Monday, October 16, 2017

Pork fluff is so amazing... and so easy

This way to prepare meat is beloved by just about every ethnic Chinese person out there. And for good reason. But strange as it may be, pork fluff has pretty much remained a mysterious secret to everyone else.

Yes, you can buy it in most Chinese grocery stores. And it’s often rather tasty. My personal favorite brand is from Taiwan: Hsin Tung Yang. This commercial variety has a really flossy texture that reminds me of cotton candy—and is probably why some people prefer to call this “pork floss”—and the quality is high enough to pass muster if homemade is not available.

How do you use it? Well, it is the ideal accompaniment to a bowl of plain rice or a friendly breakfast array of congee dishes. This is so delicious that it needs little more than a simple starch to back it up with not too many frills or bells. You really need the gentle sweetness of rice or wheat to complement all the glorious textures and flavors of the pork, and so the other standard ways to enjoy pork fluff are to either sandwich it between two slices of white bread or (my husband’s favorite) fill a fresh, hot steamed bun, or mantou, with as much as he can get away with.
Cube the pork

He remembers being conscripted for pork fluff duty at an early age. This was one of his mom’s recipes, and the most boring part—stir-frying and smacking at the meat in a hot wok—was generally relegated to her eldest and more hyperactive son. Since he has always been a picky eater with an enormous appetite, he would gladly seize this opportunity to climb up on a stool in front of the coal stove and get to work, mainly because this meant he got to sneak in more oil than his mom specified in order to get a really crispy edge to the meat and to heighten the flavors with a lot more seasonings. Now you can see where my very own culinary Mr. Blackwell got his start.

The recipe here meets his exacting standards, I’m happy to say. As with so many things, please view this as a template. You can use chicken or fish here instead of pork, or other meats like beef and goat. All of these are traditional in different parts of China.

Break up the cubes
The seasonings are also nothing more than a suggestion. Finely shredded ginger, for example, could be added to the wok when you start frying the pork, or you could use oyster sauce instead of soy sauce, or you could toss in finely shredded laver seaweed (aka zicai or nori) at the very end.

The only things you really need to do is 
a) make sure the meat is braised until it is super tender, as this encourages it to fall apart in the wok, 
b) use the right amount of oil, since you don’t want this either dry or soggy, 
c) keep stirring and whacking for 30 minutes, which can be viewed as a great aerobic exercise that builds up a Popeye-like forearm, and 
d) make sure that all of the liquids are fully boiled off before you remove the wok from the heat, as you want the meat to be crispy.

Hand-shredded & ready to fry
Pork fluff
Ròusōng 肉鬆
Jiangsu and all over China
Makes about 4 cups ( )

Pork and braise:
1 pork loin (around 1 to 1½ pounds | 450 – 600 grams)
¼ cup | 60 ml Chinese cooking rice wine or Taiwanese Mijiu
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
Water to cover

Wok seasonings:
¼ cup | 60 ml peanut or vegetable oil, used ok
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon (or more) toasted sesame seeds

1. Cut the pork into 1 inch | 2 cm squares. Place the pork in the bottom of a pressure cooker, cover with water, and simmer for around 10 minutes. Dump out the water and rinse off any scum from the meat and the pan.
After 15 minutes or so

2. Return the meat to the pan and add the rice wine, soy sauce, and water to cover. Cover the pressure cooker and set it over high heat. Reduce the heat as necessary to maintain second-ring pressure, and cook it for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and release the pressure before opening the lid. The meat should be tender enough at this point to crumble at the least pressure. Use a slotted spoon to remove it to a wok and reserve the cooking liquid for something else. Line a large platter with crumpled parchment paper or a paper towel.

3. Lightly whack away at the pork to reduce it to shards, and then crumble it into fine threads with your fingers. Toss the pork with the oil and set the wok over medium heat. Use a wok spatula to toss and break up the pork, adjusting the heat as necessary. Add more oil if the pork begins to stick, but be careful not to make the meat soggy. After about 20 minutes, the pork will be light gold and the edges of the shards will sprout fine filaments that will crisp up as you continue to fry them. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and sesame seeds at this point and continue to toss and break up the meat into finer and finer threads. After 30 minutes total frying time, taste and adjust the seasoning. The pork should be fine and crumbly at this point, and it will become even more divine as it cools. Scrape the pork fluff out onto the platter and let it cool completely. Refrigerate it in a closed container. It will stay perfect for weeks, if for some strange reason it happens to last more than a day.

A video of the tossing and whacking in action