Velvet Pork Pie with Szechwan Pickle

榨菜蒸肉餅

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    2

    as a main course with a vegetable .

Appears in

This is a very common, very simple Chinese dish made most everywhere there is fresh pork and a steamer. The variations are numerous, but the base is always a large, homey patty of smoothly minced pork. To this is added a generally subtle blend of seasonings and some liquid-inspiring ingredient to keep the mixture moist. It is, in fact, the Chinese meat loaf, although lighter and less meaty than our own.

  • This version is rather jazzy and highly seasoned, spiced by the addition of piquant Szechwan preserved vegetable. It was inspired by Cecilia Chiang’s fascinating autobiography, The Mandarin Way, which is a treasure trove of classic Chinese tastes. To me, the effect of the preserved vegetable is a lot like adding a slice of good kosher dill pickle to an already inviting hamburger. A little bit goes a long, zesty way.
  • If the preserved vegetable is unavailable or you don’t like its taste, substitute chopped, presoaked dried shrimp or black mushrooms, or blanched, tiny fresh peas, chopped fresh water chestnuts, or minced scallion or chopped Chinese chives. Stir them by hand into the purée just before steaming and add about ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt to compensate for the saltiness of the pickle. Or, omit the extras entirely and the pie will still be tasty. The primary thing is that the pork be very fresh.
  • This is a 4-minute preparation with a food processor, ideal for an evening when you have no energy to cook. Once blended, the purée may be refrigerated overnight, then steamed to succulence in 30 minutes.

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Ingredients

For the pork mixture

  • 1 tablespoon well-rinsed, chopped Szechwan preserved vegetable (to yield 1 tablespoon chopped pickle)
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
  • ½ pound ground pork butt
  • 2 teaspoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil (increase to 2 teaspoons for overly lean meat)
  • ½ cup rich, unsalted chicken stock
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

To garnish

Method

Blending the pork purée

Be certain you have rinsed the preserved vegetable thoroughly to remove the peppery outer coating and pat dry before chopping.

Add the pickle and ginger and remaining ingredients to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, and process until smooth. The mixture should be very loose and smell fresh and sweet with an overtone of sesame oil and a faint whiff of pepper.

If you do not have a food processor, chop the pork with one or two equally weighted knives until completely smooth. Chop the pickle, mince the ginger until fine, then combine with the pork and the remaining seasonings, stirring briskly in one direction until well blended.

The purée may be refrigerated overnight, with a sheet of plastic film pressed directly on the surface to insure an airtight seal. Bring to room temperature and stir to recombine before steaming.

Steaming the pie

(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)

Choose a shallow heatproof serving bowl 8–9 inches in diameter. To prevent the pork from sticking, spread a thin film of sesame oil in the bottom of the bowl to cover a diameter of 6½ inches. Add the purée to the bowl, then use a wet spatula to smooth it into a slightly mounded pie, 6½ inches in diameter. Round the edges to form a perfect circle.

For a simple garnish, sprinkle the pie with 1 scant tablespoon chopped scallion or Chinese chives. For a more decorative touch, cut 2 or 3 of the chives or scallion lengths into small curling “branches,”. Arrange on top, then press into place with a wet finger. You can also scallop the edges of the pie. It will steam in exactly the shape you give it.

Fill the steaming vessel with a generous amount of water. Bring to a full, gushing boil over high heat, then add the bowl to the steamer. Cover and steam over high heat 30 minutes. Do not lift the lid while the pie is steaming. When done, the edges of the pie will shrink back and lift up from the bottom of the bowl, and the pie will be surrounded by a pool of dark golden juices.

Serve at once. To eat the pie, put the bowl in the center of the table and use chopsticks for communal-style Chinese eating. Or, cut the pie into neat wedges for serving, and top each portion with a ladleful of liquid.

Leftovers keep 2–3 days, refrigerated and tightly sealed. Resteam in a tightly covered bowl until hot, or slice as you would a meat loaf for a cold platter or sandwiches. The cold pie has a firm, silky texture just like that of a good, homemade gefilte fish, so you might even like to try it with horseradish.

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