This week I lost a tooth, which always puts me in a maudlin state of mind wherein I obsessively contemplate the nature of mortality, and I’ve been thinking the best way to be memorialized would be to have a food named after me. Here are some examples I can think of:
The sandwich (Earl of Sandwich)
John Wayne candy bar (John Wayne)
Oysters Rockefeller (John D. Rockefeller)
Fettuccine Alfredo (Alfredo di Lelio)
Eggs Benedict (no idea, but it has to be someone)
Frangelico (Fra Angelico, duh)
Cherry Garcia ice cream (Jerry Garcia)
Earl Grey tea (some British prime minister)
Margarita cocktail (Rita Hayworth. Real name Margarita Cansino)
Melba toast (Dame Nellie Melba)
Pavlova (Anna Pavlova)
General Tso’s chicken (also has to be someone, right?)
Dongpo pork (Su Dongpo)
Dongpo pork is a new favourite recipe of mine. It is Chinese cuisine at its finest – simultaneously elaborate and simple. The ingredients are few but the pork must be boiled, reboiled, simmered in a sauce, fried, boiled again, then steamed. Why is it named after the poet Su Dongpo? No one knows. Almost certainly he didn’t invent it (who could imagine a poet going to all that work?). As Lin Hsiang puts it in Chinese Gastronomy, this dish is “…named after Su Tungpo, the poet, for unknown reasons. Perhaps it is just because he would have liked it.” And I bet he would have. When you are done, the pork is so tender the fat can be eaten with chopsticks.
1 lb pork belly
1 tea bag (Lapsang Souchong for preference)
4 spring onions
About an inch of fresh ginger, slivered
1 head broccoli
1 cup water
8 cloves garlic, smashed
5 slices ginger
1 tablespoon peppercorns
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
Boil a pot of water and toss in the pork. When it comes back to the boil, drain the pork, clean the pot (go on, do it), put the pork back in and cover with cold water. Bring back to the boil. Boil 30 minutes. Fish out the pork, keep the water.
Heat up another saucepan with all the sauce ingredients. Add the pork and simmer for a few minutes, until nicely coloured. Remove the pork and reserve the sauce.
Heat up some oil in a saucepan (or wok). Fry the pork on all sides until well browned and the skin is crispy. While this is happening, steep the tea bag in boiling water for a minute or so, then toss the water and keep the tea bag.
Place the pork in the saucepan of water again, and add the tea bag. Simmer 30 more minutes.
Cut the spring onions in half, and use them to make a lattice at the bottom of your bamboo steamer. Place the pork on top of this, then steam for 2 hours. You will need to top up the water a few times.
Cut the broccoli into florets and place in the steamer for the final 5 minutes of cooking time.
Place the pork and broccoli on a serving dish, reheat the sauce (thicken with cornflour if you like) and pour over the pork. Garnish with the slivers of ginger.
It’s a long process, no doubt, but there’s only one life to eat, enjoy, and enjoy eating. As the poet himself put it:
Shui Lung Yin by Su Dongpo
Drinking through the night at East Slope,
still drunk on waking-up,
I return home around midnight.
My house-boy snores like thunder,
no answer to my knock.
Leaning on my stick, listening to the river,
I wish this body belonged to someone else.
When can I escape this turmoil?
In the deep night, with the wind still, the sea calm;
I’ll find a boat and drift away,
to spend my final years afloat,
trusting to the river and the sea.