Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly with Yu Choy Sum

     Chinkiang Vinegar is also called "Black Vinegar."  Black Vinegar is made with rice, but millet or sorghum can be part of the blend.  Black Vinegar has a complex semi sweet acidic flavor that is similar to Balsamic Vinegar.  
     Like with most products, some brands are better than others.  It seems like the Chinkiang Vinegar brands that have the fewest ingredients are the best.  Brands that include extra ingredients, like caramel color, stabilizers or sweeteners, are pretty much mass produced products.
     Vinegar is often used to tenderize and flavor pork.  Vinegar is also used to tame the flavor of wild game or strong tasting meats.  Sometimes pork can taste fairly strong.  Modern pork tends to be a very light color and the flavor is fairly light.  Dark colored pork cuts a strong flavor that is similar to wild boar.  Chinkiang Vinegar is perfect for making strong pork meat or wild boar taste palatable.
     Galangal is Thai Blue Ginger.  Galangal is a little bit stronger tasting than the average ginger root.  Galangal is used by cooks just about everywhere in Asia.  Many Chinese cooks prefer galangal over regular ginger, because the flavor is pungent and brighter.  Fresh galangal root can be found in Asian food markets, Indian food markets and specialty markets.  
     Galangal should be sliced thin or julienne sliced, so it cooks quickly.  Galangal does take some time to become tender, so after starting the stir fry, liquid is added and the galangal is simmered till it starts to become tender.  Undercooked galangal is like chewing on wood.  
     For todays recipe, the galangal and pork are cooked in one pan and the Yu Choy Sum (Chinese Cabbage) mixture is stir fried separately.  Galangal and pork belly takes time to simmer and become tender, so it is given a head start.
     Pork Belly can be found at butcher shops or Asian food markets.  Common grocery stores rarely sell pork belly, because they are in the business of marketing bacon products.   
     The best prices for pork belly can be found in Chinatown food markets.  The pork sales volume is so high at these markets, that purchasing power comes into effect and lower prices can be offered.  Whole pork belly sections or 2 to 3 pound slabs of pork belly can be purchased.  The skin is usually attached to the pork belly.  It is easy to remove the thick skin with a butcher knife.  The skin can be saved and prepared as cracklins or crispy pork rind snacks.  A few cracklin recipes have been posted at this website so far.  
     After the skin is removed, the pork belly is easy to handle.  Trimming the fat is not necessary, because the gelatinous pork fat is part of the pork belly dining experience.  This is why pork belly is only eaten occasionally and it is usually reserved for festive occasions.  Pork Belly is usually cut into thick rectangular bite size pieces or cube shape pieces, when used in Asian recipes.

     Yu Choy Sum is a variety of mustard plant that resembles cabbage.  Both Napa Cabbage and Yu Choy Sum are referred to as Chinese Cabbage, even though these two vegetables look completely different.  When Chinese Cabbage is written in a recipe, most often this refers to Napa Cabbage.  
     Yu Choy Sum has a crisp pleasant spicy cabbage flavor.  The stems can be thick, so splitting the stems in half will help them to become tender quicker.  Yu Choy Sum should only be stir fried and braised for a short time, so it is still fairly crisp to the bite (al dente).  

     For those who wonder where to find fancy bamboo chopsticks and Asian style plates, food markets in Chinatown offer these items.  An ordinary small European soup bowl is not a rice bowl.  An Italian pasta bowl is not an Asian noodle bowl.  Every culture has tableware that is best suited for the cuisine.  
     Acquiring a few shallow Asian noodle bowls and oval plates can make plating Asian entrées much easier, because many Asian recipes are designed to be served on those kinds of plates.  Besides, an Asian style entrée looks much more authentic when it is served on a colorful traditional plate.  Plain white plates are the standard in European fine dining, but in Asia, fine dining plates are rarely plain white.  Color is a major part of the Asian dining experience, because the food is designed to satisfy all of the senses.   

     *This entire recipe yields 1 entrée!

     Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly Marinade:          
     Step 1:  Cut an 8 ounce slab of skinned pork belly into thick rectangular bite size pieces.
     Step 2:  Place the pork belly in a bowl.
     Add 3 tablespoons of Chinkiang Vinegar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of thin soy sauce.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of sugar.
     Step 3:  Add 2 tablespoons of short julienne sliced galangal strips.  (Short Julienne = 1/8"x1/8"x 1/2" to 1")
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of garlic paste.
     Step 4:  Add 4 coarse ground Szechuan Peppercorns.
     Add 1 pinch of Chinese Five Spice Powder.
     Add 1 small pinch of Chinese chile powder.  (ground chile japon)
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
     Step 5:  Toss the ingredients together.
     Marinate in a refrigerator for 20 minutes.

     Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly:
     *The Yu Choy Sum should be started in a separate pan while the pork belly is simmering.
     Step 1:  Place the marinated pork and galangal mixture in a strainer over a container.
     Set the meat and galangal aside and reserve the marinade for later in the recipe.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan or mini wok over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add the pork belly and galangal.
     Quickly stir fry and toss, till golden brown highlights appear on the pork.
     Step 3:  Drain the excess grease out of the pan.
     Return the pan with the pork belly to medium/medium high heat.
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 cup of light vegetable broth.
     Add the reserved pork belly marinade.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Stir as the liquid thickens.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till the galangal and pork belly is fully cooked and tender.  Allow the sauce to reduce till it becomes a thin glaze consistency and can lightly coat the pork.
     Keep the Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork warm on stove top, till the yu choy sum is ready.

     Black Vinegar Braised Yu Choy Sum:
     Step 1:  Trim about 8 to 12 yu choy sum leaves.
     Split the thick stems lengthwise.
     Step 2:  Heat a large sauté pan or wok over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Add 2 cloves of thin sliced garlic.
     Add about 1/6 cup of julienne sliced onion.
     Add 1/4 cup of short thin carrot strips.
     Briefly sauté for a few seconds till the garlic becomes aromatic.
     Step 3:  Add the prepared yu choy sum leaves.
     Sauté and toss till the leaves start to wilt and become tender.
     Step 4:  Add 1 1/2 cups of light vegetable broth.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of Chinkian Vinegar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of thin soy sauce.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
     Add 1 small pinch of crushed dried red chile pepper.  (chile caribe)
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Cover the pan with a lid.
     Braise the yu choy sum till it is al dente.  (About 5 minutes.)
     Step 6:  Remove the lid from the pan.
     Keep the braised yu choy sum warm on a stove top.

     Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly with Yu Choy Sum:
     Step 1:  Place the yu choy sum in a wide shallow bowl as a bed for the pork belly.  Arrange the leaves so they look nice.
     Pour a portion of the braising liquid over the yu choy sum in the bowl.
     Step 2:  Mound the Chinkiang Vinegar Galangal Pork Belly on the center of the yu choy sum.
     Serve with steamed rice on the side.
     No garnish is necessary!

     Chinkiang vinegar is rich tasting, yet it is light enough to be used generously.  This is a nice recipe for spring or summer!

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