Friday, May 8, 2009

Pork clay pot

Pork medium saucepan, more accurately. This is an adaption of a classic Vietnamese dish by Mark Bittman from his Bitten blog (and in the NY Times Chef column 5 years previously). I've looked around for more traditional recipes and it doesn't look like he changed it much other than the cooking vessel. I did find that you can use pork belly instead of pork shoulder but you'd have to cook it an extra hour. I can't find pork belly locally so not really an option there. One other point is that it's important to use the milder Vietnamese fish sauce instead of the saltier Thai version. I used the wussified supermarket fish sauce I picked up once when I couldn't make it out to the Asian grocery. Nice to know it has a legitimate use.

All that said, I was interested less in the authenticity than in the unusual technique of cooking the spices and then the meat in a caramel. It's an interesting alternative to the standard oil and water mediums and I was curious how it would work technically. Now that I've tried it I'm not sure I've got any great insights. It did seem to stick to the meat so it browned better than you'd expect in an overcrowded pan, but that may be an illusion since it's brown to start with. There not have been much Maillard reaction going on for proper browning. More experimentation will be required.

Recipe: Pork Clay Pot

Adapted from Charles Phan by Mark Bittman

Time: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 small chili, minced
1 1/2 pounds fatty pork, cut from shoulder, or about 2 pounds fatty pork chops, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
Salt if necessary
Shredded scallion for garnish [cilantro too]
[Sriracha hot sauce which is Thai or a Vietnamese vinegar-based hot sauce if you have it]

Cooked white rice.

1. Put oil in a saucepan or clay pot large enough to comfortably accommodate pork; turn heat to medium. Add sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until it dissolves and colors a bit, 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic, shallots, ginger and chili and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots soften, about 5 minutes.

2. Add pork and raise heat to medium-high. Let it brown a little, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, and fish sauce and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then adjust heat so mixture simmers steadily. Nestle eggs in mixture and cover pot. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until pork is tender, adding a little more water if mixture threatens to dry out.

3. Taste and adjust seasoning, then garnish with scallions and serve with rice.

Yield: 4 servings.

Hey look, the yolk didn't oxidize and get all green and stinky. I wonder why not.

The pork is cooked just the wrong length of time. You know how meat starts tender, toughens while you cook it, and then gets tender again as the connective tissue dissolves? A half hour gets it just to the wrong point on that bell curve. At least I kept the simmer low. Upon further consideration, the meat isn't tough as such, just chewy. I'm putting the rest back on the heat for at least another half hour. [45 minutes did the trick, although it did a number on the eggs.]

The sauce is rich with pork juices, sweet and a little funky from the fish sauce. Fair on its own, but really good when balanced by the tart and sweet from the hot sauce and the fresh herbs. It's only half a dish without the garnishes. Cooking the sauce down to half its volume would probably do it some good too. Now that I've done the research I find that many recipes leave the lid off and cook the sauce way down. I'll do that when I continue simmering the pork. [I only cooked the sauce down a little but the flavors got pretty intense so I didn't want to go any further. Be careful. I think the particular nature of your chili and fish sauce are going to make a big difference here.]

I'm thinking that there's no reason this dish couldn't have vegetables too. Root vegetables to soak up the flavor like the eggs did would be best: carrots, daikon, turnip, that sort of thing. I haven't got any of those in the house right now, but I think I might revisit this recipe in the middle of next CSA season.


Karen said...

Thanks for this idea - I DO have daikon radishes left, so I'll try a version with one of them, probably cut the fish sauce in half or more too - can always add more to taste. What part did the eggs play - did they add to the flavor in anyway, or just soak up sauce and add more protein? i.e. would you still include them if you included daikon?

billjac said...

You could leave out the eggs without affecting the rest of the dish too much. You do need something to break up the monotony of a bowlful of pork, but the daikon would do at least as well. And if you're not a fan of fish sauce, use soy sauce instead; the difference would be subtle.

Karen said...

So, I totally changed up the recipe, but kept to the spirit -- I used more than 5 lbs. of pork shoulder "country style ribs" (how can a shoulder be a rib? -- only at Publix) which I had the store butcher cut into 1" chunks. Forgot to get ginger, so used ginger powder. No shallots, used yellow onion. Otherwise kind of boosted the quantities mathematically, and it came out fabulous. One other thing, as it was finishing up simmering to tender (didn't pay attention to the recipe on timing) I threw in about 2T of rice wine vinegar -- it just needed lightening up. Oh -- the diakon radish cooked up sweetly and was a great addition (my kids didn't know it was there) but it did blend in with the brown-ness of the dish, so maybe you still want the eggs if you need visual distraction.

billjac said...

To be honest, I forgot the ginger and added ginger powder after the fact too. The dish definitely needs a shot of acid at the end to brighten it up. The vinegar is a good addition if you're going to make the sriracha optional, or maybe a good squeeze of lime.