Flavor Potting: Practical Technique, Funny Name

Many articles about cooking Chinese food, and especially in articles that talk about using Chinese Five-Spice Powder, talk about the practice of flavor potting, which I had not heard of before.

I was curious: flavor-potting: what on earth is it?

Flavor potting refers to a method of stewing foods (especially inexpensive or fatty cuts of pork or beef, poultry, or (ergh) offal) in a very spicy, flavorful sauce, for a very long time.  The sauce permeates the meat, tenderizing it and infusing it with great flavor.

Flavor-potting is a popular practice throughout all of China. While exact ingredients of the stewing sauce will vary from region to region (and even from household to household), the flavor potting sauce is generally made up of a mixture of rice wine, sugar, sea salt, soy sauce, chicken (or other) stock, water, and these “chunky” spices and ingredients:

The spices and citrus peel are bundled in a piece of cheesecloth, or a reusable spice bag, and put into a stock pot containing the other ingredients. The mixture is brought to a boil, then reduced to a simmer for 15 – 30 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the flavor-potting sauce should be salty, slightly thicker than regular broth, and smell fantastic.

The flavor-potting sauce is now ready for adding the meat and/or vegetables.  The food simmers over low heat for several hours and comes out tender and full of flavor.

An interesting side note about the flavor-potting sauce is that, while the flavors of the spices permeate the meat, the meat itself is flavoring the sauce. It is customary for Chinese cooks to conserve the flavor-potting sauce after the meat is simmered in it, and store it away for repeated re-use.

photo credit: the appetizingly-named salmonellablog.com