Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pork Char Siu Men

I don't know about you, but sometimes I find ethnic cooking daunting.  To be precise, I am referring to recipes for traditional Asian or Indian foods.  You know, the ones where the ingredient list is a mile long and usually features exotic spices, special sauces and possibly strange creatures?  I really love these foods though, so when I see one of these recipes, my tummy starts rumbling, I can feel myself salivating... and then I am usually stopped dead in my tracks when I look at the ingredients and the preparation.  This seems to be what goes through my head:  "Lets see, do I have any of these ingredients in my pantry?  Hmm, negative.  Oh wow, it looks like it might take a whole week and/or all the dishes in my kitchen to prepare this!  Ah, but I want it so bad!!!  I better call one of my friends and see if she wants to meet me at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant."




This thing that happens is really strange, because I am definitely not lazy in the kitchen, and I am always up for trying new things.  Maybe it is the anticipated cost of getting said ingredients?  Whatever the reason, I am more apt to prepare elaborate Italian or French dishes, but I always seem to shy away from preparing Asian or Indian foods.  Because of this tendency, I have an awesome cookbook from the restaurant Wagamama that has been used less than a handful of times. (As an aside, this is the coolest noodle bar with a mantra of "positive eating + positive living" and you can even play a fun game on their website to save the book of udon!) I have spent many evenings wistfully looking through my Wagamama cookbook, and reminiscing about the meals I had at their London and Sydney locations.  I finally decided to take the plunge and prepare a slightly more involved dish.  I headed out on an excursion to my local Ranch 99 Market, accompanied by my good friend Steve.  Having him there was really helpful, and the ingredients for Pork Char Siu Men were not nearly as difficult to uncover.  And if I did fear the cost of ingredients?  Nothing I got was expensive and I will likely use everything again.  When you shop in this store you will see (and surely smell) things like you have never experienced before.  Personally, I felt like a kid in a big foreign candy store and Steve was the obliging parent holding my hand. 
Getting the chicken and pork bones for the stock was especially interesting: the two pounds of chicken bones I got came in a solid rectangle about the size of a small shoe box.  When I got them home I stored them in my fridge for a day, and then got started on my chicken stock.  It is difficult to express, but there was something very satisfying about checking up on my boiling stock, giving it a little stir now and then, and watching as the subtle flavors distilled from the bones, meat and vegetables.  


When the stock was finished, I took a taste of the gently simmering liquid before adding the seasoning, and I was pleased.  It certainly had more depth compared to packaged broth, although I must admit, I was hoping for something... I don't know, more, after all that effort.  Then I added the seasoning, and let me tell you, it was MORE.  I put a spoonful in my mouth and literally said, "Wow."  No one was in my kitchen to hear me, but I still said it.  I was completely amazed that I had created something in my kitchen that had such an absolutely incredible, authentic taste.  As of now I am convinced that Dashi No Moto seasoning has mythical properties to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Or, it might just be MSG.   
Finishing up the rest of the dish was a series of incredible moments: the beautiful transparency of the bok choy, the tender bite of the fresh ramen noodles, and the pork... Oh the pork... 
I took it out of the oven and the aroma of spice and sweetness was mouthwatering.  It was cooked through perfectly, and had a gorgeous dark color on the outside.  But really, it was the taste that convinced me to put this pork marinade on regular rotation for dinner.  If you think the whole noodle soup idea is too much for you, just make the pork.  You will be dazzled.  But if what you really want is to slurp away at your noodles and broth (and it is so much fun), it is essential to go through the steps of making the chicken stock.  The recipe just wouldn't be the same without the real stuff.    

Pork Char Siu Men
(Five-spice roast pork with bok choi and noodles)

Truly, this noodle dish was so soothing I think I melted into my chair while I was eating it.  And while I was slurping away at the noodles, I couldn't help but remind myself that this dish is not only completely delicious, but also healthy.  Each component-the chicken stock, the roasted pork, or the noodles-can also stand on its own as part of a separate dish.  And really, you could probably find most of these ingredients in the Asian-foods aisle of your local supermarket.  So, what are you waiting for? 

Japanese Chicken Stock: 
2 lb chicken bones
1 lb pork bones
1 onion peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped
6 green onions, cut in half
2 oz fresh ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon Dashi No Moto
salt, sugar, white pepper

Pork Char Siu Men: 
2 medium pork filets, about 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
9oz ramen noodles (not top ramen :)
3oz bok choy, well rinsed 
1 liter chicken stock
Canned bamboo shoots (menma), drained

Marinade: 
1 tablespoon char siu sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sake

The day before you want to eat, put the pork in a plastic freezer bag and add all the ingredients for the marinade.  Massage the bag for a few minutes to mix and distribute the marinade, then place the bag in the fridge overnight.

To make the chicken stock, put all the bones in a large stock pot, completely cover with water and bring to a boil.  Simmer bones for approximately 2 hours, and skim off any froth or fat that rises to the surface.  Next, add the vegetables (including the ginger), and enough water to completely cover the vegetables plus extra.  Bring the stock to a boil again, then simmer for another hour.  Remove the stock from heat and allow to cool.  (At this point, I put mine in the fridge overnight and continued with the recipe the next day) Using a fine mesh sieve or a colander lined well with cheesecloth, strain the liquid to remove bones and debris.  After straining, put the liquid back in the stock pot and simmer for another hour to hour and a half.  Skim off any fat that comes to the surface.  Before serving, season with 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, a pinch of white pepper and the dashi no moto.  

To prepare the pork, first preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.   Then brown pork on all sides with vegetable oil in a heavy, oven-safe pan over medium high heat, about 4-6 minutes total.  Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the pork for approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour.     

Meanwhile, steam or boil the bok choy until just tender.  I boiled mine for a few minutes, but a friend mentioned an easier way: put a little water in a bowl, add the clean bok choy, cover with a damp paper towel and microwave until tender.    Next, boil the ramen noodles until just tender; if fresh, this should only be about 3 minutes, or according to package instructions for dried noodles. Drain the noodles and then run them under cold water to stop the cooking. 

At this point, everything you need is prepared, and now you can assemble your dish:  Heat some of your freshly prepared stock on the stove.  At the same time, remove your roast pork from the oven.  Allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then slice on the diagonal.  Divide the cooked noodles between bowls, ladle the broth over the noodles, and top the noodles with the slices of pork, bok choy and bamboo shoots.  

4 comments:

  1. Oooh, those noodles look so good. I love making stock -- it makes me feel like a real cook. :)

    Do you have a favorite Vietnamese restaurant? I want to go there with you! I yearn for pho, frequently.

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  2. This looks and sounds amazing. I'm adding this to my "must cook" list!! Thanks!

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  3. Okay Amanda Let me know when you might prepare this again:) It looks fabulous! Yum:)

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