Five-Spice Brined Ribs and….

I’ve become a big fan of brining (soaking an animal protein in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water before cooking), and this recipe is the result of an experiment in that arena. (You can find an excellent in-depth discussion of the basics of brining in Cook’s Illustrated.)

I have made this recipe with beef short ribs as well as pork ribs – cooking time will vary greatly, so plan on testing at regular intervals; otherwise, this is a great recipe that involves almost no prep time whatsoever. The brine will also work for other proteins – chicken, duck, rabbit, fish…and even tofu! (Count on 1/2 lb of bone-in poultry or 1/4 lb of fish or tofu per person).

Five spice powder is a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

brine – count on 1 pt (2 c) per lb of ribs

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c peach nectar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 1 T sugar, preferably brown or raw cane
  • 2 T kosher salt

ingredients:

  • beef shortribs or pork ribs (spareribs, back ribs, or country style) – count on about 1 lb per person

method:

  1. Combine the brine ingredients in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the ribs in one layer, stirring until the crystals are completely dissolved.
  2. Add the ribs to the brine – the liquid should just cover the meat.
  3. Refrigerate for 3-8 h, then remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry.
  4. Preheat the oven to 275F.
  5. Place the ribs on a roasting rack in a pan, and roast until very tender. For pork ribs, this can take as little as 1.5 h; for beef ribs, count on at least 2.5-3 h. Test for doneness: the meat should be sliding off the bones and easily pierced with a knife or skewer. If the meat begins to brown too much, cover with foil and reduce the temperature to 250F.
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Pig trotters simmered in black vinegar

One of the major advantages of buying meat from a local farmer is that you usually get to choose the cuts and packaging you want: so many chops, cut so thick, so many to a package. Another advantage (?!?) is that you get cuts you would perhaps never buy in the grocery store. Take pig trotters (feet), for example. I know they’re a staple of southern cooking in America, but I’ve only ever eaten them in China. In many conventional stores in America, you won’t even see such “unmentionables” – but if you ask, they might have some in the back!

After looking at a number of recipes, I decided to take a crack at the trotters in my freezer and discovered that they can be very easy to prepare and extremely tasty. In traditional Chinese food lore, pig trotters are served to women who have just given birth, and the dish also contains hard boiled eggs – the food is meant to help the woman recover from childbirth and increase her strength. I’ve left the eggs out, but you can simply shell some hard-boiled eggs and add them to the liquid when you reheat the dish. I’ve also eliminated browning the trotters before simmering – a messy step that ultimately doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in the end result.

The meat is fatty, but no more so that pork ribs would be, so the long, slow simmer is great for eliminating a lot of the fat – if you make this dish ahead and refrigerate it, you can simply lift the fat off the top on the second day. Not the world’s healthiest dish, but if your approach is to eat everything in moderation, it’s fine – serve with brown rice and a lot of healthy vegetable dishes!

ingredients:

  • 2 lbs pig trotters, cut in 1/2 lengthwise (having them further cut into crosswise chunks is also an option)
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 2 oz fresh ginger root, cut into thick slices
  • 1 c Chinese black vinegar
  • 1/4 c rice wine vinegar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 T dark soy sauce

method:

  1. Place the meat in a pot large enough to hold them in one layer, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cook 1 m, then drain off the water. At this point you may need to use a paring knife and/or tweezers to remove any remaining bristles. (This is the point at which my daughter said, “Ugh!” and left the room.
  2. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium high heat, just until it shimmers, then quickly explode the ginger until fragrant.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve completely.
  4. Add the trotters back to the pot and add enough water to cover them.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the meat is falling off the bone, approximately 1.5 – 2 h, less if the trotters have been cross-cut as well as sliced lengthwise.
  6. Bring to room temperature in an ice bath in the sink, then refrigerate overnight – this step is optional, but it enhances the flavor and allows you to easily skim the fat off the top.

do ahead:

This dish is best made ahead – a minimum of 12 h, or up to 3 days ahead is fine. Reheat the meat gently in the liquid, then serve.

variations:

  • If you prefer a more syrupy sauce, remove the meat from the liquid after reheating, then boil the liquid over medium high heat until it becomes syrupy. Pour over the meat and serve.
  • This same preparation could be used for pork ribs, cut into sections containing 3-4 ribs.

