As a foodie, I really enjoy cooking. It allows me to get creative, saves money, and there’s tremendous satisfaction in putting together a well-prepared dish for myself or people I care about to enjoy. This is a slow-cooked pork loin with some Chinese flavours. It’s an adaptation of a dish my mom makes. She makes super tasty pork in the pressure cooker, which I don’t own. If you’re not familiar with pressure cooking, it uses a specially designed pot with a locking lid and safety valve.
You place the food to be cooked inside the pot with the chosen cooking liquid (water, broth, etc.), secure the lid, and place it on the burner. As the steam cannot escape, pressure increases inside the pot and cooks the food much faster than usual. As a kid, I remember being simultaneously fascinated and scared of my mom’s pressure cooker. That chattering, industrial-looking contraption on the stove was either going to provide a tasty dinner or explode and send pieces of shrapnel and pork everywhere. Luckily, only the former ever came true.
Now, suppose a pressure cooker is a guy at the gym who’s pounding the treadmill, sprinting as fast as it’ll go. In that case, a slow cooker is a guy who’s plodding along at a leisurely 5 km pace while reading someone’s leftover issue of People magazine. The ultimate lazy man’s kitchen gadget, a slow cooker brings the food to a constant low temperature (75°C – 90°C) and keeps it there. Using one couldn’t be simpler; you merely put in your raw food, the cooking liquid, turn it on, and walk away for eight or nine hours. While you’re gone, the slow process of cooking tenderises the meat. As a result, cheaper cuts actually turn out a lot better than expensive ones using this method.
I recently made slow-cooked pulled pork for my Super Bowl party. Since it came out so well, I decided to reprise the dish for a Chinese New Year party at work but use Asian flavours instead of barbecue sauce.
Trimming the pork loin
I got a pork loin from the supermarket. This was for a potluck luncheon (about 30 people), so I got a loin that was about 35cm and 3kg, like a friggin’ newborn baby!
So, we’re just going to cut it up and put it in the slow cooker, right? Not so fast, chief. When you’re dealing with this cut of meat, there’s some prep work to be done first. Flip it over to see the skin side of the meat. That fat’s gotta go. Removing most of it is pretty easy; just tuck your fingers in and tear it off. A sharp paring knife helps do it neatly. As you take the fat off, you’ll start to see a layer of thin, silvery fibres running the whole length of the loin.
This is called silver skin, and it’s a very tough connective tissue that won’t dissolve during cooking. So we’re going to get rid of as much of it as possible. To do it, slide your paring knife under a section of it and angle your knife upwards, cutting between the silver skin and the meat. I started at one end, but some people like to start in the middle.
Slowly, you should be able to pull up the strip of silver skin while using your knife to separate it from the meat. If you miss a bit of silver skin here and there, don’t worry. It’s not going to be noticeable at all in the finished product. By the same token, don’t stress out if you take off a thin layer of meat with silver skin. Since we’re going for pulled pork, the surface of the loin doesn’t need to be perfect.
Adding the pork and the ingredients into the pot
When you cook, you want to avoid overcrowding the pan or pot whenever possible. This applies to pretty much every situation. It’s tempting to dump your entire meal’s worth of meat or vegetable in and try to cook it all at once. Still, most of the time, this leads to uneven cooking and longer time spent than if you had done batches in the first place. For example, I didn’t want to stuff the entire loin in and then have it take 15 hours to cook, so I cut the loin into four pieces.
With the pork in the slow cooker (still off at this point), it’s time to assemble the rest of the ingredients. You will need:
- Star anise
- Five-spice powder
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Chicken Broth
- White wine
- Soy sauce
Most of the ingredients are pretty standard, save for the first two. Star anise is a highly aromatic spice from China and is somewhat reminiscent of licorice. It’s also one of the components in five-spice powder. This traditional blend incorporates the Chinese concept of five flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, savoury, and salty.
I used about 15 “flowers” of anise for each batch, one root of ginger, one teaspoon of the five-spice powder, and half of the onion (it was my last one ). Cut the ginger into large pieces and trim off the skin. Add these components to the slow cooker, along with one can of chicken broth, about 1/4 cup of white wine, 1/8 cup of soy sauce, and a few pinches of red pepper flakes (less if you’re not into spicy). You want the liquid to just cover the meat. Add water or more chicken broth if you need more volume.
Now all you need to do is put the cover on, turn the cooker to Low, and do something else for nine hours. For example, many people use slow cookers to make dinner in the morning before they go to work. Since the temperature is so low, and there’s no flame or pressure involved, they’re very safe to leave unattended.
After cooking for about nine hours, the pork will be fork-tender and will shred very easily. Remove it from the slow cooker and into a different pot, then separate it into bite-size pieces.
Add a bit of the cooking liquid to moisten the pork. If you want to intensify the flavour, pour some of it into a small pan first and reduce it overheat.
I like to serve this just over white rice, but it’s also good with noodles. So I heated some leftovers with some pre-cooked Chinese noodles from the Asian supermarket and added some mushrooms. Enjoy!