Hunan "Smoked" Pork with Leeks
Ingredients
  • 1 pound boneless pork loin, or a similarly sized single muscle from the fresh leg
  • Kosher salt or curing salt, for brine (see Note)
  • Brown sugar, for brine
  • Sichuan peppercorns, for brine
  • 3 tablespoons raw rice
  • 2 tablespoons white or brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tea leaves (optional)
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon bottled chile paste or red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • Scant teaspoon vinegar
  • Scant teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
Time Estimates

Prep time: 40 min  

Cook time: 40 min  

Total time: 80 min  

Directions

  1. Trim as much fat as possible from the meat. Choose a container that will hold the meat snugly and add water to cover, measuring the water as you go. Remove the meat and stir in 2 tablespoons salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns per cup of water. (If using a sealable plastic bag, a 2-cup batch of brine is about right.) Return the meat to the brine, seal the bag, and refrigerate overnight. If not smoking or otherwise cooking the meat that day, drain and rinse it, wrap it tightly, and refrigerate for up to 2 more days.
  2. To smoke the pork, drain and rinse it, if you have not already done so; pat dry. Line a wok and its lid with heavy-duty aluminum foil, letting the excess hang over the edges for now. Set a small wire rack (round or square, whatever will hold the meat an inch or two off the bottom) in the wok. Sprinkle the rice, sugar, and tea into the space under the rack, lay the meat on the rack, and turn the heat under the wok to medium. Turn on the kitchen fan if you have one, or open up the kitchen windows for ventilation. In a few minutes the sugar and rice will begin to smolder. At this point, cover the wok and crimp the edges of the two sheets of foil together. Leave a tiny gap for the smoke to vent so you can monitor the heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook 30 minutes; most of the smoke will be gone after about half that time, but the meat should continue to roast in the enclosed space. Turn off the heat, let the wok cool a bit, then uncrimp the foil and remove the lid. The pork should register at least 140˚F on an instant-read thermometer; reseal the foil and cook a little longer if it is still underdone. (The pork can be prepared 2 or 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated.) Wrap up the burnt stuff promptly in the foil and let the package cool before putting it in the trash.
  3. Set a wok on the lowest possible heat to preheat. Trim the root ends of the leeks and remove any beat-up outer leaves; don’t worry about washing them for now. Starting at the root end, slice the leeks diagonally about 1/2 inch thick up to the point where they start to turn from white to green. From here on, remove the tougher, darker green outside leaves and continue slicing the paler parts inside. Transfer the slices to a deep bowl of water, break up the outer rings to expose any dirt hidden between the layers, and let stand for a few minutes before lifting the leeks out of the water (leaving any dirt behind) and into a colander to drain.
  4. Slice about 4 ounces of the pork 1/8 inch thick across the grain. Cut the slices into bite-size pieces. Turn the heat under the wok to medium-high and add a tablespoon or so of oil. Add the drained leeks and cook, without browning, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, ginger, chile paste, liquids, and sugar and bring to a simmer. Add the meat slices and simmer until the leeks are tender. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, then stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until the sauce is glossy and slightly thickened. Serve immediately, with rice.

Yield

Makes 2 to 4 servings

Good to know

Although this is usually listed in English as "smoked pork," I’m not at all sure that the meat they serve is actually smoked; my guidebook to deciphering Chinese menus translates the key characters on the menu as là ròu, "cured pork," and I don’t always taste smoke in the restaurant versions.

Which beer should I drink with this?

Amber ale or Märzen

Notes

1. Commercial hams and many other cured pork products include a little sodium or potassium nitrite in the cure, to maintain the pink color in the cooked meat. Premixed curing salts with the proper proportion of nitrite are sold by commercial butcher supply houses, but you may also find them in small quantities in an Asian market, usually among the little plastic bags of spice mixes. I have used the Two Fishes brand from Hong Kong, which lists only one ingredient, "curing salt," but presumably contains nitrite, because my smoked pork comes out nice and pink like Canadian bacon. If you can’t find or don’t want to use nitrites, just use kosher salt; the meat will taste the same, though it will look like ordinary cooked pork.

2. Having tried it both with and without smoking, I definitely recommend the former, which is easy to accomplish on the stovetop with a wok and some aluminum foil. If you have some other form of hot smoker available, feel free to use it. Note that this recipe makes more smoked pork than you need for the stir-fry. I’m sure you can find other uses for it.

Variation

To prepare the pork without the smoking step, cure the meat as above (if you want to add a bit of liquid smoke, I won’t tell), and roast it to an internal temperature of 140˚F. Let cool before slicing. If you really don’t want to bother with the curing and smoking step but get a hankering for this dish, try slices of smoked ham, parboiled in plain water if they are too salty.

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

  

Photo: BGautreau/Flickr