Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sweet and Sour Pork and Bok Choy

We got some bok choy in our CSA recently, and I wanted to find a way to highlight it in a meal. Elspeth has liked the flavor in the past, but has also found the texture a bit puzzling. I decided to get out the handy-dandy food processor once more and see if finely processing the bok choy would make the veggie easier to consume but also still retain its flavor. We had some ground pork from the farmers' market in the freezer, so I thought I'd try to make an analog to the Teriyaki Ground Turkey and Vegetables dish that's become somewhat of a surprise hit in our repertoire. I knew I could use the teriyaki sauce again, but I wanted to try something new. (Why I wanted to try something new on a day when it was supposed to get to nearly 90 degrees F is a whole other story, but relates to the fact that 90 was the coolest it's supposed to be this week!). I wanted to go in a Chinese direction.

My all-time favorite Chinese cookery writer is Fucshia Dunlop, a British national who went to cooking school in Sichuan province. Her Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty is a fantastic read as well as a wonderful source of information about Sichuan ingredients and tasty Sichuanese recipes. (I loved her memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, as well, and, to my delight, I found out just now that she also has a blog http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/blog/). The index of Land of Plenty didn't yield anything promising for bok choy, so I decided to look under pork. I wanted some sort of sauce that could go with the ground pork and vegetable. She has an excellent sauce she recommends for dipping wontons, but the chili oil component might not work for Elspeth. I finally hit upon her Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. She uses pork tenderloin and employs quite a different method from the one I wanted to use, but I knew the sauce recipe was a good contender. Thanks to my gluten-free experimentation, I even had potato starch on hand.

I decided to serve the pork and bok choy over brown rice. I can tell you with confidence that cooking brown rice in the microwave is not a good idea. I didn't want the stove to be on for the 40 minutes it takes to cook brown rice, and God knows I wasn't going to make the wonderful oven-baked brown rice that I make in winter time (or any time it's not over 80 degrees). I was heartened by a post on the Home Cooking board of chowhound from a very reputable poster about his success with microwave brown rice. Alas, the technique yielded a very wet bowl of rice, though I will say that the texture of the actual grains of rice was fine.

Couple this loose brown rice with the fact that I got carried away on the quantity of sauce needed for my pork and bok choy, and you end up with a meal of the consistency I like to call 'slop'. Sigh. It's very tasty slop, I'll grant, but let's just say I wouldn't make it the focus of a dinner party. Next time I would not double Dunlop's sauce recipe and I have given her original quantities here.

I wasn't sure how Elspeth would react to this meal. It is on the sweeter side, which she likes in dishes like that Teriyaki Ground Turkey and Vegetables recipe. However, the flavor profile is unlike anything she'd ever had before, largely due to the Chinese black vinegar. Thankfully, she seemed to like it and ate a reasonable portion even though her appetite has been dented by the heat. (Did I mention that it's hot? Or that we really dislike heat in this family?) If I were making this dish for adults or spice-loving children, I'd be tempted to add some chili oil or Sichuan chilis to the dish for an extra flavor element. I might also be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar very slightly, though if I didn't have such a large amount of sauce that might not be an issue. I'm going to (microwave) steam some cabbage we have on hand and add that to our next round to help give more depth of flavor.

INGREDIENTS
1 TBSP neutral flavored oil (you could use chili oil here)
2-3 tsp garlic, minced or put through a press
1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced, put through a press, or grated on a microplane
1 lb ground pork
1 lb bok choy (or some sort of green cabbage)--1 lb is a guess, so use your judgment on the pork to veggie ratio you prefer
3/4 c. ginger-infused chicken stock or regular low-sodium chicken stock
1 tsp sesame oil
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced on the diagonal (optional--I didn't use any)

SAUCE INGREDIENTS
1/4 tsp salt
3 TBSP sugar (or evaporated cane juice)
2 TBSP Chinese black vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 1/2 tsp potato starch OR 3 3/4 tsp cornstarch


DIRECTIONS
  1. Whisk together the sauce ingredients and set aside
  2. Clean the bok choy and grind in a food processor until a uniform texture. You could use chopped bok choy if you prefer, of course, but might wish to add the stems first then the leaves to the skillet
  3. Heat the oil in a medium to large skillet over medium heat
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute or two
  5. Add the pork and bok choy and saute until the pork is fully cooked
  6. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil
  7. Re-whisk the sauce ingredients and add to the skillet, stirring. The liquid should start to thicken almost immediately
  8. Add the sesame oil and scallions if using, give the mixture a stir, and serve over rice

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