Master Sauce Cookery Part 2: Red-cooked Pork Hocks
This experiment will be the first use of the Chinese ‘Master Sauce’ I posted about a short while ago. I have very much wanted to reproduce the ‘Pig Trotter’ I featured in a ‘Notable Noshings’ article back in December but, since pig’s feet are not generally available in these parts, I have substituted the much more common hocks. As I mentioned in the ‘Pig’s Trotter’ post, the featured dish that I enjoyed at the Harmony Restaurant in Ottawa is a good example of the Chinese culinary technique known as ‘red-cooking’ in which foodstuffs are slowly braised in a soy-sauce based medium (hence giving the requisite ‘red’ color). As the master sauce I prepared essentially fits this criteria, I thought it would be perfect for today’s experiment…
Here are the pork hocks I selected. Pig Trotters can be cut into small chunks and then cooked and eaten with the bone still remaining. This is a bit tricky with the hocks, however, as the bones are very robust and it would be difficult to chop them into appropriately sized pieces without mangling everything. Accordingly, I am going to partly cook the hocks on the bone and then later remove the meat for the final cooking.
Before cooking any meats in the master sauce, it is a good idea to blanch the pieces first as this will help cook away any blood and ‘bits’ that would otherwise leave the master sauce murky. Just drop the meat into boiling salted water and cook for 5 minutes or so (depending on size) until no pink meat is visible. Afterwards, wash the pieces thoroughly in cold water to remove any scum or other solid residue.
I slowly simmered the whole hocks in my master sauce for about three hours. As you can see, a bit of scum does form at the surface, along with some of the rendered fat, but it is considerably less than there would be without the preliminary blanching and is fairly easy to keep skimmed.
Here are the hocks after the preliminary cooking. You can see the nice golden reddish color the sauce gives to the meat and skin. I have de-boned one piece and cut the meat into bite-size pieces leaving the skin attached. I will be using a little of the master sauce for the final cooking but we are not finished with the rest of it as I will add the bones (and a few trimmings of skin) back into the pot and continue cooking so that the flavor and collagen adds to the body (as we will see a little further on).
You could easily just continue to slow-cook the meat in some of the master sauce without any further additions but I decided to enhance things a little. I sliced a celery stick into matchstick sized pieces and used this as a bed for my meat in the nice casserole dish my wife bought for my birthday. I also sliced half a white onion very thinly and put some at the bottom the dish with the celery and then scattered the rest over top of the pork. Finally, I poured over enough of the master sauce to almost cover the rest of the contents and then popped the dish into a 325 degree oven.
Here is the finished dish after a further three hours of cooking. As you can see in the very first picture, I served pieces of the meat and skin over rice with a little of the sauce. The meat was very tasty, having taken on the richness of the master sauce without having given up all of its own original flavor. The skin was melt-in-the-mouth tender and provided a lovely textural counterpoint to everything else. My wife really enjoyed this and I have to say that this experiment was as every bit as good as the pig trotters I had in Ottawa last December.
As for the rest of the master sauce, I continued to simmer the bones and skin in the liquid for a good four hours or so until the skin was soft enough to be easily torn with one’s fingers. Since the process leaves quite a bit of residue that might cloud the master sauce, I filtered it through a triple layer of cheese cloth before cooling the sauce in the refrigerator and then lifting off the little bit of fat that congealed on the surface. You can see the result below…
Isn’t that beautiful? The collagen and other proteins leached out of the pork skin and bone have allowed the sauce to become richly thick gelatinous with a lovely golden color. It will not only be deliciously flavored but will have a thick body that will be terrific for any small amounts that are used as the flavor base for other dishes. I haven’t decided yet, but next I will be either cooking chicken or ribs in the sauce… Stay tuned.