The little patch of chives in my back yard pushed through the winter thatch a couple of weeks ago and said: “Eat me.”
Well, allrighty then.
I never appreciated chives much until I realized what they represented: A decent scallion substitute with a milder flavor, growing free in my backyard. Since then, they’ve become a perennial (heh) favorite. You don’t have to plant anything, just watch them grow and go help yourself.
Later in the season, their delicate purple flowers make pretty garnishes, as well.
So I rooted through the freezer for some marbled pork, because it was time to make one of the urchins’ favorite dinners, caramel pork.
That’s right. Caramel. Pork.
Two great flavors that go great together. If only I’d invented it.
It’s a Vietnamese dish. Their cuisine includes Kho dishes, meat or seafood simmered until tender in an unctuous broth of burnt sugar, fish sauce, ginger and garlic. The recipe I use is a mutated version of a “pork clay pot” recipe published by Charles Phan, the chef of The Slanted Door, a San Francisco favorite. I don’t have a clay pot, but I do have the metal kind, so off we go.
Don’t bother with pork loin here. You need some fat in the meat, or the sauce will suffer. Pork shoulder, also known as pork butt, or “country style” ribs are appropriate. I usually use trimmings from spare ribs, which I freeze in quart bags whenever I make barbecued spare ribs.
The recipe below is a good place to start, though I usually omit the chile pepper and hard-boiled eggs, and double the garlic and ginger. Shallots give it the accurate Vietnamese air, but onion will do in a pinch. This is one of those dishes that is probably better the second day, which also gives you a chance to peel off the fat layer before you reheat it.
adapted from Charles Phan
1-1/2 pounds fatty pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 cup chopped shallots (or substitute onion)
1 small jalapeno or serrano chile, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled (optional)
2 tablespoons sliced chives (or scallions)
Put the oil in a pot that you have the lid to, over medium heat. Add sugar and stir a bit, and it will dissolve. Stir occasionally, and in about 5 minutes it’ll be caramelizing. When it’s reached the level of browning you like – I go for a dark amber – drop in the garlic, ginger, shallot and chile, if using, then stir. It’ll sizzle and release an intriguing aroma.
After the flavorants are soft, about 5 minutes, add the pork and raise the heat to medium high. Stir, browning the pork, for about 5 minutes or more. Add the water, fish sauce, black pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until it simmers calmly, and if using, nestle the hard-boiled eggs in the pot. Cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until pork is tender, stirring once or twice.
Serve over rice, sprinkled liberally with chives. Or I suppose you could use scallions, but just try to find those in your back yard.