Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Braised Pork with Eggs a.k.a. Another Bastardized Recipe from My Childhood – February 21, 2009

Despite the fact that Jimmy and I grew up in completely different environments, we sometimes come across dishes that we both ate and loved in our childhoods. Braised pork is one of those dishes. I still remember coming home from school and being able to smell the pork from the intersection by our house. Oh, those tantalizing smells!

I’ve made this dish dozens of times now, and I’m still tweaking it. It still doesn’t taste quite like home, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from wolfing down another bowl.

There are a couple of differences between his mum’s and my mum’s versions. His mum’s recipe includes shiitake mushrooms. Apparently, this is the norm in Taiwan. My mum doesn’t. His mum uses pre-packaged spice bags, whereas my mum throws in loose spices. In the end, both versions are delicious, though slightly different. Minor details, considering the fact that Jimmy and I still fight over who gets to eat the eggs, no matter whose version I make.

I use pre-packaged spices like Jimmy’s mum for two reasons. One, we have a small kitchen with limited storage space. I would rather buy a box spice packets, use it up, toss it out, and free up some space instead of having jars of spices hanging out for a year. Two, Jimmy doesn’t like accidentally crunching on a clove or star anise. I have to agree that it’s a nasty surprise.

Without rambling anymore, here’s a quick recipe that I sometimes follow.

1 tbsp oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or roughly chopped (your choice)
4 cups 1-inch chunks of pork shoulder or belly (most cuts of pork will work as long as it has skin and fatty layers)
2 tsp salt
¼ cup rice wine
½ cup soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce (for colour)
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups water
1 spice packet containing cloves, star anise, cinnamon, licorice, nutmeg, and shannai (a type of ginger)
6 eggs, hardboiled, cooled, and peeled

Heat up a large pot with oil, and fry the garlic until fragrant. Toss in the chunks of pork, sprinkle with salt, and brown well on high heat. The garlic will probably burn a little bit, but that’s okay. There’s also going to be crusty black stuff at the bottom of the pot, but that’s okay, too.

When the pork chunks start to let out water, add the rest of the ingredients, stirring well. The pork doesn’t have to be fully cooked at this point because it will be cooking at a very low heat for many hours. Turn down the heat, and simmer for at least two hours. The longer you simmer, the tender-er the meat gets and the more flavourful the eggs become.

Constantly adjust the seasoning and water levels as it boils down. There should be a good balance between salty, spiced, and sweet. Too much of one thing will ruin the dish. Once the eggs look brown, serve a big scoop on top of steamed white rice. Or if you’re eating family style, scoop it into a big bowl and cut the eggs into quarters. Serve with white rice on the side.

This recipe makes enough for a family of four. Since it’s really only Jimmy and I, we eat it over a few days, freezing the remainder if there’s enough leftover.

Here’s a little side note about the cut of pork I used. I called my mum the first time I tried making this dish to ask her what cut she used. She mentioned something about “picnic” but I had no idea what she was talking about. When I made it out to the grocery store, I saw something called a “picnic roast” and realized that it was what my mum was trying to tell me. The picnic roast is a cut from the shoulder. (Here's a link to a helpful chart about cuts of pork.) Normally, it comes with the bone in, skin on. The first few times I made this dish, I discarded the skin. Now I know that it’s essential to the flavour and texture of the dish.

This steamy picture reminds me of the bitterly cold winter we just got through. Now that the weather is so gorgeous, I should really start catching up on my posts and get started on the more recent, lighter foods I’ve been eating!

Gotta get on that....

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