Alright, I cheated little on this one. The actual recipe is for something called “Pork Larb” but, when I first said that I was going to make a dish by that name, Andrew made a face and suggested that, for appetite appeal alone, I should change it. Because there are so many things to recommend it, I am doing just that. This sweet and salty, sour and spicy warm meat salad is the national dish of Laos. There’s also a variation of the dish made in Northern Thailand. This version seems to straddle the border. It comes together in all of 25 minutes. And the ease with which it’s made is matched by the fun of eating it. You put the bowl containing the pork in the center of the table. Next to it goes the refreshing dipping sauce and a platter of vivid green Boston or Butter Lettuce leaves. Then everyone around the table just digs in. And where did this recipe come from? Salt Lake City, of course.
|Chef Ryan Lowder|
Southeast Asia is a magnet for a lot of American Chefs these days and they’re bringing home the dishes they love best. In this case, Chef Ryan Lowder is such a fan of Thai cooking that, to serve up his favorites, he opened a restaurant called “Plum Alley” (111 East Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT Tel: 801.355. 0543). It’s the chef’s second restaurant there following his return to his Utah birthplace from little old New York a couple of years ago. He has quite a resume. He was Chef de Parti at Jean Georges, a line cook at Mario Batali’s Casa Mono and he was executive chef at Mercat on Bond Street. He also had the good sense to marry another culinary star, his wife, Coleen, who worked at both the Four Seasons and Grand Central Oyster Bar.
|The Original Plum Alley, now|
a parking lot.
“Plum Alley” was named after a narrow alleyway that formed the backbone of Salt Lake City’s Chinatown in the early 1900s. Lined with laundries, restaurants and Asian specialty stores, the place was unceremoniously torn down in 1952 to make way for a parking lot. Strangely, I read that the parking lot is still a stop on local historical tours. What they see is beyond me. Far better it would seem to me, to visit Plum Alley, the restaurant, where at least you could have a taste of Asia instead of a look at the asphalt that used to a thriving Chinatown. Here’s the recipe from August’s Food and Wine magazine.
Recipe for Asian Pork in Lettuce Wraps from Chef Ryan Lowder of Plum Alley, SLC UT.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon long-grain rice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 Thai chiles, very thinly sliced with seeds
Boston lettuce leaves, for serving
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup torn basil leaves *
1/4 cup torn mint leaves
1/4 cup torn cilantro leaves
* If you can find Thai basil, so much the better but I used Italian basil.
In the skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately low heat, stirring a few times, until golden brown, about 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar and cook for about 20 seconds. Add the ground pork and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat finely, until no pink remains, about 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the fish sauce and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a medium skillet, toast the rice over moderate heat, shaking the pan often, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer the rice to a plate and let cool completely.
Put the toasted rice in a spice grinder and grind to a powder.
In a small bowl, combine the lime juice with the remaining 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, two-thirds of the chiles and 1 tablespoon of water. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter with the dipping sauce. Reheat the pork.
Remove from the heat and stir in the onion, basil, mint, cilantro and
the remaining chile. Sprinkle the pork with the rice powder. Transfer to a bowl
and place on or near the platter. Let everyone spoon the pork onto the lettuce
leaves and season with the dipping sauce.