It has been a family custom to make haam choy, also known as Chinese sour pickled mustard greens, for many years.
When my father worked in restaurants and resorts, he would bring home enormous gallon jars of mayonnaise, and I have vivid recollections of my loving mother making mustard greens and squeezing them into the jars.
Hakkas love to use haam choy in a wide variety of stir-fry dishes and soups. One of the jugs was seemingly ever-present in the fridge. Because my mother passed away a long time ago, I will never know how she survived.
WHAT ARE CHINESE PICKLED MUSTARD GREENS?
The term “Pickled Mustard Greens” has multiple meanings depending on where in China you are.
There is the xuě cài (雪菜) variety, which is derived from the xuě lǐ hóng (雪里蕻) plant and resembles a mustard green in appearance.
However, this particular pickled vegetable, which we call haam choy, is by far the most popular in Southern China. Ham choy is sometimes written with a h but is actually pronounced “hahm.”
Its name literally means “salted vegetable,” and while it is salty, the pickling liquid gives it a delightful sourness as well.
Vacuum-sealed containers of haam choy, often known as “sour cabbage,” can be purchased online.
Although, I think that once you master this recipe, you won’t want to buy it from the store again!
PICKING CHINESE MUSTARD GREENS
Mustard greens come in numerous varieties, but the one you use in this dish depends on the season. Dai gai choy, literally “big mustard greens,” is what you want to purchase if you’re looking for haam choy.
The large petiole mustard green and the head mustard are also included in this category. The stalks of both of these varieties are quite meaty, which is what you need for pickling, although one is longer and the other is shorter.
The stalks and stems of mustard greens have a crunchier texture and higher flavor absorption than the soft leaves. However, ideally, you’d have both.
We picked mature plants that were still tiny enough to fit in a half-gallon glass jar, and used all three and a half kilograms (1.6 kg) of mustard greens. These greens may grow rather large, so you can select a larger item if you’re cooking for a crowd.
Pick up some mustard greens from the market that have sturdy green stalks and no wilted or discolored leaves.
CHINESE FERMENTATION SUBSTITUTING MUSTARD GREENS IN OTHER CUISINES
The pickled mustard greens from China taste very much like the Vietnamese dish dua cai chua. The same gai choy with big stems is used in both. Onions and red peppers are optional ingredients in several recipes.
Som pak gaat, a sour mustard greens dish popular in Thailand and Laos, is the regional equivalent of this dish in the two neighboring countries (pak gaat is Thai for mustard greens). Fermentation takes place in a rice brine. In the same way that the leafy kind of Chinese pickled mustard greens is fermented rather than simply “pickled,” so are these.
Pickling and fermenting are two different processes. Fermentation is the process of fostering the growth of yeasts and bacteria without the use of acidic chemicals. However, food can be preserved using an acid such as vinegar through the process of pickling.
This is a pickling recipe. Sourness is achieved through the use of white vinegar, which contains acetic acid.
Besides acetic acid, benzoic acid, and citric acid are also employed in commercial pickling, and I occasionally come across these acids in packaged goods. Sulfites are also added to retard mold growth, but we won’t be utilizing any preservatives in our homemade version.
IN WHAT TIMEFRAME DOES THE PICKING PROCEDURE OCCUR?
The quick answer is around 10 days. Mustard greens need to be cleaned, trimmed and salted for a whole day. A two-day chill in the fridge after jarring is all it takes to achieve that drab green color. You put them in the fridge for a week, and then you can eat them!
Put them in a sealed container with pickling juice and use clean utensils to eat them for up to 2 months. The top and rim of the jar should be cleaned after each use as well.
- 3 1/2 pounds of Chinese mustard greens
- 1.5 ounces of peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick) ginger
- 8 teaspoons of sea salt
- 10 cups of water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt
TO ADD AFTER JARRING THE GREENS:
- 7 tablespoons of white vinegar
- 3 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
- 2.62 teaspoons of granulated sugar
- Mustard greens should have their stiff base and any discolored or yellowed parts of the leaves removed. Soak them for 10 minutes in a big bowl of water to get rid of the dust and sand. To remove any grit from your vegetables, simply give them a good shake. Vegetables should be removed from the unclean water and rinsed. You should empty the basin, then fill it with clean water twice more. There should not be skipping this necessary cleaning process.
- Ten cups (2.4 liters) of water should be added to a large pot, brought to a boil, and then the heat should be reduced to medium-low. One and a half tablespoons (26 grams) of salt should be stirred.
- Mustard greens should be added to the simmering water one or two at a time and allowed to get fully submerged before being removed. Blanche them for 30 seconds, turning them over halfway through so they cook evenly. Mustard greens should be removed from the water and placed on a clean baking sheet to cool.
- After the water has returned to a simmer, add the ginger slices. Remove the liquid from the heat after it reaches a simmer and let it cool to room temperature.
- Once the veggies have cooled to the touch, drain any remaining liquid from the baking sheet and rub salt (2 14 teaspoons/13g per pound of mustard greens) all over the greens, getting into the interior stems and rubbing the salt evenly across each stem/leaf, until the salt has dissolved.
- Pour the ginger-infused blanching liquid over the veggies in a bowl made of stainless steel, enamel, ceramic, or glass. Put a heavy pot on top of the vegetables (or a pot filled with water) to keep them submerged and pressed down. Cover the greens with a clean cloth or paper and let them sit in the salted water at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Start by giving the jar a good washing to remove any bacteria. After washing your hands, drain the boiling water from the jar and let it air dry.
- Mustard greens should be removed from the brine solution using clean hands or tongs and allowed to drain for a few seconds.
- Compactly squish the greens with your hands. As a result, the potential for air bubble formation is reduced, and the material is made denser. Combine them with the ginger pieces in the container. Make an effort to pack the vegetables into the container and spread the ginger about. Keep the brine on hand; you’ll need it to finish filling the jar.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt (6 grams) and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar (3 grams) per pound of greens to the jar. White vinegar should be added to the jar along with the salt and sugar at a rate of 2 teaspoons (30 ml) for every pound of veggies.
- The next step is to fill the jar almost all the way with brine using a clean ladle. You should examine the base of the jar to see whether any air bubbles have settled there. Mustard greens may have air trapped in them; you can remove them by stirring them with a chopstick. Also, you can shake the jar while it’s sealed to encourage more air to rise to the top. After you have removed all of the air bubbles, fill the jar to the top with liquid to fully submerge the greens.
- The best way to fold a square of plastic wrap that’s 10 to 12 inches in size is to fold it in half twice to create a neater square. After placing it over the jar, make sure there are no gaps where air can get in. Secure the plastic wrap inside the container before screwing on the top.
- Remove any excess liquid from the jar with a clean kitchen towel, and then mark it with the current date. Mustard greens should be stored in a cool, dark place for about 2 days or until their color has faded from bright to dull.
- Mustard greens are ready to eat 7 days after being stored in the back of the refrigerator when they turn a dull green color (after 2 days).