Monday, December 26, 2016

Hunan charcuterie and leeks

A couple of more wonderful props were awarded to All Under Heaven during the last few days of 2016. 

But before we get to them, I first want to thank everyone for making this the best year of my life in spite of everything else that went on, for the simple reason that my two books were published and then received such a warm welcome. And not only that, but we moved into the house of our dreams. And then throughout the year so many wonderful things happened to friends and family. Really, I am endlessly grateful. 

Thank you for reading this blog, cooking from my recipes, and being out there in the world.

Christmas cheer in a Chinatown alley
In The Kitchn’s “6 Travel-Inspired Cookbooks for the Adventurous Cook,” Dana Velden points out that “I can't think of a reason why any serious student of Chinese food and culture would not have this comprehensive and informative volume on their shelf. Authentic yet accessible, All Under Heaven is fascinating and not as intimidating as its heft and breadth would have you believe. The author's simple line drawings help to clarify techniques and ingredients and add charm to the whole experience.”

And then in Chowhound’s “Cookbook Gift Guide for the Holidays,” Amy Sowder writes that in Heaven you can “wrap your head around all the varieties of Chinese food in this comprehensive, contemporary portrait of country's culinary geography and history that has shaped it.”

What happy reviews!

*  *  *

This is a simple recipe for the end of the year. We are all tired of making fancy stuff for the holidays – or at least I am – and so this is the sort of super easy recipe I like to turn to when I find things like excellent young leeks hanging out at the market.

We have had lots and lots and lots of rain here in the Bay Area these past couple of weeks (months?), and so produce is either fabulous (particularly cold weather crops like root vegetables) or soggy (like lettuce). I tend to go with what the market suggests, so when I spied these amazingly beautiful young leeks, I knew what we were having for dinner.

Thin leeks like these are usually the result of thinning out rows to give the lucky remaining plants plenty of room to grow into luscious mammoths. The tender ones that don’t make the cut, though, are genuinely flavorful and don’t have to be braised or chopped into submission, and that makes them excellent for stir-fries.

They require only the minimum of care: trim, rinse carefully, slice, and you’re ready to go. I’d caution that these don’t store well and the leaves turn yellow if allowed to hang around, so enjoy them the same day that you bring them home.

As for the meat, either Hunan or Cantonese cured pork belly work equally well. Hunan larou is smoked, while the Cantonese version is not but yet is ever-so-slightly sweet. To prepare the meat, rinse off a hunk, shave off the skin (discard or toss in the soup pot), and then slice the pork against the grain into thin shards. This allows the fat to render easily, and the meat won’t turn into hard nuggets if you keep the heat low as it surrenders its fat.

Look for brands that are made in the U.S. rather than China, as they will be of higher quality. Select strips that have thin ribbons of dark meat woven with the pale fat, as this means they will be both tender and flavorful. Keep the charcuterie dry and closed in a plastic bag, and it will remain in perfect condition for quite a few weeks as long as it is kept chilled – freeze for longer storage.
Larou hanging out a window in SF
And again, this is more of a template than a regular recipe. It all depends on what you have, what you like, and what else is being served. Feel more than free to double or halve the meat, add fresh chilies or hot sauce, toss in chopped fermented black beans, add some thinly sliced pressed bean curd... the possibilities are truly endless. 

Here is a recipe from the archives that is a bit more complex and very Hunanese with its layered flavors and perfect for the chilehead in your life. But if you want something soothing and low tech, go with today's version.

I serve this over steamed rice and nothing else really is needed on a cold winter night, except for maybe a good movie. I’m watching Die Hard for the millionth time once I finish up with this. It’s my favorite Christmas movie.

Leek and charcuterie stir-fry
Suànmiáo chăo làròu 蒜苗炒臘肉
Serves 2 as a main dish

Gaoliang and leeks
12 ounces / 330 g young leeks or green garlic
2 red chilies or 1 tablespoon Hunan style chile sauce, optional
1 tablespoon fermented black beans (doushi or douchi), optional
4 ounces / 120  g Cantonese or Hunan cured pork belly (larou)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons / 30 ml white liquor (gaoliang recommended)
2 tablespoons / 30 ml regular soy sauce

1. Trim the roots off of the leeks, as well as any soft or yellow leaves. You should be left with only springy stalks with bright green leaves. Cut the leeks on a deep diagonal into thin slices, and keep the greens separate from the whites. If you are using fresh chilies, remove the stems and slice them on a deep diagonal into thin ovals. If you are using the fermented black beans, rinse them in a sieve and then coarsely chop them.

2. Rinse the pork and cut off the rind. Cut the meat into thin shards against the grain, preferably into deeply diagonal slices so that they don’t end up too tiny. Set your wok over medium-low heat and sprinkle the pork in there. Toss them around now and then as they render their fat. When the white parts turn translucent, scoot them up the side of the wok and toss the optional chilies in their too before moving them up to the side of your wok.

3. Raise the heat under your wok to medium-high. Add the leek whites to the wok and toss them around in the oil. When they have wilted, scoot them up the side before adding the greens. Once they have wilted, add the optional chile sauce to the bottom of the wok to heat it quickly before tossing everything together.

4. Add the sugar to the dish, toss, and then the liquor and finally the soy sauce. Toss to coat everything evenly and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve hot.

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