. This recipe is quite a bit of work for one person, so we encourage turning it into a group project.
1 large stockpot (or similar sized pot with lid), 1 ball of kitchen string, large container to soak joong leaves in (you may also soak them in your clean kitchen sink)
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||13%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||16%|
|Total Carbohydrate 34g||12%|
|Dietary Fiber 5g||18%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||7%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|