I have a confession to make. Despite my Asian heritage, I don’t know much about cooking Asian food. Sure, I know how to stir-fry and know how to use the more common Asian ingredients, but Mom’s home cooking was nothing like restaurant food. After years of cooking for myself, then going to culinary school, I can make Bechamel sauce for mac and cheese, French Onion Soup, and Chipotle and Chorizo Chili without blinking an eye, but ask me how to make Chinese standards like Red Cooked Pork, Sweet & Sour Sauce, or Kung Pao Chicken, and I wouldn’t know where to start.
So last weekend when Chef and I were batting around ideas for a special using Black Sea Bass, and he said “Why don’t we go Asian?” I felt my heart sink. Um, anytime my family went out for say, Chinese, we ate family style and had giant fish steamed whole, head on and everything, with a simple garnish of ginger and garlic. The waiter would cut the fish open and remove it’s spine and ribs tableside. Then my mind went to all the restaurants in Chinatown with succulent roasted meats hanging in their windows, beckoning hungry patrons from the street. I thought of my favorite Thai joint in Astoria, and the hot stone bowl casseroles and seafood pancakes at my favorite Korean restaurant. Still, I didn’t know how to cook any of these dishes, much less how to adapt them to western style fine dining.
I took this as motivation to get back in the kitchen – my home kitchen – and further educate myself on how to use new ingredients and new methods. I thought I would start with one of my favorite comfort food items, and a Chinese staple: Char Siu, or Chinese roast pork. It always reminds me of working summers at my Dad’s office in Chinatown, where I would regularly have a simple lunch of Char Siu with white rice and fresh stir-fried greens. So I decided to consult the country’s leading authority: Martin Yan. I copied down the ingredients from my autographed copy of Martin Yan’s China and drove down to my local Asian grocery. The budding chives and Chinese broccoli looked really fresh, so I picked up some of those too and stir fried them with some fresh garlic and chili sambal. I know that Siracha Sauce is all the rage right now, but I prefer Chili Sambal as a spicy condiment.
By the way, a thousand pardons for the recipe drought. I’ve been cooking a lot, just not at home, and nothing I can share. I finally got some time this week to cook for Boyfriend and myself. This recipe for Char Siu is for oven roasting, but I’ll bet grilling over hardwood charcoal would be smoky and delicious too! Enjoy.
Char Siu (Chinese Roast Pork)
Adapted from Martin Yan’s China
Notes: Mr. Yan’s recipe was just like my memories of Chinatown, except for a couple things. First, it called for sugar in the marinade, which I found unnecessary. Also, after cooking, his instructions were to simply bring the marinade to a boil and brush over the pork before serving. I found the resulting sauce was too sweet and thick for my taste. After bringing it to a boil, I diluted the marinade with some hot water and that seemed to do the trick.
INGREDIENTS, serves 4
(3) 1/2 lb.well marbled shoulder steaks or 1-1/2 lbs. pork butt
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. hoisin sauce
3 Tbsp. rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. ground white pepper
1 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder
1. If you are using pork butt, slice the meat into three pieces of equal thickness.
2. To make the marinade, mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the meat, cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours. (I only had time for 4 hours, but if you marinate longer, you’ll get more flavor, and an attractive red ring around the meat when it’s sliced).
3. To cook, preheat oven to 400°F. Place a rack over a baking dish (you may want to line it with foil for easy cleanup). Pour about 1/4″ of water in the baking dish. Arrange the meat slices in a single layer on the rack and roast, basting with the marinade every 15 minutes until they are cooked through. (For 1″ thick shoulder steaks, it took about 45 minutes). Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes then slice it against the grain.
4. Combine the marinade with any pan drippings in a small saucepan and bring it all to a boil over high heat. Dilute with hot water if you want a thinner, less sweet sauce, or simmer and reduce if you want a thicker sweeter sauce. Brush over the pork and serve.
Spicy Chinese Broccoli with Budding Chives
Notes: Chinese broccoli can be braised whole, but the stalks stay very crunchy long after the leaves are wilted. By separating the leaves and floret from the stalk, then slicing the stalk into smaller pieces, everything will cook more evenly and be less work to eat.
INGREDIENTS, serves 4:
one bunch (about 12 stalks) of Chinese Broccoli
one bunch (about 1/4 lb.) Budding Chives
1-1/2 to 2 tsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. Chili Sambal (adjust to taste)
1. Wash the Chinese Broccoli thoroughly in a large container of water. Separate the large outer leaves from stalk and trim the florets to 2″ long pieces. Thinly slice the thick part of the stalk. Cut the Budding Chives into 2″ long pieces.
2. Combine oil and garlic. Heat wok over high heat. Pour oil garlic mixture into the wok and swirl around a few seconds. Add all the Chinese broccoli and Budding Chives to the wok. Saute for about 5 minutes over high heat, stirring continuously, and adding oil as needed to lightly coat the vegetables.
3. Add enough water so that after any steam clears, there is about 1/4″ of water at the bottom of the wok. Simmer over high heat until most of the water has evaporated and the broccoli is cooked but still bright green. Season with salt and Chili Sambal to taste.