Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Experiments with Mangalitsa.

The two-pound block of Mangalitsa pork belly has been staring at me reproachfully from the freezer for several weeks now, falling off the shelf every I reach past for the frozen peas, every time I move it to make room for the ice cream. I had to do something, with the belly and with the four pounds of back fat that still needed to be rendered down into lard. (The lard I took care of on Saturday, and it left me with a couple of pints of clear fat that solidified into hard white cakes, one in the freezer, one in the fridge). I left the belly in the fridge to thaw, then forgot about it until I came home from work today without any idea of what to make for dinner.

Last time I tried to make dongpo ro I did it incorrectly, with pre-cubed pork belly, and without blanching it first. This time I blanched the neat square of belly briefly, then pulled it out and sliced off about half an inch from one end, so it would fit into my smallest Le Creuset pot, about 1 3/4 quarts. The big square went into the pot with chunks of spring onions, a few pieces of star anise, and a couple of sloshes of soy sauce and rice wine. I would simmer it slowly, then eat it another night. Tonight needed something different.

I sliced the leftover piece of belly into somewhat irregular lardons (I would probably get kicked out of culinary school in about two days), then tossed them with a little soy sauce and a sprinkle of raw sugar (which is what I use in my tea, and when I don't have any yellow rock sugar on hand. A real Chinese chef would throw a cleaver at my head, but I don't have any real Chinese chefs standing around in my kitchen). I scrambled some eggs (a gift from my boss, not the eggs we bought this past weekend, but from the last time she was down there, a few weeks ago) in a small pool of lard, and scraped them out of the pot when they were partly set, partly still liquid. In went a little more lard, and then the chunks of belly. They caramelized a little around the edges, began to melt, and I threw in the defrosted peas (I nearly always have frozen peas in my freezer) and a big handful of chopped scallions.

When the peas were done, I added the cold leftover rice, smushing it down with my spatula, tossing it with the pork and vegetables. When every grain had separated from its fridge-cold clumps, in went the eggs, salt, pepper. It was perfect, the pork salty-sweet and chewy, the taste of Mangalitsa coming through the dark flavors of soy and caramelized sugar, the rich fat light on the tongue. I may never use bacon in my fried rice again, except as a last resort.

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