I discovered this weekend that I have an amazing tendency to cook things just for fun that are ridiculously complicated, but when it comes to meal times I often wind up submitting to the instant gratification of lazy-people food (instant ramen, frozen sausages, etc.).
Yesterday my breakfast consisted of toast with butter, and lunch of instant ramen with an egg. But somewhere in there, I went shopping and decided to go on a culinary adventure. I decided to make chashu pork and tea eggs, and also to make some onigiri for my friends’ going away party. Nowhere in there, though, did I plan to eat any of that fancy food as a meal. Just instant ramen and toast. Oh, self, I am ashamed of you. At least the end result tends to be that I wind up having fancy lunches at work during the week (as such, I invested in a bento box today).
Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how I got on the chashu kick, but sure enough I was tromping off to the Chinese grocery in search of the perfect cut of pork. For those out of the know, chashu is the Japanese interpretation of the Chinese charsiu. Unlike charsiu, chashu is actually braised pork in a soy sauce, mirin, etc. mixture, not barbecued. Marc Matsumoto, in his sexily illustrated chashu recipe, advises that pork cheek is the best for ultimate chashu amazingness, I wasn’t so fortunate. There was, indeed, some pork head meat…but it was just that, pork head. Complete with ears. While I’m an adventurous cook at times (known for thwacking off the head of a [dead] duck with a cleaver in an illustrious birthday potluck episode), I didn’t quite feel up to chopping off ears that day. So, I settled for pork belly.
The tea egg kick is a little more understandable; my Chinese friend made some tasty tea eggs for a hike/picnic we had a couple of weeks ago and I was hooked (despite my typical dislike of hard boiled eggs). So while at the Chinese grocery, I also picked up some cheap looseleaf black tea in a tin. I couldn’t quite remember which type of tea was required and was too timid to ask the Chinese clerk in my workable Mandarin, but it seems I chose correctly. Hooray! After searching the internet for tea egg recipes, I settled on this one from Allrecipes because it seemed to have a sufficient mixture of spice (I omitted the licorice root and substituted a little brown sugar for rock sugar).
The end result of this was me making use of all four gas burners at once: rice in a pot on the back left, chashu in a le cruset on the front left, tea eggs simmering away in their sauce on the back right, and some steelhead trout cooking away in miso and onion on the front right.
And so, my tiny little apartment smelled like a Sino-Japanese wonderland, filled with the scent of pork, fish, rice, and tea eggs simmering away while I watched some terrible Korean dramas. The chashu took considerably longer than an hour to get tender enough, but had a great flavor (I have to admit I added extra garlic and a bit of MSG though); the tea eggs were decent right away, but I’m not particularly fond of yolks with green on eggs, so I’ll probably soft boil them and then do the simmering next time.
I contemplated how I could use all this damn food, since I hadn’t really thought of that beforehand (bright, I know). I decided to combine my strange cooking urges into a decent lunch for the week, and settled on an offshoot of a salad I whipped up last week involving belgian endive, egg, and other stuff (then, it was sweet potato). This, I think, was when I realized that I really do have some sort of diet identity crisis, and that maybe I should blog about it. My friends, also, are to blame for their suggestions that I seem to have a lot to say and perhaps blabbering on the internet would be a good outlet.
So, this morning, after eating wheetabix and milk (virtually ignored in the U.S., but delicious) and a tea egg for breakfast, I started installing wordpress. After returning from the gym, I combined my rich and flavorful tea eggs (rich, spicy), chashu pork (rich, salty, sort of sweet), and belgian endive (crunchy, bitter) with some green onion (zingy), shaved parmesan (salty, sort of crunchy) and pickled garlic (tangy-sweet) my mom made. In order to balance out the rampant salty-rich flavor of this, I’ll be bringing along a couple of mandarins for dessert.
And thus, I present to you my humble bento that actually wound up taking about 6 hours to prepare:
P.S. I apologize that the steelhead trout onigiri were neglected in this post, but they were taken to the party and eaten rather quickly. I’ll do another post someday. Also, future posts should hopefully have more sexy food pictures.
Recipes used for inspiration in this post: