Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mushroom-Flavored Minced Meat + back from lovely California



While Western cuisine calls for bolognese (meat-based) sauce, Chinese cuisine has it too. They call it by the other familiar "bolognese" equivalents - 肉燥 (Rouzhao), 杂酱 (Zhajiang), etc. If you ever stepped into a Chinese eatery and ordering that Zhajiang noodles (minced meat with spicy bean sauce) - isn't that bolognese...errrr...sort of? The Koreans have it Jajangmyeon (another version of meat+bean sauce, a sweeter version) as well.

Since I previously made bolognese from scratch - avoiding the use of bottled pasta sauces when cooking pasta dishes; making Chinese meat-based sauce should not be culinary feat. In my recollection, I made Chinese style meat-based sauce before - remember that Bak Chor (Hokkien for minced/ground pork) Noodles? The dashes of black vinegar was the S-P-A-R-K to the noodle dish. Furthermore, that kind of meat-based topping was a dry version - thus referred to as "topping" rather than "sauce".

Many homes in Asia have a minced meat dish that claims homemade. I recognize and believe there are more than 101 ways of making a homemade minced meat dish - making it unique to your kitchen, to your home. Some, of course, turn out like Bak Chor (loosely fried minced/ground pork in soy-sauce based); whereas some will be in a "cake" form 蒸肉饼- eg. a steamed minced meat "cake".

Dripping essence...

Here in Taiwan, it is very common to see minced pork topped over rice -肉燥饭. It's street food to them, just like minced pork topped over noodles - Bak Chor Mee, is street food to Singapore. I tried making another version of minced pork (this time, a "wetter" version with more sauce/gravy), in an attempt to replicate what I have eaten in Taiwan - their mushroom flavored minced pork topped over rice - 香菇肉燥饭. This style of cooking/ simmering/ braising minced meat includes adding mushrooms. I also added some onions to sweeten up the entire mixture, and for more depth in flavor.

Mushroom-Flavored Minced Meat 香菇肉燥
Ingredients:
Minced/ground pork
2tsp dried shrimps , soaked in water, rinsed away water, then minced finely
fresh shitake mushrooms , clean the caps, and cubed to small bits
1 clove garlic-minced finely
half a big onion - chop to small pieces
salt, pepper to taste

Seasoning: soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar
In a separate bowl, mix 1-2tbsp soy sauce and 1-2tsp oyster sauce, 1tsp sugar in about 3-5 tbsp of warm water, till dissolved

Directions:
1. Heat 1tbsp oil in frying pan and fry the minced pork for a while just to slightly cook them. In this process, some "fats" in the pork will be "released" as oil into the pan and can be used to fry the other ingredients. Dish out the partially cooked pork and set aside. (Note: Do not allow the pork to remain in the pan to be cooked and fried with the other ingredients as there is tendency to over-cook pork and it will become rubbery, chewy and tough)
2. Add garlic, onions, dried shrimps and fry till aromatic. Add in mushrooms, mix well. Add in some water. Turn to low heat and allow the mixture to reach simmer.
3. Once small bubbling begins (begin of simmering), add in the pork, 1/2 portion of the seasonings, add more warm water to partially cover the entire mixture(including pork) and maintain low heat and allow entire mixture to simmer. (Note: Since the pork has been pre-fried initially, the low heat cooking at this stage will slowly cook the pork through yet retaining tenderness in the pork since the pork has not been cooked in the higher heat in the frying stage. The low simmering heat + water will actually cook/braise the pork, not the high heat and hot oil!)
4. When starting to simmer, do a taste -test and adjust seasoning accordingly. You can add more of the remaining seasoning and let it simmer a while longer.
5. Best when served with steamed rice.

The best about this dish is I can cook more and keep the leftovers for further consumption (just need to be steamed or re-heated again) the next day, to ladle over steamed rice.


Well, if you like pork, then this...a uber-porky dish you will like. The natural sweetness in the pork, plus those earthy mushrooms, and sweet onions will complement well with the savory seasonings. It's mild but very tasty and definitely whets your appetite when you allow the steamed rice to soak up the nicely combined flavors in the gravy. You can say the essence of flavors is all in the gravy but the pork, mushrooms and onions bits adds a juicy soft texture to your bite. Perfect homemade dish!

Tips on getting juicy tender minced pork:
1. The technique is almost similar to twice-cooked pork 回锅肉. If there are other ingredients to be cooked with the pork. Fry the pork first to just partial cook them and release the "oils and flavor"
2. These "oils and flavor" will then be absorbed by the other ingredients and these ingredients will be infused with pork flavor
3. For a dish that needs lots of gravy and juicy tender pork bits like the above, add in desired seasoning + water, and allow low simmering heat + steams of water to actually cook/braise the pork. Cooking minced/ground pork over high heat (hot oil) for an extended period will overcook the pork and make it tough (not juicy anymore)

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