Lu Rou Fan

I am currently in a hospital near my parents’ place due to a family medical emergency, so I have some time on my hands to polish a post that’s been languishing in the drafts bin for months.  Working on this has allowed me to while away an hour in the ICU doing something other than worry.  It’s been a lot more pleasant than how I spent some other hours (wringing my hands whilst feeling dreadfully helpless in the face of the health crisis of a loved one, inventing the maladies that brought the other patients in, playing “what’s that smell?”, judging the other visitors – I am really quite a terrible person when I’m upset . . . and also in general).

Abstract

Lu rou fan translates to “braised pork over rice” but I prefer to think of it as “flavorful bowl of fatty joy”.  This isn’t very nerdy.  It’s just fabulously delicious.  Sorry to those wanting more science baking.  This has a little pickling in it, which is sort of related to biology.

Introduction

“What are you?”

“So what kind are you?”

“Where are you from? No, where are you from originally?”

“Konichiwa! An-nyong! Ni hao!”

“Hey baby, what’s your name? Yoon? Kim? Lee?”

To all the horribly creepy people out there who have attempted to initiate conversations with me in this way: you are horribly creepy creepers and I do not wish to talk to you.  HOWEVER, this post should answer all of your questions regarding my origin.  My family’s from New Jersey.

This dish is not native to New Jersey.  It’s a very popular Taiwanese dish with cultural significance et cetera et cetera that the rest of the internet can tell you all about.  I’m going to tell you that it is tasty, (relatively) easy, and refrigerates really well.  Does your schedule for the upcoming week make you want to curl into a little ball?  Do you find yourself wishing you could just photosynthesize?  Does getting lunch from the Taco Bell in the student union because the line is the shortest wreak havoc on your intestines?  Do you enjoy seeing an oil slick on your food?  Make lu rou fan on a weekend and eat it all week.

I started a legitimate “Materials and Methods” section, but was unable to write one because I have made this with many different variations of the starting materials using the quantities that “look right”.  There are a lot of recipes available if you search “lu ro fan” or “lu rou fan”.  I think my version is closest to the one previously published here, and as a bonus they’ve also included how to make swan tsai which is pretty close to what I did too.  Swan tsai directly translates to “sour vegetable” and basically, it’s pickled mustard greens.  If you can’t find mustard greens, use some kind of vegetable that you think would be fun to pickle.  Or just go buy the stuff already made at an Asian grocery store near you.

In the past, instead of pork belly I have used ground pork, chopped up pork chops and loins, the fatty bits that I trimmed off of pork chops and pork loins, and an unidentified chunk of frozen meat that wound up being beef.  I find that a high fat content is ideal for flavor, but using leaner cuts is better for you and still results in a pretty yummy end product.

Materials-ish and Methods-oid

Swan tsai (pickled green substances)

No mustard greens were available in the refrigerator and this investigator could not be bothered to get in the car and go grocery shopping, so one package of Costco baby bok choy was used instead.  The bok choi was well-washed and blanched in boiling water.

The blanched vegetables were packed into a Ball canning jar with alternating sea salt and vegetable layers.

Vegetables were tamped down with the butt end of a large spoon.  White vinegar and enough brine to cover the vegetables were added and the jar was sealed. The sealed jar was incubated at room temperature for 24 h. Incubation time may vary depending on ambient temperature.

Vegetables are ready when they turn a sickly olive-green color.

Swan tsai may be purchased commercially or may be omitted entirely depending on availability, investigator time constraints, and investigator preference.

Lu rou (braised pork)

Pork cuts of approximately 1:1 fat:lean ratio were chopped to roughly 2 cm cubes.  The source was trimmings from Giant’s “Buy Big and Save” pork loin and trimmings from a package of Costco sale pork chops.

Two shallots were peeled and finely diced.  Onions may be substituted.  Enough sesame oil to coat the bottom of a large pot was heated at medium-high.  Chopped shallots were added and sautéed until the shallots became translucent.  The cubed pork was added and sautéed until lightly browned.

Roughly 1 c soy sauce, 0.5 c rice wine, 2 tbsp brown sugar, several fresh ginger slices, one cinnamon stick and one “spice for spiced food” sachet were added.  Five spice powder may be substituted.

Enough water to cover all ingredients was added.  The contents of the pot were transferred to a slow cooker and cooked overnight at a low setting.

Fan (rice)

White rice was steamed in a rice cooker.

Assembly

Rice was scooped into a big bowl.  Lu rou was spooned on top of the rice.  The dish was garnished with roughly chopped swan tsai and finely chopped cilantro.

Results and Discussions

FLAVOR!  FAT!  JOY!

A few notes on preparation: You might want to fish out the cinnamon stick, sachet, and ginger chunks if you don’t like accidentally biting into any of those things during your meal.  I’m too lazy (and I kind of like the taste of stewed ginger slices).  And you don’t have to make the meat in the slow cooker if you have time to babysit it while it simmers.  Finally, as you can tell from my description, you don’t have to follow volumes or ingredient very specifically, although if you haven’t cooked much in the past it’s probably best if you follow the linked recipe.  I remember learning to cook in college – I made some seriously disgusting things by making a series of very misguided substitutions.

Also, the cilantro was from one of the plants I was plant-sitting for my advisor.  If you don’t have an advisor who asks you to watch his plants, other sources work as well (but they may not leave you with that piquant lingering aftertaste of guilt that you are eating a home-cooked meal instead of being in lab).

Because I’m paranoid and maybe a little crazy, I am always afraid that Clostridium is going to get all cozy up inside that there jar and we are going to get botulism, suffer from flaccid paralysis, and die.  If you too are driven to distraction by the multitude of ways you can die horribly, look at some pickling recipes to get an idea of what the acid:salt:water ratio should be for a safe pickling brine.

Now that I’m staying at my parents’ house, I’m inspired to write a series of posts about foods that remind me of their home.  (Maybe not all the food.  I don’t want to eat Dad’s “big pot of leftover noodle soup”.  Rarely it was good, usually it was bizzarre.  He’d boil spaghetti, dump in all the leftovers, and then glob in a spoonful of Skippy.  And Mom’s “hot dog fried rice” was an interesting take on budget fusion dining that I didn’t particularly warm to.)  One day I’ll ask Grandma about jiu niang, a sweetened fermented rice soup – wow that sounds disgusting when described.  I suppose I could do a post on dumplings as well.  Oooooh, my mom (bless her busy soul) used to make these pan-fried pork buns (sheng jian bao) using the Pillsbury biscuit dough from those cardboard logs because she didn’t have time to make the traditional dough.  I loved them.  When I was five I ate so many I got a stomach ache and couldn’t move.  The authentic buns just don’t compare . . . probably because they’re not made with four-billionty pounds of butter or whatever is in that biscuit log.  That’s an instance of busy-Mom fusion cuisine that I fully endorse.  Writing about food really makes me feel better.

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