Back in the day, in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, pork belly futures were traded. It was a market that made sense. Year round, pork was produced, the bellies were frozen and in the summer, when demand was high, bellies were defrosted and bacon was produced. So, there was a time lag between the expensive end of production and eventual consumption. This created an opportunity to turn a couple of quid. Weather patterns, political and social attitudes and even religion could have a marked effect on the future price of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Traders in brightly coloured jackets, worked the floor of the ‘Belly Pit’ in the Mercantile right up until 2011, squeezing a profit out of pork belly futures.
I am a very lucky guy in lots of ways. Both professionally and socially, I know more than my fair (or should that be fare) share of chefs and restauranteurs. Over the last few years, they have all, in various ways, been inspirational for me in developing my blog and the food that I prepare here. Kevin Hui, the affable and talented owner of China Sichuan here in Dublin is one such person. Recently, I told him that I planned to prepare Bao, the delicious steamed Chinese buns. I was surprised by Kevin’s reaction; “Don’t prepare the buns yourself. They are a pain to make. I’ll give you some.” This, of course had the opposite effect to that intended by Kevin. I had to make them.
Meatballs – they are not the most challenging thing to produce. Start with great meat, add some decent aromatics and be sure to serve them in a tasty sauce. If you do that, everything is bound to turn out fine. Fine, that is, if you don’t ask your daughter to choose between Thai and Italian. I made that mistake and she punished me for it. When I mooted the meatballs idea, she immediately said “Mmmmmmm, in a nice tomato sauce”. As I have already posted Italian style meatballs, my suggestion that I needed something new for the blog didn’t go down well. But she didn’t leave it there.
Many, many years ago, my great aunt Anna passed away. She was on my mother’s side of the family and a pretty fantastic woman by all accounts. She left to my mother, (amongst other things), a fine bone china tea service. Despite my being only a callow youth at the time, I well remember the beautiful translucent cups and delicate plates. The story went that the only person to whom tea and cakes had been served on that set was the Archbishop of Armagh. Back in the day, he was a man of great influence in Irish society. Having such a service was a rare thing. We really didn’t appreciate it. It spent most of it’s life in our house gathering dust on a basement shelf. I tell you this because there needs to be a good reason for any Irish person to get the good plates out. This easy to cook oriental delight is a great reason. So, with distant memories of Great Aunt Anna’s tea service, I present you with Sticky Oriental Pork Squares.
Globalisation is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it introduces us all to foods and flavours from all points on the compass. It also has a very annoying habit of promoting fake food. Many Brits are shocked when they discover that the most popular Indian dish in Great Britain the ‘classic’ Chicken Tika Masala is English not Indian. Tempura is Portuguese and Sauerkraut hails back to the building of the Great Wall, not a German in sight. Not that any of these are fakes they are just misunderstood. The fakes are in the ranges of foods like the Tex Mex crud of which any Texan would be ashamed or the Oriental sauces that sell themselves by combining fake flavouring with too much sugar. We buy it because it has a picture of a junk and some vaguely oriental looking text on the label. Thats globalisation for you.
I have a dark secret. I lock myself in a darkened room. I make sure there is nobody around to catch me. Then I do it – I watch TV cooking competitions. Yes, I have even seen a couple of episodes of The Great British Bake Off, where Mary Berry with the help of a comedian (and the girl in the heavy specs), separate the competent from the inept. I’ve sat aghast at some of the efforts on Irish Masterchef. I’ve suffered foul-mouthed tirades of Gordon Ramsey on Hell’s Kitchen from the safety of my couch. Greg Wallace and John Torode regularly put in an appearance, criticising the pathetic efforts of people who obviously can’t cook and should not be asked to try. Why do I do this?
A deal better than my presentation. Sous vide Pork Fillet
Regular readers will know that I do a bit of cycling. The day that I post this, I will be taking part in the 2015 Paris2Nice Cycle to raise funds for an Irish national suicide charity. It involves 75 cyclists from Ireland riding over 700 kilometres, with a number of us taking on the dreaded Mont Ventoux as part of the exercise. This is the 5th year of Paris2Nice and, to date, the endeavours have raised well over two million euro for a number of worthy causes.
I’m managing to totally befuddle myself. Up to a few weeks ago, I was pretty clear on the principles of Fusion Cooking. As I understood it, all one had to do was add some chilli, garlic, coriander leaf and a slice of lime to any tried and trusted European dish. Hey Presto! – Fusion Cooking. A regular beef stew could be transformed by the adding of a couple of bashed lemongrass stalks and a ghost chilli. Fusion was easy to understand, if less easy to comprehend. So, when I decided to cook some Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin Chinese Style, it was more confusion than fusion.
If you’ve come this far with me in this little series, you may as well go the whole way. No, this one can’t be done with your usual supermarket ingredients. You are going to have to make a trip to the Asian supermarket. But, before you throw your hands in the air and mutter something that demeans your spirit, take my word for it, the journey will be worth it. This is probably the most famous dish from the Szechuan region, a provence famed for it’s fiery food. The bad news is that it is very, very (extremely very) hot. The good news is that it is really easy to prepare. The bonus is hot or not, it is delicious.
I’m not a big fan of pork fillet. Traditionally, here in Ireland, it would be prepared by slicing it open and pounding it flat with a mallet or rolling-pin. Then it would be filled with a breadcrumb based stuffing, wrapped up and roasted for about an hour longer than needed. The result was always dry, flavourless and, strangely, prized at dinner parties.