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.
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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.

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.

Seaweed & Sparerib Soup

This is a wonderful winter comfort food that is a snap to put together, although it does need some time to cook. For this dish 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 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:

  • 1/2 lb pork spareribs, cut across the bone into 2″ sections, then separated into individual ribs
  • 1 qt water or broth
  • 4-5 strips of kelp (they will grow enormously!)
  • 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 45 m, or until almost completely tender.
  2. In the meantime, wash the kelp, soak it in cool water, then rinse it again before cutting it into 2″ sections.
  3. Add the kelp to the soup, and simmer for 30 m more. The kelp will help to thicken the soup slightly and give it a smooth, glossy look and feel.
  4. Adjust the seasoning, and serve.

Pearl Meatballs

These delightful little meatballs are coated with rice – they will look like they’re studded with pearls if you use short-grain rice, and if you choose to use longer-grain rice, they will look like little hedgehogs. A big hit with kids, and a good school lunch item if packed in a thermos. Can be made ahead and reheated for a last-minute meal.

Glutinous rice (AKA sticky or sweet rice) is a very short-grain type of white rice that is used for dishes where its stickiness is a plus. It forms the base for Japanese mochi and Chinese rice cake, for example. It is also available in brown, but as with all whole grain rices, that will take much longer to cook and the appearance will not be so pearly.

Please note that the rice needs to be soaked for a long time before preparing this recipe, so do that early or overnight.

ingredients:

  • 1 c glutinous rice (you can also use regular, medium-grain rice)
  • 3/4 lb ground pork, preferably not too lean – look for pastured pork if you can find it!
  • 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms: stems reserved for making stock, caps finely minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 large egg, from pastured hens if possible
  • 2 T cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato flour
  • 1 T water (or oil if you’re using very lean meat or poultry)
  • salt and pepper to taste

method:

  1. Rinse the rice well, then soak: you can boil water, then pour it over the rice and allow it to soak for 3 h, or you can use cold water and soak the rice overnight. Drain thoroughly.
  2. Oil a heatproof plate that will fit into your steamer.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to mix thoroughly.
  4. Shape the mixture into 1.5″ balls, then roll in the soaked rice to coat completely.
  5. Place in a single layer on the plate, then steam 10-15 m – when done, there will be no pink left in the center.
  6. You can serve the meatballs on the same plate or pile them in a bowl.

do ahead:

The meatballs can be assembled, steamed, then cooled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Resteam 10 m to reheat.

variations:

  • The meatballs can be made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the flavor varying accordingly. Adding a bit of minced ham and/or shrimp makes poultry versions a little more flavorful.
  • In Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop jazzes these up by adding minced ham and shiitakes to the rice instead of the filling – this makes for a more interesting presentation and opens the door to even more variations….

Red-cooked Pork Belly or Ribs

This is a great winter dish – warm and rich – which can be lightened up considerably by adding some vegetable ingredients. The trademark red color comes from caramelizing the sugar before adding the other ingredients. Like most of the braises in Chinese cooking, the quick assembly and long cooking time make it an ideal dish to make for company – you will have time to make a few other dishes while this one cooks. Fuchsia Dunlop has a lengthy introduction to this dish in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb pork belly (with or without skin) or spare ribs (can be cut across the bone or into small sections of 2-3 ribs)
  • 2 T oil
  • 2 T sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 5 slices fresh ginger root
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths
  • 1-2 dried red chilies
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 star anise or 1/2 tsp anise seed
  • 2 c chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste

method:

  1. Place the meat in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer 5 m. Drain and rinse.
  2. Cut the pork belly into large cubes, approximately 1″ square.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add the sugar and allow it to caramelize to a rich brown.
  4. Immediately add the pork and cooking wine and turn gently to coat with the caramel.
  5. Add the vinegar, soy sauce, ginger root, scallions, chilies, cinnamon, anise, and enough broth to just cover the meat.
  6. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce to a simmer, cover and braise on low heat or in a 325 F oven until completely tender, approximately 1 h.
  7. If you like a thicker sauce, you can remove the meat to a plate and reduce the sauce over high heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Add the meat back, stir quickly to reheat.
  8. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

variations:

The following ingredients can be added toward the end of the simmering:

  • fried or pressed beancurd cubes
  • rehydrated wood-ear
  • sliced or quartered shiitake mushroom caps (fresh or rehydrated)
  • sliced bamboo shoots or water chestnuts (available canned in most grocery stores)

do ahead:

 

 Like most braises, this can be made a few days ahead and reheated over low heat – keep refrigerated in a tightly covered container. It can also be frozen for 2-3 months – thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

Steamed Pork with Five-Spice Rice Powder

This is a delicious dish that can be quickly assembled if you use Cream of Rice cereal or the rice powder sold in Asian markets. Or you can make the rice powder from scratch – it’s not difficult, but will take an extra step (see note below). You can then let the dish steam while you prepare some other dishes to accompany it.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: 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. If you’re in a hurry and can’t find the ready-made mixture, you can substitute ground anise seed.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz pork, sliced 1/8″ thick across the grain: You can use pork butt, belly, or shoulder, but stay away from the overly lean cuts or the meat will be tough when steamed.
  • 1/2 c Cream of Rice cereal
  • 1/4 tsp five-spice powder

marinade:

garnish:

  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the meat slices and marinate for 30 m.
  2. In a dry wok or skillet, toast the rice cereal and spice powder until light brown and fragrant, then set it aside to cool.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, then coat each slice with the rice mixture and arrange, overlapping, on a heatproof plate.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining powder over the top of the dish, drizzle with the reserved marinade, and steam ove medium heat for an hour or until the meat is meltingly tender.
  5. Garnish with scallion and a drizzle of sesame oil, and serve.

note:

To make the rice powder from scratch, toast a mixture of 1/4 c glutinous rice and 1/4 c medium-grain rice in a dry skillet until lightly browned, adding the five-spice toward the end of the toasting. Use a food processor, spice grinder, or coffee grinder to grind it finely. This mixture can be made in larger batches and kept in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

variations:

You can substitute other meats for the pork:

  • spare ribs – across the bone or left whole;
  • beef slices – you may want to add 1-2 T of oil to the marinade if the beef is lean;
  • chicken – traditionally, the pieces of chicken are cut into pieces, bones and all, but you could use whole pieces or cut them off the bone and cut into large (2×1″) chunks. Reduce steaming time to 30 m.

You can also make the dish spicy by adding ground red pepper (cayenne) to taste.

do ahead:

This dish can be steamed ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, for 2-3 days or frozen, tightly covered for 2-3 months. To serve, steam it until heated through – no thawing required, although you should be sure your plate can withstand the temperature change.