Confinement and Chinese Soy-Braised Pork and Peanut Stew


It’s stew weather and time for this month’s #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter, this month hosted by founder extraordinaire, Cheryl Tan.

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My mother-in-law wanted a grandchild so badly, she went to melodramatic lengths to convince me of the urgency to reproduce immediately. She talked to me about it daily, giving various reasons for why sooner was better, many of which were reasonable. But one day, she made a ridiculous statement.
“I can help you now,” she said, “But if you wait too long, I might go blind.”
“Why would you go blind?” I asked, really irritated by this ongoing barrage, which had started literally the day after our wedding. “Anything could happen to anyone, but what makes you think that you will go blind?”
“It could happen,” she retreated (temporarily), “And if it does, I won’t be able to help you take care of my grandchild.”
A few years later, I gave birth/gave her what she wanted, and she couldn’t wait to help. It was a crash course in Traditional Chinese Medicine beliefs around childbirth, and again we butted heads. This immediate postpartum period is known as “confinement,” and I did not want to be confined. My mother-in-law was shocked that I was so ignorant of the beliefs that had been passed down through generations of mothers in her family.
“You’re not going to take a shower or wash your hair for a month, right?”
I felt dirty and exhausted, and there was nothing more I craved than a hot shower and unmatted hair. “What do you mean?”
“If you take a shower, you will lose all of your heat, and you will be sick. And then you won’t be able to take care of my grandchild.”
Sometimes, it’s better to do than to say. Despite our little tiffs, I was appreciative of the meals she cooked for me. She made Chinese soups and stews, all of which were convenient for me to eat whenever I got the chance in between feedings and diaper changes.  She expressed her love through pig feet, of all things. Trotters. She was wise to cut them up small enough that I thought it was a more palatable part of hog, perhaps shoulder. Stewed in a salty-sweet braise of soy sauce, sugar, and Chinese black vinegar, these pig parts were paired with the flavor and texture contrasts of papaya and boiled peanuts. I loved the velvety texture of the pork fat and the silky braise spooned over steamed rice. Only years later did I come across in some reading that the combination of trotters and peanuts is a traditional Chinese recipe to promote breastmilk supply. My mother-in-law fooled me for my own good, and of course for the benefit of her grandchild.
The papaya is an interesting non-traditional addition to this stew. I think it came from the circuitous route of my mother-in-law’s life from her early years in China and Hong Kong to her married life in Trinidad, where she raised her children with a backyard filled with trees bearing papayas, mangoes, bananas and starfruit.
This is the best kind of family recipe– one that carries on cultural and family traditions, but also the individual stamp of each successive generation. In my version of this traditional Chinese stew, I am keeping in my mother-in-law’s papaya for taste and family history. For my own contribution, I am substituting more familiar pork shoulder for the trotters. But if you have a need to boost breast milk production, don’t argue with my mother-in-law or thousands of years of traditional Chinese medical knowledge– go with the trotters.

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Chinese Braised Pork with Peanuts and Papaya


2 lbs pork shoulder, skin on, cut into 3/4″ cubes
12 oz raw shelled peanuts
2 Tbsp oil for frying
3 inches of unpeeled fresh ginger, cut into three pieces
6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup Chinese rock sugar (may substitute regular sugar)
1 cup Chinese black vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)
8 cups water, plus more to boil peanuts
papaya, cut into 3/4″ cubes
Accompaniment: steamed white rice


1. Pour peanuts into a heavy stock pot and add enough water to cover by a few inches. Cover and boil for 30 minutes, until slightly soft. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
2. Pour a few tablespoons of oil into the pot, and fry ginger and garlic until aromatic.
3. Add pork to the pot, and fry for a few minutes until the meat changes color.
4. Add peanuts and stir and fry for another minute.
5. Add all remaining ingredients except papaya and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
6. After one hour, add papaya and simmer again for at least another hour, ideally two, until pork and peanuts are very tender.
7. Serve over steamed rice.

Thank you for coming by! Don’t forget to see what the other #LetsLunch crew have bubbling in their stew pots:

Betty-Ann‘s Salmon Sinigang (Tamarind Stew with Vegetables) at Asian in America

Cheryl’s Sayur Lodeh at Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Demetra‘s Coconut-Shrimp Soup at Sweet Savant

Lisa‘s Chicken & Fennel Casserole at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Margaret‘s Beef & Venison Stew at Tea and Scones

Mel‘s Lamb & Harissa Stew at The Cook’s Notebook

Rashda‘s Morocco-inspired Meatball Stew at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

11 responses

  1. Pingback: Sayur Lodeh (Malay Vegetable Stew): Firing Things Up | Cheryl Lu-Lien TanCheryl Lu-Lien Tan

  2. Pingback: Coconut Shrimp Soup | Sweet Savant

  3. Pingback: {Lets Lunch} STEW | Tea and Scones

  4. Thank you for sharing your cook information. Also you so diligent, which motive you learning cooking? I did gave birth last year 18th, July, my mom has disk back pain so we have to buy business, we could not buy ticket, mother in law died 3 years ago. My 73 years old Korean friend seaweed soup cooked for me, another seaweed soup Korean friend cooked for me. We met from all Foster city library. Actually Foster city staff cooking very well better than outside restaurant.

    Seaweed soup after gave birth for Korean traditional 1.Seaweed in put pot with water 10 minutes 2.beef and sesame oil fried together in a pot. 3. After 2 process you can add 1 seaweed and new water,garlic and then boiling until seaweed cooked. 4. salt add final, how much you want to salty…

    My father in law is Taiwanese so he just focus to why i am not making money? Why not pass CPA exam, why not pass driving exam? Why not study Chines language? He asking always results focus, his first son is my husband, he graduate Berkeley, his working advertisement. His 2nd son is doctor like you, wife also doctor. I am not much smart as his son, also now no job, not fluent English, so he ignores me. Korean culture wife cannot make money okay culture, but Chinese culture is different…

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  6. Pingback: National Peanut Board » Warm Foods Weekend: Soothing Soups

  7. My aunts make this, too. I guess it would explain the man boobs.

    In cambodia, we use pig’s feet and we call it caw. We don’t typically use peanuts, though. When we do, we call it Chinese style. I’ve found that a fair portion or our cuisine has chinese roots or elements, but i’m not surprised.

    The first time i had caw with peanuts, i almost impregnated my jeans. My aunt said she screwed up and made it much too sweet (which was true), but the result tasted like chinese pork and beans with peanuts. I was amazed, though i’ve found that it’s basically impossible to soften peanuts to bean consistency.

    Anyway, i dont know if your in-law realizes it, but papaya has the enzyme papin which breaks down protein when heated to a certain temperature. It is a very effective enzyme that can easily turn your meat to slush if you’re too liberal with it. Perhaps she added it for its tenderizing qualities? I believe pineapple also contains the same enzyme.

  8. Pingback: Salmon Sinigang: Tamarind Soup Stew with Vegetables - Asian In America

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