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.
Recipe for Clay Pot Pork from John Willoughby
|Using Pork Shoulder makes this a very economical dish|
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup chicken stock, more if necessary
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 small fresh chili, minced (optional)
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias, green and white parts separated
1 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder (or pork belly) cut into 1-inch cubes
Steamed white rice for serving.
1. Put the sugar in a medium-size heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat, shaking gently every once in a while, until it starts to melt. Start stirring with a fork and continue, crushing clumps of sugar so that the sugar melts evenly. When the sugar is liquid, continue to cook for another minute or so until it darkens, then remove from heat.
2. Combine the chicken stock and fish sauce and carefully add at arm’s length to the sugar (it will splutter and pop). Turn heat to medium high, return sugar mixture to the heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until well combined. (If the sugar clumps when you add the liquid, don’t worry, it will melt again.)
3. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, pepper, chili if using, and the white portion of the scallions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are nicely softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add pork to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, partly cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of stock or water if the pan looks too dry, until the pork is very tender and the liquid has reduced to a medium-thick sauce, about 1 hour.
5. Remove from heat, add the green part of the scallions, and serve over steamed white rice.
Yield: 4 servings.