Question time! Today’s question:
Why don’t my Chinese food recipes ever taste like they do in the restaurant? The meat is always too dry, and the spices are always a little off.
Ah, this is a good one, and the issues should be easily traceable. We’ll start with:
Problem One: The Meat
Your beef is probably turning out better than your pork, especially ground pork, am I right? I’ll bet most of your issues revolve around pork dishes. I partly blame the failure of the US consumers to properly learn their meat cuts (hint: “Angus” isn’t a part), but a heavy share of the blame rightly belongs to recipes that fail to specify a particular cut of pork.
Because there are a lot of pork parts, and Chinese, (like the French), love them some piggo. Fun fact: the pictogram for “family/house” in Chinese is a roof over… a pig.
Meat, part one: Fat Content
Anyhow. Let’s say you find a recipe that asks for ground pork. You pick up a package from the grocery that says “ground pork” but the problem is, unlike the beeves, there isn’t any fat content listed. Heck, you don’t even know what scraps they used to make this batch. Was it loin (totally lean)? Or shoulder (lots of connective tissue)? Or ham, or belly (sooo much fat)? That package could be lots of fat, or virtually none. And what you need is lots of fat.
Unfortunately, most packages will be lean scraps, and so when you cook with it, what little fat there is will run out with the juices and leave you with a dry, mealy-tasting mixture.
I’ve done one of two things, both of which seem to work well. If you’re making a recipe where the pork is not cased, add ground pork belly. That’s bacon, for the uninformed. I have a meat grinder attachment so I can grind at will, but for those of you not so fortunate, just ask the butcher at your meat counter to do it for you. Those guys do all kinds of stuff, even debone a shoulder and cube it for you. I love them.
I would add at least 2 oz belly for every 8 oz unidentified ground. Mix and use.
For recipes where the pork will be encased (think wontons, etc), you can massage in extra bacon fat saved from baking your morning breakfast batch. About 2 Tbs per 8 oz ground will suffice.
Next time, Meat, Part two: The Cuts.