Who Can Resist Candy Pork?

The most appropriately named Candy Pork.

The most appropriately named Candy Pork.

 

If there were two things that my Dad loved, it was candy and it was pork.

After all, when you are of Chinese ancestry, pork is practically in your DNA.

And when you live most of your life in San Francisco, where boxes of See’s Candies are apt to be offered up as gifts for most any occasion, you can’t help but develop a fondness for all things sweet.

That’s why if my Dad were still alive this Father’s Day, I would cook up a batch of “Candy Pork” for him. Because it’s like the best of both of his favorites combined into one.

The recipe is from San Francisco food writer extraordinaire Jessica Battilana’s new cookbook, “Repertoire: All the Recipes You Need” (Little, Brown and Company), of which I received a review copy.

Repertoire

After collaborating with chefs on a half dozen cookbooks, this is her first cookbook filled with her own recipes. After she and her wife had two kids, Battilana’s life became so time-pressed that her style of cooking had to change. The result is this cookbook of 75 recipes, most of them completely do-able on a harried weeknight, and others not that much more involved for weekends or special occasions.

Take a taste of everything from “Sweet Corn Fritters” to “Harissa and Honey Chicken Thighs” to “Hot Dog Fried Rice” to “Maple Blueberry Cornmeal Cake.”

For “Candy Pork,” large chunks of pork shoulder are braised in a Vietnamese-style caramel sauce laced with fish sauce, palm sugar or brown sugar, shallots, ginger, garlic and Thai chilies. The genius ingredient is coconut water — not coconut milk — that adds a depth of sweetness and subtle coconut flavor without added richness, which is not necessarily what you need more of when you’re already dealing with fatty pork shoulder. The coconut water is a trick Battilana learned from Chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco.

The pork braises gently and slowly in the oven for nearly 2 hours, before emerging tender and suffused with sweetness, savoriness and a back note of fermented brininess. As far as meat dishes go, this is definitely quite a sweet one. Yet it manages not to be cloying. As the pork cooks, its fat will render, so you will probably want to skim off some of the fat from the sauce before serving.

This saucy dish begs for a big heap of steamed rice to enjoy with it.

“Candy Pork” is what Battilana’s kids call this favorite dish. With one taste, I think my Dad would have smiled in wholehearted agreement with them, too.

Sweet and succulent.

Sweet and succulent.

Candy Pork

(Serves 6)

8 ounces palm sugar, finely chopped (dark brown sugar can be substituted)

3/4 cup fish sauce

3 tablespoons canola oil

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch-by-3-inch chunks

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup finely sliced shallots

One 2-inch-by-1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 to 3 thai chilies (substitute 1 serrano chile), stemmed and crushed

3 cups coconut water

 

Put the palm sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar melts, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the sugar doesn’t scorch. When the sugar is smooth and completely melted, remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the fish sauce. The mixture may seize; if it does, return it to low heat and continue stirring until smooth.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large Dutch oven over high heat, heat canola oil. Season the pork pieces on all sides with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add some of the pieces of pork and sear until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pork. When all the pork has been browned, reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots. Cook, stirring until the shallots are softened, about 2 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic, and chilies and cook 1 minute more. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pot and add the caramel sauce and coconut water. The pieces of meat should poke up above the level of the liquid; if they’re completely submerged, transfer the meat to a different pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.

After 15 minutes of cooking, uncover the pot; the liquid should be simmering gently. If it’s bubbling too vigorously, reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. Cook for 70 minutes — the meat should be tender but not falling apart. Uncover the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes more, until the exposed bits of pork are caramelized and the meat is tender. Remove from the oven and serve with steamed rice.

From “Repertoire” by Jessica Battilana

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