Broccoli Stem Stirfry

If you tend to have leftover broccoli stems, don’t toss them! We tend to use the crowns down to the main stem for a green vegetable with western meals, but that leaves us with quite a lot of long stems. These can be cut into “matchsticks” and stirfried into a delicious vegetable (or meat) dish.

ingredients:

  • 3-4 broccoli stems
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • salt, to taste

method:

  1. Peel the broccoli stems and  cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ matchsticks.
  2. Cut the bell pepper into 1/4″ dice.
  3. Heat the wok over medium-high heat, then add the oil just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the garlic and explode just until fragrant.
  5. Add the broccoli and red pepper and stirfry just until crisp-tender, approximately 2-3 m.
  6. Season to taste, then serve.

variation:

  • If you want to use some meat in this dish, a bit of diced bacon or ham cut into strips makes a nice addition. If you use bacon, you should cook the bacon first, then remove it to drain some of the fat. You can either use the bacon fat to stirfry the vegetables or dump it out and use oil. If you use ham, add it at the very end of the cooking process, just to heat it through. In either case, you’ll need to use less salt.

Five-spice Pork Tenderloin

I was happy to receive a sample of pomegranate juice in the mail from POM Wonderful (Thanks, Ryan!) and managed to keep some of it from being consumed directly from the bottle (our daughter is a huge fan!) Here is a fusion recipe I came up with that uses the juice both as a marinade and a sauce.

The other main flavoring is five spice powder, a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

Pork tenderloin is a perfect cut of meat to use when you’re in a hurry—it absorbs the flavor or marinades and rubs easily, cooks quickly, is deliciously tender, and looks very elegant when sliced and arranged on a plate. Here I’ve marinated it overnight to really let the flavors sink in, but you could also marinate it as little as 2 hours. If you use sustainably raised pork from a reliable source, you need not worry about cooking it to medium, rather than to well-done.

Makes approximately 6 servings.

ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 4 oz POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
  • 2 oz dry white wine
  • 2 oz dark soy sauce
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder

method:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the pork in a bowl.
  2. Pour the marinade over the pork in a glass dish, and marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 h.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450ºF (425ºF in a convection oven).
  4. Strain the marinade off the meat into a saucepan, then place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan.
  5. Roast 25-40 m (20 m will yield a medium roast, 40 m will be closer to well done), turning the pan once half way through the roasting process.
  6. While the meat is roasting, bring the marinade to a boil, then let it reduce to about 1/2 c—it will be slightly syrupy.
  7. Let the meat rest for 10 m before slicing on a slight diagonal and serving with the sauce.

variations:

  • The meat can be grilled or broiled, depending on your favorite cooking method.
  • Add pomegranate seeds (called anils) or diced pineapple to the sauce just before serving.

Stirfried Pork with Bamboo Shoots & Broccoli Stems

I generally try to buy local, fresh ingredients, but once in a while we will buy something more exotic, such as bamboo shoots. If you live near an Asian market, look for the vacuum-sealed packages – the bamboo won’t carry the taste of the can with it. If you want to stick with local ingredients, omit the bamboo and double the amount of broccoli stems – this is a great recipe for using up those tasty leftovers from dishes that just require the florets. Looking for something vegetarian or vegan? Substitute pressed or baked tofu for the pork. Want a quick veggie stirfy – omit the port entirely.

ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb pork – look for less lean chops, preferably from pastured pigs – cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ shreds
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz cooked bamboo shoot, cut into matchsticks approximately 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″
  • 4 oz broccoli stems, peeled and cut into matchsticks approximately 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″
  • salt, to taste

marinade:

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl, add the pork shreds and combine thoroughly, allowing to rest 15-30 m. Drain off excess marinade.
  2. Heat the wok over medium high heat, then add 1 T oil, heating just until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the ginger and garlic just until fragrant, then add the pork shreds and stirfry quickly just until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.
  4. Add the other 1 T oil, heating just until it shimmers, then stirfry the bamboo shoots and broccoli stem pieces just until crisp-tender.
  5. Add the pork back to the wok, stirfry quickly to combine.
  6. Season to taste, and serve.

