Monday, November 24, 2008

P-I-G. part 4.

It was interesting to see how three pounds of pork scraps could be transformed into so many different things over the course of several days. I remember putting that heavy, frozen package in my backpack at the market and walking away with the thought that I had completely lost my mind. What happened next was even better than I could have imagined, as the pork was divided in varying amounts to make rillettes, stir-fried with vegetables, and braised in soy sauce and rice wine, all with great (in my mind) success. By now the rillettes are only a pleasant memory, shared amongst friends, but I still had a few pieces of the red-braised pork left. I could merely reheat them and serve over rice, as before, but I feared that even heated gently on a low flame, the meat would toughen, become over-salted in its soy-wine infused juices.

Fried rice seemed the answer. Usually I make it with bacon; I figured that once it was sliced, my braised, fat-layered pork would have the same texture as thick-cut bacon. The meat was cold, the fat chilled firm, and it only took a minute to chop the cubes of pork into neat lardons. Finely shredded bok choy replaced my usual peas (in an attempt to add more vegetables to the dish) and brown rice replaced white (they tell me I should eat more grains, avoid white foods). (Last year, in a vegetarian restaurant somewhere in Taipei, I discovered that brown rice makes incredibly tasty fried rice). Sliced scallions and eggs went into their bowls, everything lined up next to the stove, ready to cook. This is my favorite moment, when my mise-en-place is all together, and I know that I am only a few minutes away from my dinner.

The bok choy is the first to go into the hot oil. (Actually, it is hot oil infused with a little bit of lard left over from making rillettes, just another example of how those three pounds of pork scraps have stretched across several dishes and meals in the past week or so). When the green stripes of chopped vegetables begin to wilt and deepen in color, the pork goes in, and then the rice. Next comes the scallions, scattered across the top and stirred in, infusing everything with their scent, and then the beaten eggs, swirling and coating every grain of rice with gold. I add a little salt - not too much, because the pork is salty enough, like bacon - and a few grinds of black pepper, and then a few more. I don't need to taste it for seasoning; it will be fine. I could do this in my sleep. (Not that I am immune to mistakes, even with these mainstays of my culinary repertoire; they happen, but less often than they used to).

With my bowl of fried rice in my lap I suddenly think of Beverly Cleary's childhood memoir, of her youth passed under the shadow of the Great Depression. How one generous family member once gave them a gift of ham, which went into every dish her mother could possibly think of until at last, all that was left was the bone, which went into the soup. My three pounds of Mangalitsa pork made up eight dinners, not counting several days of rillettes on toast. I still have some lard left over, gathered in a bowl in the fridge, some wine-rich jelled juices in a plastic tub, that could go into a sauce, or perhaps become the basis for a soup. I ain't done just yet.

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