Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pork Shoulder Braised in Soy Sauce and Jasmine Tea Leaves

Mmmm...pork. Nothing hits home and brings comfort like chunks of tender and succulent pork that just melts in your mouth. I was grocery shopping at Longo's last weekend and saw a fresh piece of pork shoulder blade (also known as pork butt for some reason even though it comes from the shoulder and not anywhere near the butt area) on sale. Being the pork fanatic and cheap shopper that I am, I wasted no time in purchasing this fatty, artery-clogging cut of meat and hurried home so I can start the lengthy cooking process.

    My first thought was to braise it in BBQ sauce and make pulled pork sandwiches, but then I thought, how can I "asianize" it and make it more interesting? So I decided to cook the pork in a classic Chinese soy sauce based braising liquid and then made some sweet and fluffy Chinese steamed buns (Mantou) to go with it. I filled the steamed buns with some of the fork-tender pork and chopped green onions and there you have it...a Chinese version of the pulled pork sandwich.
    The next day I had the pork over some plain steamed rice and spooned some of that delicious braising liquid over and it was just as awesome.

      Here's how I braised the pork...Don't trim off any of the fat from the meat! You need all that fatty goodness to render the pork tender and juicy:

1 pork shoulder blade (about 2-5 lbs)
8-10 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 slices of ginger, about ¼ inch thick
2 dried chilies
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons of loose jasmine tea leaves
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup of Shiao Xing rice wine
4 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
8 cups of water
Salt and peper
2 tablespoons cooking oil
Mix 1 tablespoon of corn starch with a few tablespoons of water for thickening

Pat the pork dry with a paper towel and then rub it with a liberal amount of salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a pot on high and then sear the pork on all sides until brown. Then take it out and set it aside.

Now, to make the braising liquid, toss out some of the excess oil from the fat drippings but leave just enough oil behind to saute the garlic and ginger. Turn the heat down to medium and then throw in the garlic, ginger, chilies and tea leaves and saute for a few minutes until the garlic turns slightly brown. Then pour in the water and add the rest of the ingredients - the rice wine, soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon stick and sugar. Stir and let it come to a boil.

If you have a dutch oven or an oven-proof pot, put the pork back into the pot and close the lid. I didn't have either so I used a roasting tray instead - I transferred the pork and braising liquid to the roasting tray and then covered it tightly with aluminum foil.

Put the pork in the oven and cook at 325°F for about 5 hours. You'll know it's done when you pierce it with a fork and the meat just gives way without any resistance. If you're using a roasting pan, make sure to baste it at least twice during cooking and top up with water to prevent the braising liquid from drying out.

When the meat is done, remove the meat and put the pot with the braising liquid back on the stove. Bring it to a boil and add the cornstarch and water mixture to thicken it. If you find that the liquid is a tad too salty, add more water and adjust to taste. Now, if you're concerned about your arteries or waistline, you can try to remove the fat from the liquid by cooling it in the refrigerator until the fat separates into a white foam on the surface. You can then skim it off with a spoon.

Place the pork on the serving platter on top of some blanched leafy greens such as bok choy or choy-sum. Ladle the gravy over and enjoy.

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