Pork & Daikon Soup

This is a great winter comfort food that is quick to assemble but does need some time to cook. Of course, you could make this vegan by leaving out the pork and using a vegetable broth. I made a fun discovery about daikon by mistake (apparently I put the daikon too close to the cold air flow of the fridge): if you’re using it for soup, it can be frozen from its fresh state! (It wouldn’t work too well for other dishes after thawing – too watery.) Thaw it slightly to slip the skin off, then cut as indicated.

If you want to add the seaweed, you should look for kelp (scientifically called laminaria, known as haidai in Mandarin) that has been dried in strips. If you don’t have an Asian market nearby, you can alternatively order from the Maine Seaweed Company if you already know you like seaweed. For more information on seaweed, you can visit this page about the medicinal value of seaweed and Michael Guiry’s Seaweed Site, which has a lot of scientific info and great pictures.

ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb pork spareribs, cut across the bone into 2″ sections, then separated into individual ribs or 1 lb baby back ribs separated into individual ribs (try to buy pastured pork – you’ll do your health, your tastebuds, the pig, and the environment a favor!)
  • 1 qt water or broth (low sodium if you’re using canned)
  • 1/2 lb daikon
  • 1-2 strips of kelp, optional
  • salt to taste – seaweed is salty, so you may not need to add any

method:

  1. Place the ribs in the liquid and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and skim any scum from the top of the liquid – if you boil too rapidly, your soup will be cloudy. Simmer for approximately 1 h, or until almost completely tender.
  2. In the meantime, peel the daikon and cut it into 1″ thick rounds, then quarter or halve the rounds.
  3. If using kelp, wash it, soak it in cool water for 15-30 m, rinse and repeat, rinsing it again before cutting it into 2″ sections.
  4. Add the daikon to the soup, and simmer for 30 – 60 m more, adding the kelp about 15 m before pork and daikon are both completely tender. The kelp will help to thicken the soup slightly and give it a smooth, glossy look and feel.
  5. Adjust the seasoning, and serve.

Twice-Cooked Pork

This dish often shows up on restaurant menus in America, and it seems there are a million different variations. Because the pork is cooked twice, you cannot make this with a very lean cut, and pork belly really is the way to go if you can find it – just be sure to serve it with lots of lower-fat vegetable sides to compensate for the high fat content. If you can’t find pork belly, use the least lean cut you can find – stay away from the loin.

I do try to stick to fresh, whole, close to the source ingredients, but in this recipe I do use tian mian jiang, which you can read about in the Pork Shreds with Chinese Broccoli post. Hoisin sauce or even miso paste, available in most conventional groceries’ Asian section is a fine substitute.

ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb pork belly, preferably from a pastured pig – better for you, for the pig, and for the environment!
  • 1 fresh red chili (or you can substitute 1/4 of a red bell pepper if you don’t like spicy food)
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 T tian mian jiang
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, seed and cut the chili into long strips, or, if you are really daring, cut the whole chili into rounds on a slight diagonal.
  3. Cut the scallions into 1″ pieces on the diagonal.
  4. When the water boils, add the pork, reduce to a simmer for 20 m. Do not boil, or the meat will be very tough.
  5. Remove the pork from the water, let it rest until cool enough to handle, then cut it into thin slices against the grain.
  6. Heat the wok over high heat, then add the oil just until it shimmers.
  7. Explode the chili until fragrant, then add the meat, stirfrying just until it is heated through and starts sizzling.
  8. Add the scallions and the remaining ingredients, stirfrying well to combine.
  9. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

variations:

You can add just about any vegetable to this dish, adding to its color and nutritional content – the most common additions seem to be bell peppers and bamboo shoots.