Saturday, June 03, 2006

Recipe experiment. pork. (x2).

Usually when I go to the grocery store I'll have made a list and know exactly what I'm going to buy. This helps me plan the week's meals, and keeps me from forgetting crucial ingredients. Sometimes, though, something that's not on the list catches my eye and changes the direction of my menu. This week's surprise ingredients were pork chops and pork ribs. The chops will be pounded flat and fried, the ribs will be gently braised until moist and tender.

For lunch I took the chops, trimmed them of fat and removed the bones (which will join the ribs in their braise), and pounded them thin with the dull edge of the cleaver. They were dipped in wine, egg beaten with soy sauce, and breadcrumbs. We've made it with seasoned breadcrumbs, or plain ones, eaten the chops with tonkatsu sauce on the side, or not. Sometimes, if I've planned ahead of time, I'll marinate the pounded pork chops with wine and thinly sliced ginger. Today, I'm too hungry and impatient to bother. I've heated some oil in a heavy pan until it shimmers, lowered each chop gently, fried it for about a minute on each side until a crisp, brown crust formed, drained it on paper towels. Start to finish, it only takes about twenty minutes before I'm at the table, eating a sort of sandwich of whole-wheat toast and pork chop. When I was growing up, my mom made fried pork chops often, served with rice and vegetables, and I would eat the leftovers for lunch or breakfast the next day, on toast, and this is the way I return to it now.

While I eat my lunch, the pork ribs are gently simmering on the stove in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, wine, sugar, and ginger. It will be perfect for dinner tomorrow night, or the next night. The enameled cast-iron pot (my smallest Le Creuset french oven) lets everything braise gently without overcooking. I've used Chinese cooking wine, but you could probably use sherry, or white wine. Usually we use Chinese rice vinegar, black and intense, a bit like Italian balsamic, but lately I've been using inexpensive balsamic vinegar, because I've got a huge bottle of it lying around and I can't get rid of it. My mom uses yellow rock sugar (found in Asian grocery stores), but I can't find any so I've used raw (turbinado) sugar. The liquid will reduce to a syrupy, rich sauce, salty-sweet-sour, with the slow warmth of ginger, infusing the tender pork. This is one of the easiest dishes to make, one that my father always recommends to novice cooks. The classic version is made with chicken and called "three-cup chicken," one cup each vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. I make it with pork, add wine, and sliced ginger (which I don't bother to peel 'cause I'm lazy). If you want to get carried away, you can make it with pork belly, or pork hocks, throw in other spices, like star anise. It always works.

I can't really call either of these experiments. They are dishes from my childhood, and I can make them with my eyes closed. (Although I wouldn't actually do that, especially while wielding a cleaver).

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