Monday, October 25, 2010

the American dream and sweet & sour pork

Many of my childhood summer holidays were spent on the west coast of Scotland, in a place called Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan - the most westerly point of mainland Great Britain - where every day for a week, the six of us would squish into our little yellow Mini and bump six miles down a single track road until we hit the deserted beach at Sanna.

Here, we kids would leap into the dunes and race towards the sea while Mum settled in the soft white sand with Woman's Weekly and Dad rolled up his shirt sleeves and went to work under the bonnet of the car.

I'm thinking about the summer of 1976 in particular, when Candi Staton was singing about young hearts running free and the Bee Gees were telling us we should be dancing (yeah!) - when we had a heatwave in Scotland.

Imagine! Heatwave and Scotland co-existing in the same sentence!

When we weren't racing around under those high blue skies, panting in the heat, we were swimming in the sea or poking around in rock pools, collecting shells and dead sea urchins and writing messages in the sand - or just marvelling at our nut brown toes, thanks to Mum's liberal application of Ambre Solaire SPF1. The only time Dad ever ventured onto the beach, in his socks and shoes, was to help with the construction of our dam, which had to slope at a 30 degree angel and have a stone-lined slipway for controlled overspill. On one of these rare forays onto the sand, Dad pointed out over the turquoise sea and said: America is straight over there.

I dropped my bucket and spade and followed his gaze, open-mouthed, hoping to catch a glimpse of America, an alien land I'd learned all about from watching Starsky and Hutch, where they spoke with funny accents and called "chips" "fries" and the women had hair like an Alpine ski chalet.

That night when I flopped into bed and pulled the thin cotton sheet over my sunburnt body (thanks to Mum's liberal application of Ambre Solaire SPF1), I dreamed of going to America - and did so for many years to come.

Years later I did go to America - many times - and on the last occasion I had the best pork dumplings I've ever tasted, at Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown, New York. This restaurant is famous for them and as soon as you're seated, the waiter asks: do you want regular dumplings or crab? We ordered regular (pork) and a bamboo steamer arrived nestling eight plump pagoda-shaped buns containing little pork meatballs surrounded by a scalding meaty broth. They were utterly delicious.

I've never made pork dumplings, but the other day I made the next best thing: sweet and sour pork balls. This is based on a Ken Hom recipe.

Serves 4
450 g /1 lb fatty minced pork
1 egg white
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ green pepper, cut into squares
½ red pepper, cut into squares
4 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
cornflour for dusting
groundnut oil for frying

For the sauce
150 ml / 5 fl oz home-made chicken stock
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
½ white pepper
1½  tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp cornflour, blended with 1 tbsp water
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

1. Mix the pork with the egg white and water using your hands then add the soy sauces, rice wine, sugar and salt and pepper. Shape into balls and dust with cornflour.

2. In a pan of boiling water, blanch the carrots and pepper until nearly tender (about 3 minutes). Drain and set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the pork balls until crisp and golden (3-4 minutes). Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

4. Combine all the sauce ingredients except the cornflour mixture in a large pan and bring to the boil. Add the carrots, pepper and spring onions, then stir in the cornflour mixture and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Add the pork balls and warm through and serve with chopped corander leaves.

♫ Cook along to: Rogue Wave California


Denise | Chez Danisse said...

I love your memory and your photograph and recipe look so good. Thanks. It's funny to think that I was in America while you were looking my way. All the while I was wishing we'd travel somewhere far away and exotic.

Kathie said...

"America is straight over there."

You can say the same thing from Fajã Grande and Fajãzinha das Flores. Come to think of it, I believe I did :-)))

Of course, heading somewhat more northwesterly from there lands a person in Labrador, Newfoundland, Canada.

Victoria said...

I live in NYC and have been to Joe's. We also go to Grand Szechuan International, which is also known for it's delicious soup dumplings.

There is a wonderful comic that, I believe, is on Joe's website showing how to eat the soup dumplings properly. It's charming. You should head over and see if it's still there.

These look YUM!

By the way, I love the egg pictured in your last post. I am still indebted to you for reminding me about toast soldiers.

Joe said...

Your post made me feel like having dim sim just about now! By the way, I am your fellow Foodista cookbook blogger. Love the tune you cooked along!

Anonymous said...

Thank God it's home-made chicken stock you need for this dish and not veal stock !

Sarah said...

Denise and Kathy - thanks for your comments.

Victoria - I've checked out the comic strip. I should have read that before I ate the dumplings because I burnt my mouth! How lucky you are that you can pop into Joe's any time and savour the food!

Joe - Did you get your book yet?

Anon - Fair point!

PatsyAnne said...

I've lived in and around NYC for over 40 years now and I've never been to Joe's - many other restaurants and dim sum places in Chinatown but never Joe's. I will remedy that on a Saturday between now and Christmas - thats when I'll finish up my Santa shopping and when I'll need a break from the crowds in the shopping area. I have a special breakfast set of dishes for my wee granddaughter made for boiled egg and soldiers! Bought in England and saving it for when she visits Gramma on an overnight.

LOVE your blog and can't until Sunday when I'll try your latest recipe for S&S Pork Balls...


Sarah said...

PatsyAnne - Thank you for your comment. Get to Joe's early (5 - 6 pm) because after that there are queues to get in. Hope you enjoy the pork balls! Happy Christmas shopping!

Mum said...

The Foodista book came and is fab. Thank you so much. Am ordering some for Christmas presents! What talent in the cooking world, pity it never rubbed off on me!

PatsyAnne said...


I've gotten all the ingredients for the pork balls, I'm hoping to make them smaller and serve them with the carrots & red/green peppers over rice... BUT I can't figure out what one should do with the cornstarch (cornflour)...

Sarah said...

PatsyAnne, Oops! I've missed out a bit there. Sorry about that! In step 4 - between "Add the carrots, pepper and spring onions" and "simmer gently for 2 minutes" you stir in the cornflour mixture. Thanks for pointing that out. I shall amend the recipe.