Monday, March 07, 2005
Pork Soup for the Soul
My food cravings almost always coincide with weather elements. In anticipation of the snow storm last week, I found myself craving for a bowl of Yan-Duo-Xian (腌哚鲜) which loosely translates into “salted simmering the fresh.” Except the middle character doesn’t exactly mean simmer (it’s something less than a simmer) and I’m not even sure if I wrote the right Chinese character. You see, the name is uttered in Shanghai dialect, for this delicacy is the best kept secret of Shanghai home cooking, and therefore has no need to be understood by any outsiders. (Shanghai people traditionally are not very friendly to people from other parts of China, a very snobbish bunch.)
The salted part of the ingredient can be any kind of air-dried salted pork, the most famous of which being Jin Hua salted ham (金华火腿)produced in the Zhe Jiang province, where Shanghai is located. The fresh part can be many things, with fresh meat being the indispensable one, plus any number of fresh vegetables. I guess I should confess that I don’t actually remember ever eating this soup at home, so what I make is part what I imagine it should be, and part what I’d eaten at restaurants.
For this edition of the Yan-Duo-Xian, I decided to use fresh bamboo shoots, fresh shiitake mushrooms and a beautiful pork loin as the fresh ingredients. Digging through my freezer, I found the frozen Jin Hua salted ham that I smuggled back from my previous trip to Shanghai. This will be the essence of the soup, to bring out the flavors in all the fresh ingredients. After all the ingredients are in the slow cooker, I sprinkled it with some Chinese cooking wine, threw in a couple of pieces of ginger and a green onion knot.
The traditional way is to set it over really low fire, and let it “Duo” for hours, but the slow cooker relieves me the mundane duty of watching over the simmering pot, adjusting the fire constantly. It takes all day to make this soup. You know when it’s done when the fresh pork falls apart easily when you poke it with chopsticks (a good reason to get a piece of pork loin wrapped in mesh so it doesn’t disintegrate before you eat it), and the salted pork has given all its flavor to the soup stock (it should be discarded before serving as it would have become completely devoid of taste and dry). I usually add sugar and salt (white pepper too if you like it spicy) and adjust flavor one hour before I plan to eat it. The amount of seasoning all depends on how much salted pork you add, or how salted the pork is. When I can’t find fresh shiitake I use dried ones, or sometimes I use both, but I have never made it without fresh bamboo shoots. It just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Eat it with a bowl of steamed white rice and some green vegetables on a cold snowy day and your soul will be happy.