As is often the case the best things I've cooked recently have been a happy accident; one a meal involving creative use of leftovers and another a last minute change of heart.
What was left of a slow roasted leg of pork was going to be sliced thinly and flash fried with garlic and ginger, but the joint wasn't as fatty as I'd anticipated and so the remaining meat was overdone. Moisture was needed.
The cooked pork was suffused with a fairly strong whack of fennel, so I thought the anise notes would work well with a sticky soy marinade. Something sort of Thai in style, which of course led me to thoughts of Thai Aroy Dee and the little chewy nuggets of caramel pork that make up one of the accompaniments on their shrimp paste fried rice.
Turns it out it couldn't be simpler to make your own caramel pork. This has that addictive blend of sugar, salt and meat that's impossible not to enjoy. Mixed up with a big pile of vegetable fried rice and a generous squirt of Sriracha it was about ten times better than the original roast pork dinner.
Here's what I used and how to do it:
Enough for 2 or 3 people, served with veggie fried rice and hot sauce
300g cooked pork, cut into small chunks (mine were a bit big, no more than 1cm cubed is the way to go)
1 fat clove garlic
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 dessertspoon palm sugar
2 dessertspoons white sugar
2-3 spring onions
Crush the garlic then put it in a bowl with the pork pieces and the soy sauce, then mix everything up well. Finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and set aside.
Heat some neutral oil in a wok until it's hot then throw in the pork, soy and garlic mix. Stir-fry for a minute or so then turn the heat down to medium and add the sugar.
Keep stir-frying until the sugar dissolves to form a syrup (if it's too dry add a splash of water), then keep frying and stirring until your syrup starts to reduce and coats the pork. It's done when the sauce clings to the pork, almost like a sticky glaze.
Turn out into a serving bowl and garnish with the spring onion tops. Serve immediately.
The last minute change of heart was meatball-related. The plan was Italian style, like this, but I just wasn't feeling it. I wanted something soupy and spicy, a lighter feeling way of using more or less the same ingredients.
The result: fragrant pork balls with noodles in broth. At least eighty percent the same meal (especially since I didn't have any actual noodles in the house so had to use linguine, but the Italians just copied off the Chinese so it's all the same really right?) but somehow completely different.
The meatball pan stickings lent a lovely deep brown colour to the stock, which in turn kept the noodles (linguine) all lovely and slippery and full of bite. The balls themselves were gently spiced and didn't dry out as they'd finished cooking in the broth.
Fragrant pork balls with noodles in broth
200-250g pork mince
small thumb of ginger
1 large clove garlic
1 heaped teaspoon sugar
zest of half a lime (or a lemon if that's all you've got)
a good splash of fish sauce
a good squeeze of Sriracha (or other chilli sauce)
a tablespoon of finely chopped herbs (I used mint and basil, but coriander and Thai basil would probably have been better in place of regular basil)
Two blocks/strips of noodles (your choice, or use pasta if you're really desperate)
400ml light chicken stock
more herbs and/or spring onions to garnish
Mix all of the meatball ingredients together in a bowl (that's everything except for the noodles, stock and extra herbs in case you were wondering), then put the mix in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up.
Remove the mix from the fridge and form into little meatballs, aim to make around twelve in total. Heat a little oil in a deep pan (deep enough to hold the stock) over a moderate heat, then add the meatballs. Leave them to colour a bit before turning. While the meatballs are cooking prepare your noodles (or pasta) as per the packet instructions.
Cook the balls for a few minutes on each side then pour in the stock, it should immediately turn a darker colour from the gooeyness at the bottom of the pot. Cook for a few minutes more to finish cooking the balls and heat the stock to a simmer then throw in the noodles.
Stir to heat through the noodles then serve immediately with extra herbs as a garnish and any other condiments you fancy. Note: it's much easier to eat this with chopsticks and a spoon rather than a fork and a spoon!