Thursday 14 April 2011

Char-Siu Pork and some Tsukune Meatballs

I’ve got a bit of a thing about Cha-Siu Buns.  One main cause of my fascination is that soft, spongy, tasteless white bread, which the Cha-Siu pork is encased in.  Bread that white, is something I always associated with England.  “Ducks Bread” as we called it as children, presumably because it was unfit for human consumption.  So I really was surprised when first confronted, in a Chinese restaurant of some repute, with a Dim Sum consisting of barbequed meat wrapped in a slice of wonderloaf.  Anyway, I have always found Cha-Siu Buns to be delicious but a bit too much wonderloaf and a too little filling.  So I turned to the filling, and last time I was ordering Cantonese, I chose with great anticipation off the menu “Cha-Siu Pork” expecting a mound of delicious sticky, marinated and barbecued pork.  What I got was very disappointing.  A dry, quite flavourless and unexciting fillet of pork.  So, I did some research and discovered that, like Jerk, firstly the meat should really be barbequed or smoked; secondly, it should be marinated for a length of time and thirdly, stabbing or jerking the meat, helped marination. Amazing that two such different recipes from other sides of the world should have come to the same conclusion. 

I don't know why I am surprised but the more I examine traditional recipes from all over the world, so many of them utilize barbequing as its means of cooking.  It is fairly obvious that most houses did not usually have an oven.  I know that in most small villages, the locals used to take their bread and even their casseroles to be cooked in the communal oven or at the local bakers. So it is only natural that a barbeque or a house fire should have been the only means of cooking at home and that it should have remained a popular cooking method ever since.  It especially continues as the main cooking source for street food, where so many local influences prevail. 

However, I think the main factor in creating a fabulous Char-Siu Pork, which I can assure you this recipe unquestionably delivers, is the cut of meat. A cut like loin is really not suitable for Char-Siu, due to the lack of fat, so I strongly recommend a cut like shoulder of pork. Just the right amount of fat and half the price.  Get your butcher to bone it and butterfly it for you if you are not feeling confident with your butchers’ knife. The recipe calls for Red Miso, which I have to admit even I had trouble finding in the most elite of ethnic shops, which is probably why I discovered that it is often replaced with red food colouring.  However, I was determined not to follow suit, so I experimented with Clearspring Organic Japanese Brown Rice Miso which was more readily available.  It worked very well even if the results are not as bright red as they could be.  This recipe is also not barbequed but roast for a few hours in a slow oven.

Since I am on the subject of pork I thought I would share with you another recipe that I tried last week.  Tsukune are little Japanese meatballs, cooked and then marinated with homemade Teriyaki sauce.  They are traditionally made of chicken but I had some minced pork to use up, so I did, and they were delicious.  The kids really liked them and I loved the fact that the adults can dip theirs into the Shichimi Togarashi to spice them up and then add a squeeze of lime.  Yum!

Char-Siu Pork
1.8 kg Pork shoulder, deboned and butter-flied.  Buy the best quality you can afford.
2 tsp Five spice
Black Pepper
4 cm piece ginger
2 cloves Garlic
50 ml soy
50 ml Rice Wine Vinegar
60 ml Honey
2 tablespoons Red Miso
3tablespoons Brown Sugar
1 tablespoons Hoi Sin
Mix all the marinade ingredients together.  I wiz up all the ingredients including the ginger and garlic with a hand-blender until smooth.  Marinade the meat for at least 12 hours, turning every now and then.  Cook slowly with all the juices in a gratin dish covered with tin foil at about 160-170ºC for about 4 hours.  Check every so often, turning the meat over and making sure that there is enough liquid.  Be careful in the last hour that it does not burn.  The meat should be so soft you can flake it with a folk and the juices should have reduced to a sticky glaze.  Shred up the meat, spoon over the sauce and serve with some fluffy rice.

Japanese Tsukune with Teriyaki Sauce
Everyday Harumi by Harumi Kurihara
1 small onion (about 4 oz), peeled
1 stalk celery
10 oz ground meat
Salt and pepper, to season
1 medium egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 to 6 basil leaves
For The Teriyaki Sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
4 tablespoons caster sugar
Sunflower or vegetable oil for frying
Shichimi Togarashi
Lime (or lemon) wedges to garnish
To make the teriyaki sauce: Combine the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a pan and slowly bring to a boil. Turn the heat down low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until it has thickened. Skim the surface of any scum if necessary and set aside.
To make the Tsukune: Roughly chop the onion. Remove any stringy parts from the celery and chop it roughly.  Put all the ingredients, except the basil, into a bowl and knead to combine well. Finally, chop the basil into tiny pieces and add to the mixture. It is important to add the basil at the last minute so it retains its colour. Shape the mixture into rounds about 2 inches in diameter. Drizzle a little oil in a non-stick skillet and heat. When hot, add the Tsukune and cook until nicely browned on both sides. Take the cooked Tsukune, dip them in the teriyaki sauce while still hot, and sprinkle with Shichimi Togarashi and lime according to your own preference. Serve with lime or lemon wedges on the side.

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