Cantonese delicatessens with their broad and sometimes steamy windows are great street theater for strollers through Western Chinatowns. For hours everyday, there is a double show—ducks and chickens and pork and innards hanging from meat hooks in a crowded array of conceivable and incomprehensible postures, dripping their juices into pans of cooked foods beneath, and the dextrous countermen who wield immense cleavers over round wooden cutting boards that look centuries old. The show is wonderful, but the eats are often not. Red food dye, sugar, ketchup, cornstarch, and a canned fruit cocktail assortment of pineapple and marischino cherries inevitably overwhelm what hours before might have been a decent piece of something.
Cut the pork lengthwise into strips 2–2½ inches wide and 1½ inches thick. Cut each strip crosswise, if needed, into pieces 5–8 inches long. Lay the strips flat in a non-aluminum baking dish large enough to hold them snugly in a single layer. If you do not have a baking dish large enough, use two glass or ceramic pie plates or quiche plates.
In a medium-size bowl mix the soy, wine, sugar, hoisin sauce, stock, and oil, stirring well to blend and dissolve the sugar. With the broad side of a cleaver or heavy knife, smash the scallion lengths and garlic cloves smartly to spread the fibers and bring the juices to the surface. Add the crushed scallion and garlic to the soy mixture, then stir well to blend.
Pour the marinade evenly over the pork, scraping the bowl clean. Tip the pork dish to distribute the marinade into every corner and crevice, then seal the dish airtight with plastic wrap. Put aside to marinate for 3 hours at room temperature, then refrigerate 6–30 hours, the longer the better for flavor. Turn the slices and tip the dish to distribute the marinade every hour for the first 3 hours, and thereafter once or twice as convenient. Bring to room temperature before roasting.
Drain the marinade from the pork, discarding the liquid and the garlic and scallion. Put the tip of an S-shaped hook through each strip of pork, at least 1 inch from the end so the weight of the meat doesn’t tear the strip from the hook. The placement of the hook must enable the pork to dangle from the hook without touching either the rack above or the water below.
Using pot mitts, hang the strips from the oven rack so that they hang over the drip pan and do not touch one another. Work quickly, so as not to reduce the oven temperature too much.
Roast the pork undisturbed for 45 minutes. Then increase the heat to 450° and roast the pork for about 10 minutes longer to crisp the outside a bit and turn it a rich gold. Use an oven thermometer and your eye to judge when the pork is done, and if you are unsure then take a strip from the oven and test a slice. It should be juicy, not dry, when it is done.
The pork is excellent hot, tepid, at room temperature, or cold—any way you like. If you are eating it hot, remove the strips from the oven, remove the hooks, then slice the meat crosswise against the grain with a sharp, thin-bladed cleaver or chef’s knife into even slices about ⅛ inch thin. For broader slices, angle the knife away from you as you slice. If you are not eating the pork immediately, then remove the hooks and put the strips in a single layer on a plate to cool.
Traditional cold-cut presentation in China calls for paper-thin overlapping slices fanned out attractively on a large platter, surrounded by a colorful assortment of cold foods all designed for nibbling. If you are a home cook, you can make the platter look pretty and perhaps something like a flower with spiraling petals of different foods. If you are a fancy restaurant chef, you will contrive to make the assorted foods look like a fabulous bird on a flowering branch, with a feathered “wing” of pork slices, a feathered “head” of slivered black mushrooms, and radish-fan “blossoms” adorning the branch.
Roast pork keeps nicely in the refrigerator 4–5 days, wrapped airtight. For best flavor, slice just before eating.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.