A thing called caramelized pork bits may, at first blush, seem a bit off the beaten path. But it makes perfect sense if you understand how it came about.
It used to be, occasionally, that I would pop out here with a recipe that was meant to be a weeknight dinner. I would make fried rice, or pasta with collards, or macaroni and cheese — stuff that could be thrown together, all filling and comforting, in something less than an hour from start to finish. It was the pickling that initially distracted me from making those kinds of posts (and so many others, too). And then — as Sarah likes to tell me — I got sidetracked from the whole project of making any kind of entrées for the blog at all.
But then here’s the thing: as I’ve mentioned before, my teaching schedule has become such that not only is it hard for me to do special-interest projects like elaborate pickles, it’s hard for me to do any cooking at all. Where I used to come home in the late afternoons in time to start dinner, now I’m in class during that timeslot, and well into the evening.
The upshot of this problem is that it has given Sarah the opportunity for copious cooking — something she’s never done before, and something it turns out she does so well that I’d really like her to make a guest post here, one of these days (hint, hint). The downside is that little has happened since this last semester began toward remedying Twice Cooked’s main course morass.
Or little, at least, in the way of blog posts.
The truth is that I’ve actually been thinking a lot about entrées — especially the quick kind — for the past couple of months. I tell Sarah that what I’m trying to figure out is how to share the cooking more equitably, and how to relieve her of a task that I know she feels is a burden. But Sarah knows the truth. You’re jealous that I’m horning in on your kitchen, she tells me. And you want it back.
And I suppose that on that point, I can’t really disagree, either.
And this is where the caramelized pork bits come into the story. Not only does this recipe constitute a real, honest-to-goodness entrée, posted here, by me. It also constitutes a recipe that is quick enough and simple enough that I can accomplish it through the pea-soup fog of a weeknight, post-teaching, semi-somnolent daze.
Caramelized pork bits almost require that I not pay too much attention to what I am doing. The recipe starts with ground pork, and it demands I cook the heck out of it — for so long that what you’d expect would be an almost inedible mess. But the final result is anything but inedible. By cooking it for so long, what comes out is a flavorful, sweet, salty, umami controlled mess, that is not exactly thịt heo băm — Vietnamese minced caramelized pork — but that is certainly inspired by it.
I first thought about this recipe while reading Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which itself has a great recipe for thịt heo băm. But thịt heo băm requires other dishes to go along with it — vegetables and the like — to make a well-balanced meal. This version has a little bit of everything, and so there’s no compelling need to take the extra time to make salad, or sautéed greens or anything like that.
To a couple of people, now, I’ve explained this dish as a kind of inauthentically Asian sloppy joes. And I think that’s a pretty good way to think about it. Take meat, add heat, stack it on carbs, and eat.
The fact that those carbs are from broken rice instead of a squishy white hamburger bun is immaterial to the equation. Except that it adds a kind of thank-you-note homage to the dish’s Vietnamese origin. And except that broken rice is far, far more delicious.
1/2 lb. Ground Pork
1 quart White Mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch of Collard Greens, well chopped
1 Leek, halved and sliced
5 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 tbsp Red Hot Pepper Sauce (or Tuong Ot Toi)
1 tbsp Granulated Sugar
1 cup Broken Rice (or plain jasmine rice — but Vietnamese-style broken rice is better for this application)
1 1/2 cups Filtered Water
Add the rice, water, and salt to your rice cooker, and steam according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, to a skillet over medium heat, add a generous coating of vegetable oil, the mushrooms, and the leeks, and saute until the leeks have softened and the mushrooms are almost all the way cooked. Turn your stove up to medium-high. Then add the ground pork, a generous dousing of fish sauce, and the sugar, and stir vigorously, using the side of your spoon to break the meat into atomized crumbles.
When the ground pork looks more or less cooked all the way through, add the hot sauce and garlic, and — continuing to stir — cook until the meat has turned a dark caramel brown and is beginning to get crusty (this should take 8-10 minutes). Then add the collards and cook the whole thing for 5-7 minutes more, or until they are tender.
Serve the caramelized pork directly out of the hot skillet, over a generous helping of rice (two parts rice to one part pork).
If you can find it at your grocery store, cubes of fried tofu makes a great addition to this dish. Just add them at the same time you add your garlic and hot sauce.