If I can cook it, you can cook it And I'll travel the world to bring it back home to you.

A recipe for Clay Pot Pork from John Willoughby in the New York Times

Wednesday is the day New York foodies wait all week for. It’s Dining Out Day in the New York Times.  There’s a whole section to devour.  Restaurant Reviews, a column called “Off the Menu” which lists restaurant openings and closings along with chefs comings and goings.  There are  “Wines of the Times”, and then there are the recipes.  Here we’re treated to the superb Melissa Clark’s “A Good Appetite” (much more on that in a future post or two) and recently an intriguing article by John Willoughby, author of 8 cookbooks, the latest of which is called “Grill It”. But in the Times, John wrote  about Braising.
I associate a good Braise with cold winter temperatures and a heavy pot on the stove cooking away for hours.  That means it’s almost time to put the Braise to rest for the season.  But I was intrigued by the premise of the article that Doc (as John Willoughby is called) wrote on the subject.  It was about his adventures in creating braises without the almost mandatory instruction to brown the meat before adding it to the braise. 
An authentic Vietnamese Clay Pot
but you can make this dish in a saute pan with a lid
The purpose of browning is to create something called the Maillard reaction:  As the meat is seared over high heat, the proteins and carbohydrates interact to produce distinct flavor compounds which come alive when the liquid is added to the pot.  The result is a richer, deeper flavor.  Doc wanted to find out if you could literally cook the spices and other aromatics into the meat—penetrating it in with flavor.  He performed this feat on a Lamb Tagine and he braised chicken with Indian flavors.  But what caught my eye was his recipe for Clay Pot Pork.
When I was last in Hong Kong, I’d really loved the Vietnamese cooking I encountered.  Clay Pot Pork is a Vietnamese classic and I couldn’t wait to try it.  It did not disappoint.  Doc pointed out that in place of browning the meat, the Vietnamese caramelize the meat by actually making caramel.
I used Organic Brown Sugar but you can use
White Sugar if you’d like
        That is really a very easy process.  I took Organic sugar, put it not in a Clay Pot but just in my large sauté pan.  It quickly caramelized at which point I added chicken stock and fish sauce and made a beautiful poaching liquid. The aromatics went in next and finally the Pork Shoulder.  It bubbled away on the stove for only an hour.  Served on Basmatic rice ringed with tender baby peas, the dish was an absolute winner.   Using very easy-to-find ingredients, it’s almost amazing how satisfyingly complex this wonderful sauce becomes.  Since Doc pointed it out, I should too: The fish sauce does not in any way make the dish ‘fishy’, it just provides a lovely saltiness. Go ahead and make this and I am sure whoever you cook it for will be astonished at your Asian cooking ability.



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