Monday, December 23, 2019

Something special for the Lunar New Year table

Mark Saturday, January 25 on your calendar, boys and girls, for that is the beginning of the Lunar New Year. This time around we will be celebrating the Year of the Rat, as well as the beginning of a whole new decade that I hope will be much less stressful than the last and full of joy for you all.

With that in mind, I’m offering up this marvelous dish from Hunan. Its finished shape calls to mind the idea of togetherness or even a silver ingot (don’t get all judgey on me here… this is Chinese Culture 101), so it is an appropriately auspicious thing to serve as you usher in the New Year. 

As always, hunt down an excellent butcher to hook you up with this fresh pork hock (or shank). Its flavor is paramount to the success of the dish, and supermarket pork just won’t do. If you don’t have Shaoxing rice wine, sherry or even a dry white wine will work here, since it’s not a dominant flavor. 

Only a little bit of bean sauce is called for here (and, please notice, no soy sauce or salt), and that will probably end up being enough for your taste, as it imparts just a gentle salinity to the sauce and pork. Be sure and use a bean sauce that doesn’t have chilies in it, for this is a classic Hunan dish that offers up only muted suggestions of heat through the diced fresh chile that, of course, can way up be high on the Scoville scale if that is what spins your wheels. 

Make this over a leisurely three days to give the pork time to slowly braise and absorb the flavors while shuffling off the fat under its skin. This fatty layer will turn into a bit of buttery delight by the time you stick it in your mouth. And be sure and reserve the melted fat for something else—it’s flavorful lard that will be great in things like cōngyóubĭng (fried scallion flatbreads), where it will make those flaky layers even flakier. 

Hunan braised pork hock
Húnán zŏuyóu típăng 湖南走油蹄髈
Fresh pork hock
Serves 6 to 8

Pork and first braise:
1 pork hock (about 3 pounds | 1.5 kg), bone in 
and skin on
Water, as needed
1 cup | 250 ml Shaoxing rice wine
6 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
A handful of thinly sliced ginger
3 star anise
2 teaspoons ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns

Second braise:
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons bean sauce (such as Sichuan-style dòubànjiàng 豆瓣醬 or Cantonese yuánshàichĭ  原曬豉 or 原晒豉)
1 tablespoon crushed rock sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Blanched and ready to go
Finishing ingredients:
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped

1. Start this recipe at least 2 days before you plan to serve it. Place the pork in a saucepan, preferably one with a relatively tight fit so that lots of water are not needed, as this will dilute the flavors. Add water so that the pork is more or less submerged and bring the pan to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to blanch it, turning the pork over once or twice when you think of it. Dump out the water and rinse off both the pork and the pan. Return the hock to the pan.

2. Add the rice wine, garlic, ginger, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns to the pork. Pour in enough boiling water to almost cover the hock. Bring the pan to a boil and then lower the heat to a bare simmer. Slowly braise the pork for 3 hours. Turn off the heat, cover, and let it sit overnight. 

3. Pour the oil into a small pan and add the bean sauce. Stir this over medium heat until the sauce simmers, and then scrape this into the pan with the pork. Add the rock sugar and vinegar, bring the pan to a boil, and then lower the heat again to a bare simmer. Braise the pork for around 2 hours. Turn off the heat, cover, and let it sit overnight. 

Pour on the sauce
4. Remove the melted fat that has solidified on top of the liquid. Remove the pork hock and place it on a rimmed heatproof plate bowl. Steam the pork for around 2 hours. It will be perfectly done when you can easily twist the larger bone in the hock. While the pork is steaming away, strain the braising sauce into a smaller saucepan and discard the solids. 

5. Remove the hock from the steamer and pour any juices into the smaller saucepan. Bring the braising sauce to a full boil and quickly reduce it until it starts to thicken—you should have about 1 cup | 250 ml of thick sauce. Add the finishing ingredients, bring the sauce to a boil, simmer about 5 minutes, and then taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Pour the sauce over the hock and serve it whole so that your diners can enjoy it before you slice it into wedges. Serve this with hot steamed rice.