Thursday, November 12, 2009

In a Past Life, I was Hunanese.

Immediately after I made my roast pork a few weeks ago, between mouth fulls of luscious pork sandwiches, a buddy of mine and I started to think about what we should do with all of the leftover crispy skin. He suggested dipping them in white chocolate and letting the chocolate re-harden for a seriously rich savory-salty-sweet dessert. Not really my style, but a pretty good idea I thought. I knew I'd have to come up with something better than my usual add hot sauce and soy-sauce routine.

The pork skins pack a ton of flavor, and they cry out to not have to compete with a thick sauce. So the following recipe is what I came up with. In the amount of time that it takes to boil some noodles, this project is cooked and ready to eat. Of course, its getting the pork skins that it extremely time consuming, although if you live in any place that has a significant Latino community, say New York City, you could probably go to your local Spanish deli and get roast pork, with the skins. A friendly deli would even just sell you the skins, since not everybody likes them. Just don't tell them you are using their roast pork to make Chinese food.

Ginger Pork Noodles
Serves: 2

The amounts of pork, ginger, and fresh green chilis are really all a matter of taste. But here is what suits my taste:

2 cups of roasted pork skins
4 Tbsps of freshly chopped ginger
4-8 fresh green chili peppers
1/3 cup Shao Hsing cooking wine (substitute w/ white wine and a splash of soy sauce)
1/2 lb. rice noodles
1 Tbsp peanut oil

Get a pot of fairly large pot of water boiling for your rice noodles. When the water in your pot is hot, but not yet boiling, start heating up a large skillet or wok to high heat. Add peanut oil to coat pan once pan is at least warmed up.

While waiting for your pan to heat up (we want it pretty hot) chop up the pork skin into size-sized strips. Then chop the ginger into very fine pieces. The smaller the better. You might also have time to prep the chilis, but be careful, if you chop chilies and wipe your eye, it will hurt. Be warned. I actually just use clean scissors nowadays for my chili chopping. The scissor cut leaves the chilies into more visible sized pieces that pack a punch and are also pretty nice to look at. The ginger just about becomes invisible in this dish, but the chilies add some nice color, and fantastic flavor.

Now that you've got a hot pan, throw in your pork. It should start sizzling pretty quick. Remember, this is pre-cooked, so we're just trying to get it hot, cook off a little of the white fat leftover, and get some of the crispiness back to the skin. Hopefully, around this time, your water is boiling too and you can add your noodles. I find timing stuff like this to be one of the really challenging things about preparing a whole meal for a lot of people by myself. Of course, this recipe is comparatively easy in terms of timing, but I think its important to try for good timing, if just for the efficiency of it. If you have to wait too long for the noodles, it makes the whole dish take longer to prepare.

So, by now your pork is re-crisping and your noodles are just put into the pot of water. Remember to keep the pan as hot as possible. We're going to throw the ginger in, and give it a good stir. After about 1 minute, put the chopped chilies into the pan. Give it a good stir, and after about 1 minute, add half of the shao hsing wine. Doesn't have to be exact, just make sure you have a little leftover for the end. The pan should be sufficiently hot that the wine cooks off almost immediately. If it's not immediate, that is fine, just give the wine time to cook off, we just want the flavor of the wine, but not the liquid of the thing.

Now, when the noodles are cooked, turn off the heat on your pan, drain the noodles, shake 'em around a bit to get off excess water and throw them into the pan. Keep stirring! You don't want to get them stuck to anything, and you want some of that pork fat to coat the noodles. The ginger will also tend to want to stick to the noodles, which is exactly what we want. While everything is still sizzling, throw in the rest of the shao hsing wine. Keep stirring to make sure everything is mixed together well. Serve in a bowl, preferably with chopsticks, but I suppose that is your own business.

The thing that I really love about this dish is that the pork, the ginger, and the chilies each have their own character to contribute to the dish, but no one ingredient dominates. You'll get bites of noodle without the pork and find that the noodles with the ginger have a ton of flavor in their own right. The pork pieces are big and intense, but not in the same way that a plate of meat would be. It's a little more subtle. I can't think of any reason why you couldn't skip the pork and just do ginger and chilies for a vegetarian dish. It would probably make a great first course if you had something else planned.

Update (11/13/09): Upon further experimentation, you could cook the chilies separately and throw them on top when the noodles are in the bowl. For that matter, you could replace chilies with scallions if you don't like heat. Remember that the more you cook the chilies, the less hot they are.

Update 11/18/09): I made the vegetarian version, without pork, just the ginger, chilies and noodles for a little birthday gathering we had last night. It was a huge hit. No leftovers, amazing.

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