Just as each town has a river or stream coming into it from other parts of the country supporting its inhabitants, so too does each place have its own characteristic dishes, pork stew vermicelli being a prominent local dish in three provinces of the East of China.
In hard economic times, pork vermicelli was regarded as a symbol of the good life, but now they are commonly served in home cooking, a staple creating cozy family memories.
In general, when cooking meat, starchy foods always complement and add a finishing touch to the meal. Beef with potatoes, chicken with chestnuts and so on.
Vermicelli as a complement has certain advantages over most of the starchies: a short cooking time, the starch does not leach out easily leading to a ‘muddy’ soup, and of course, the smooth taste and elastic texture that everyone loves. Among all the vermicelli, the one I love most is sweet potato vermicelli.
Here is what you will need to make my pork stew vermicelli:
- 500 g streaky pork (pork belly), sliced
- 30 g rock sugar
- 15 ml vegetable oil
- 40 ml dark soy sauce
- 10 ml cooking wine
- 15 g scallion (green onion)
- 10 g ginger
- 2 star anise
- 1 slice geraniol
- 1 cm piece cinnamon stick
- 4 g salt
- 3 dried red chilli’s
- 80 g sweet potato vermicelli
Method for Pork Stew Vermicelli:
The first step is to soak the pork. When stewing meat it is often difficult to maintain the tenderness, even with lean meat, due to the loss of too much moisture. So, first, we must soak the pork in water for two hours, so that it absorbs more moisture. Later we will use another “water” approach that helps retain moisture in the meat, but I will keep that a secret for now.
After soaking for two hours, remove the pork and cut into small pieces of about 3-4 cm. Add 1.5 liters of water to a soup pot, bring to the boil, and add the cut pork and gently stir the pan a few times heat it evenly. When the surface of the meat becomes gray, remove and pat dry with paper towels.
Generally speaking, when cooking dishes such as braised pork, there are several types of pretreatment you can use: boiling, stir-frying, shallow frying, deep frying, etc. You will apply a different method depending on the cut of pork and how much fat is present.
Boiling is good for retaining moisture but is not effective in removing the fat. Frying is good for removing excess fat but is drying for lean meat. The more fat there is, a higher temperature frying treatment should be used. If the meat is lean, then boiling is best.
So, you are probably wondering if there is any magical way of both reducing the fat whilst maintaining the moisture. Well, I don’t know of any, but if you do please let me know!
The second step is the stew. First, we’re going to make some candy! Warm up the stew pot slightly then add 15 ml of vegetable oil and 30 g of rock sugar. On medium heat, stir constantly with a spatula, while gently breaking up the rock sugar so it gradually disintegrates into smaller particles.
Sugar melts at about 150 C and caramelizes at 160 C, changing to the familiar caramel brown color. This will give a unique sweet flavor and color to the pork dish.
When the sugar is the color of black tea, put the boiled pork pieces gently into the pot, being careful not to splash the hot caramel (another reason why the pork must be dry before putting it into the pot). Stir gently with a spatula, so that each piece of meat is well coated with the golden caramel.
Add geraniol, star anise, ginger, scallions, cinnamon, dried red chilli’s, cooking wine and dark soy sauce, and stir evenly.
Pour enough boiling water into the pot at the side (not directly onto the meat) to the level of the meat. Add 4 g of salt and bring to the boil and then immediately turn to low.
Make a cartouche by cutting out a piece of baking paper the same size as the inner diameter of the pot leaving a small hole in the middle.
Place the cartouche on the surface of the meat, and cover with the lid. Simmer on low for 1 ½ hours. A cartouche placed directly on top of the meat in addition to the pot lid reduces the loss of moisture from the pork.
If you do not have baking paper on hand, you can use cabbage leaves, but you will need to reduce the amount of water you add because the cabbage itself will precipitate a lot of water.
Do the third step while waiting for the pork to cook. Put the vermicelli into a large bowl of cold water and soak for an hour, remove and drain. Once the stew has cooked, place the vermicelli on the top of the stew.
Stir the vermicelli in gently until it has fully absorbed the sauce and is soft and flexible. Garnish with some green onions and serve. Mmmm delicious! Enjoy!