I keep saying I'm going to write about food, but never find the time. Well, tonight I scrounged up a meal for the family with no advanced planning and figured I'd take some photos along the way. It's simple and healthy, depending on your definition of that contentious word. For me, a meal qualifies if it has minimal fat, sugar and dairy content with all the ingredients cooked to preserve their natural goodness. More or less. This dinner contains meat and gluten so warnings to all those who can eat neither.
My Soy Pork dinner consists of three components: the meat, the vegetables and the noodles. In reality I cook them simultaneously, though here I will simplify the timeline for you. Learning how to multitask and cross-time different dishes is certainly a primary talent of a cook. It's one I master usually the second or third time I make a given meal... the first time can be a bit of a mad jumble! In this case, you can certainly have the noodles and meat done a bit ahead of time, but serve the dinner hot the moment the vegetables are ready. I hope that helps you coordinate your activities!
A) The Meat
First up are the pork chops. I am not going to cook the pork in the usual Chinese stir fry manner, but rather be more inspired by how pork chops are served in Japanese or Vietnamese kitchens. So I start with a 200 degree (Celsius naturally) oven and cook them on a grill, turning once. This takes maybe 20 minutes. I put some water in the pan so they will not dry out (plus cleaning is easier). I prefer cooking this way because the fat drips away from the meat. And I know the pork is cooked through, something important for reasons of hygiene.
If I had a proper flame grill I would use that. But I don't. In fact, I have no special cooking tools at all, and have a bog-standard half-working hob and oven. Just like you! (Maybe.)
Once the chops are cooked I trim off the fat. The meat works out more tender doing it this way around, rather than trimming before cooking. Then I slice into strips and toss in a wok pre-heated with a little vegetable oil. Garlic, ginger and chilli flakes all make good spices at this point. Since we are stir-frying, the secret is to always keep tossing the food, pausing only briefly (maybe 20 seconds) for the food to brown.
Once the meat has browned, we we add a dash of dark soy sauce while tossing, just enough to give everything a nice coating. Don't use light soy sauce; you will need more of it to get that nice colour. As a result the flavour will be too strong and salty. Yep, it's somewhat confusing, but the dark soy sauce results in a milder flavour. Took me years to figure that out.
B) The Noodles
Everyone has their favourite noodles, but I like something that is neither too mushy nor too toothsome and these medium thickness flat noodles are the ticket. All you have to do is toss them in some boiling water for the prescribed time period, as given on the packet. If there's no English, just guess from the changing texture as they cook.
I almost never use a timer in the kitchen. Timers are for darkrooms!
Boil, boil, boil. I add a dash of vegetable oil to the water as it prevents sticking. It doesn't work miracles, but there's no harm.
When done, rinse in lots of cold water. Use your hands to ensure no clumps form. These particular noodles do get a bit sticky, which is part of the charm. But you obviously don't want a solid mass of gunk on your plate. Let them drip dry while you attend to something else. Like, say...
C) The Vegetables
Besides what I have here, mini corn and broccoli are popular stir-fry favourites, not to mention bean sprout, cauliflower, bok choi, mangetout (snow pea), water chestnut, etc. But since I am not going for a Chinese medley this time out, I stuck with just a few ingredients. In terms of quantity a little carrot goes a long way! By the way, this amount is designed to serve three, though with four pork chops I could easily have fed four by adding more in the way of vegetables.
I know it doesn't look like enough for three. But wait.
Here are the vegetables, all diced up. I've added some garlic since we used it in the pork stir fry, as mentioned earlier. So obviously I did this dicing before cooking the meat. Just saying, in case you think I live in a TARDIS.
Always think about the best way to slice a vegetable for the meal you are making Some of this is aesthetic but it can make a difference to how it will cook. Long slivers of onion maintain their form better. Long thin juliennes of carrot cook faster, since they have more surface area. Long slices of red pepper are more appealing and don't go to mush.
If you're not sure, just copy what you've seen in your favourite restaurant. There's probably a very good reason behind every decision.
Again, heat some vegetable oil in a wok and toss in the vegetables in order of cooking time. In this case the carrots need the most time, then the peppers; finally the onion can be added near the end. Onion should be almost raw in a stir fry, though not everyone likes it that way.
When making a larger Chinese stir fry I often steam vegetable ahead of time, so they can enter the wok together and cook adequately.
The vegetables won't take long to cook. Just before you figure they are ready, drizzle on some oyster sauce. It's the secret ingredient of many stir fry dishes. It's not really authentic to use it outside of Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese dishes, but what the heck! In my kitchen it shows up in the most unlikely places (essential in a chilli, for example). Go gently with the amount (as pictured above).
Here's the oyster sauce I used, side by side with the soy sauce. Every brand tastes different, so you will have to experiment to find those you like. I keep at least two types of each in my cupboard since they have different uses. One oyster sauce is sweeter than the other and one is muskier. That's musky in a good way!
Oh yeah, never judge an oyster sauce by eating it raw. It's rather horrible. After all it mostly consists of cornstarch, sugar, salt, caramel, MSG... with a tiny bit of oyster. Not exactly what you'd plan on eating on a desert island. But it does wonders to activate the flavours of other foods, and if used in moderation is not going to kill you.
OK, everything is done. Zap the noodles in the microwave briefly (or steam them if you are a purist) to bring them up to serving temperature. Put a serving in a medium-sized bowl. Add a portion of meat and veg. Provide sesame oil and chilli sauce so people can add them to taste.
And enjoy your meal!
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