My bookcase is resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's not a very sturdy piece of furniture to begin with, and under the weight of all my cookbooks it has begun to lean more and more to the left, about an 1/8 of an inch each day for the past week. There's probably a loose screw in the back. Every time I remove a book or put one back on the shelf, it makes a creak that says "I'm going to topple at any second". Either I buy a new bookcase, stat, or stop purchasing cookbooks.
Buying a new bookcase was the easier option. While I wait for a new bookcase to be delivered (a nice sturdy mahogany one), I've had to momentarily suspend cookbook buying. Unfortunately, because the Brooklyn Public Library does such a good job of stocking up on newish tomes, my piles continue to grow.
Thanks to the library, my favorite cookbook discovery from the past month was actually published in 2008. And it's not Chinese.
Martha Hall Foose's Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook makes me want to rent a car and take a road trip to the Mississippi Delta right this second. (And I absolutely hate car rental lots and long drives.) I love the author's story-like headnotes for her recipes that make me want to try my hand at everything from Duck and Sausage Gumbo to Sweet Tea Pie. I will just let that sink in for a moment. Sweet Tea. In pie form. How can that be anything but amazing?
How this is all relevant to a Chinese food blog is that the author has a recipe called Chinese Grocery Roast Pork. She states in the headnote:
By the early twentieth century, the Mississippi Delta was home to a large community of Chinese Americans. As plantation commissaries began to close, more cash was circulated and the need grew for independent grocers. In 1920 the city of Greenville reportedly had 12 paved streets, 20 trains stopped there a day, and there were 50 Chinese grocery stores. Several families still run fourth- and fifth-generation groceries in tiny towns scattered across the Delta.
Many versions of this red-tinged pork have been cooked on stoves in the back of family-run groceries in the area for years and years.
I was very curious to see how this recipe would differ from my standard recipe for Cantonese Roast Pork and the next day lugged home a Boston butt. You can also opt for a picnic shoulder, but I find that the big shoulder blade bone helps keep the meat moist during the roasting process. The first thing that's different is that in my family, whether for time or space concerns, we usually roast pork belly and reserve shoulders for braises. (Maybe pork shoulder was just more widely available in 1920's Mississippi.) This recipe also calls for cinnamon and star anise, which add a nice, subtle flavoring to the sweetened sauce.
Both the Boston butt and picnic shoulder require 4 to 4/12 hours of roasting, instead of a meager 1 hour for pork belly. However, because you'll be continuously basting after the first half hour, there is no need to marinate the meat. You loosen the skin without fully taking it off, and the fat from the skin will keep the top of the roast moist and flavorful. I found that my skin started to blacken close to the end, so I just covered it with tin foil for the rest of the time and basted only the sides.
It was a fun experiment, and an excellent way to make a lot of pork at once if you have the entire afternoon free. I will also mention, though, that your apartment, hair, and clothes may smell like roast pork for the rest of the day, no matter how much you try to air them all out. Whether those are added perks is up to the cook.
Chinese Grocery Roast Pork
Serves 6 to 8
- 3 pounds picnic shoulder of pork or Boston butt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 scallions, green parts discarded and whites chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup dry sherry
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 star anise
- 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
- 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Loosen the skin on the pork shoulder without removing it.
- In a small bowl, stir together the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.
- In a Dutch oven or roasting pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook until just aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the sauce and simmer for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of water and bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Carefully place the pork shoulder in the liquid and turn several times to coat it with the sauce. Transfer the pan to the the oven. Cook for 30 minutes undisturbed, then baste the meat with the looking liquid every 20 minutes until the internal temperature is 185 degrees F, about 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
- Transfer the pork to a cutting pork and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice the pork, transfer the sliced meat to a serving platter, and pour the pan juices over the meat. Serve with rice and/or cabbage.