My kitchen train of thought, on most days, simply choo-choos along steering clear of potholes and sharp turns. Then once in a while something fantastically frightful leaps out and becomes roadkill, pushing me into a daring job of clean-up. A few days past, my mum and I found ourselves at a lovely little farmer’s market. I fascinated myself with the Brussels sprouts and parsnips, imagining a roasted dish of some sort. My mother, in the meantime, came to a marveled halt in front of the meat stand. I then, naturally, left my vegetables and joined her.
Her eyes fell upon an awe-inspiringly clean and delicate piece of swine: the hock. All its hairs had been carefully removed, the skin was tight and of an even tone. There were no traces of pink liquid puddling beneath it. It was all so…pristine.
I was all so…ravished.
It has been nearly two months since my vacation in Taiwan, and I’m just beginning to miss the grandiose Taiwanese restaurant vibe – the touch, or should I say kick, of in-your-face-I’m-damn-proud-of-what-I-made attitude. Whole braised pork hock is actually the celebration dish of all occasions in Taiwan; be it wedding banquets, office wrap-ups, over-the-hump birthdays. Why? Because its ability to bring about wholesome joy and hearty chortling far exceeds that of ham and bacon. The meat, through extended cooking would literally fall apart if there hadn’t been the sticky, tender, and golden red rind just barely holding it together. The onions become confit’d and transparent, as deep amber, and the juices of the concoction darken through patient caramelization, transforming into the most addictive sauce that will guarantee the vanishing of all the rice – regardless of how much you cook. The plan was to make this for dinner, then have the leftovers for dinner the following day. That did not happen, since my mum and I basically pigged out on the whole thing at one sitting. Oops.
Ingredients for the braised hock:
1 small pork hock
vegetable oil, for frying
8 slices ginger root
2 brown onions, cut into thin wedges
300 g vaccuum-packed slender bamboo shoots, rinsed, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2/3 cup yellow rock sugar
2/3 cup rice wine
1 cup soy sauce
2 cups water
2 pieces dried mandarin peel
4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
To make the braised pork hock, first, heat about 3/4 inch of vegetable oil in a wok until hot, but not yet smoking. Pat the hock dry with a paper towel, then gently lower into the oil; it should start to sizzle immediately. Fry the hock on all sides on medium heat until the skin is nicely golden crisp all over. Drain thoroughly on a clean paper towel.
Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with the onions, bamboo, and garlic. Put the hock right on top, then add the sugar, liquids, and mandarin peel. Scatter on the scallions.
Cook on HIGH, covered, for 5~6 hours, flip the hock over, then cook on LOW for another 8 hours, covered.
Serve the hock whole in a large deep platter, with the vegetables and its sauce. (And of course lots of rice.)
If there happens to be leftovers, then discard the sauce and cool completely before refrigerating. To reheat, steam it with a sprinkling more of rice wine so the tender meat doesn’t dry out.