Friday, April 27, 2012

Amazing Hakka salt pork, green garlic & leeks

In the last post here, we talked about Chinese charcuterie and, more importantly perhaps, about how to make your very own Hakka-style salt pork.

 Now we're going to look at ways to transform those crusty coils sleeping in your fridge into dishes that are so good they practically defy description. But I'll try...

The only thing you really need to do with this cured pork is rinse it, slice it, and cook it. No seasoning is needed. At. All. 

You will find that these gorgeous porky slices embody just about everything you will ever want in a savory dish: meaty flavor, delectable fat, even-handed seasoning, and an enticing aroma. 

All you need to do is summon up a supporting cast. And since none of these are truly recipes -- more on the order of tossing things together -- I will just provide some general guidelines.
Green garlic

At the top here is a picture of a lovely breakfast or brunch dish that does complete justice to the salt pork: eggs and thinly sliced green garlic, as well as just a bit of oil to hasten the browning process. I added absolutely no other seasonings, and the dish was amazingly balanced.

Green garlic is available now around here for a brief couple of weeks, and I urge you to try this if you haven't already. 

At this stage in its life, garlic looks and acts a whole lot like leeks, which are their city cousins. Green garlic is much more rustic and yet also much more fleeting, as the stalks soon dry and brown as the garlic head matures.

Browned cured pork & leeks
When you buy either green garlic or leeks, look of course at the root end; the leeks especially should have plump white rootlets, while the garlic will withstand a little more manhandling due to its aspirations to grow up into a fat bulb. 

Most importantly, check the center of the leaves: do not buy either kind of allium if there is a flower stalk, which usually looks like a solid green stick. 

What does the flower mean? That the leek/garlic is already woody and tough, the leaves are getting ready to shrivel, and you will end up with very little to work with once you remove the stem.

Cured pork strips
To make this dish for two people, remove and discard the skin from half of a strip of the salt pork, slice the pork thinly against the grain, and then brown it over medium heat along with about 2 tablespoons oil. 

Wash and trim either two stalks of green garlic or one leek, making certain that there is no sand in between the leaves. Slice the green garlic or leeks very thinly on the bias and add to the browned pork. Stir them around over medium head until they wilt, and then add 3 or 4 eggs. Fry the eggs any way you like, and then serve up the dish.

A variation on this dish omits the eggs for a savory appetizer or beer snack or a nice side dish with plain congee: brown the sliced pork as explained above, add thinly sliced green onions or leeks, and then fry them together quickly with just a splash of rice wine to soften the veggies. 

Sliced cured pork
Finally, a very traditional Hakka way of enjoying salt pork is to trim and slice it as noted, and then steam the sliced pork on a plate it until done. 

Drain off the juices (save them for soup or a stir-fry, if you like) and serve the steamed pork with its fat still attached along with thinly sliced leeks or green garlic. 

The perfect dipping sauce for those who really want to scare off vampires is simply chopped garlic in vinegar. Save this dish for good friends you are not hoping to kiss.

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