One of the key ingredients in making Chinese Pork Ribs soup (aka Bah Kut Teh) is the spice mixture. A concoction of fragrant spices like grounded peppercorn, salt, star anise, cinnamon, and cloves are combined and cooked with the soup. These spices impart a wonderfully delicious peppery flavor that warms and comforts the stomach.
To make Bah Kut Teh, I use a premixed Bah Kut Teh spice mixture that comes in a sealed but porous paper packet. These packets can be conveniently dropped into the soup at the beginning of the cooking process, and removed at the end of cooking. Take caution though of not puncturing the packet and spilling the spice content into the soup. The paper packets are especially vulnerable to tear when wet. In the past, I have in occasion ripped a packet or two while trying to lift them out of the cooked soup with a tong. If this happens, it is not the end of the world. Remove as much of the spillage as quickly as possible so the spice flavor and saltiness does not overwhelm the soup. Keeping the spice packets intact also helps with the clarity of the soup. Now a days, I typically use a tong *and* a ladle to carefully scoop out the packets at the end of cooking. The picture above shows how the packets look like intact after they have been used in making Bah Kut Teh. Below is a picture of the coarsely grounded spices inside the spice packets.
If you are cooking with a Bah Kut Teh spice pack for the first time, it is a good idea to follow the instructions on the package. The packets are designed to cook a certain amount of soup, and every company makes their spice blend a little different. Some have more of a peppery bite while others are milder in flavor. After trying how the spices are intended to taste, you can make adjustments the next time around to get the soup to taste to your liking.
The brand I like to use is from a Singaporean company called Ilc Trading. Each package contains a 30 gram paper packet of Bah Kut Teh spices. The cooking instruction calls for 1 packet of Bah Kut Teh spice for 7 bowls of soup water. After some experimenting, I prefer 2 packets of spices for 10 cups of soup water. I find that this gives a more pronounced peppery flavor without being too peppery hot. Check your local Asian supermarket to see what Bah Kut Teh spices are sold.