The Velvet Wok

Like many of you, I own a wok—actually I have two—and I enjoy Asian cuisine, particular the many cuisines of China, but for as long as I have been cooking Chinese dishes, I’ve never been able to replicate at home the tenderness of meats I’ve found in good Chinese restaurants. Of course I’ve tried tricks like shaving the beef and marinating the chicken for hours, but the meat always seemed chewy.

Now I know why. It’s a simple technique, and while in these hurly-burly times it may be considered a little time-consuming (a half-hour or so), it’s worth it, particularly if you’ve gone to the trouble of slicing and dicing the meats and vegetables and assembling the other ingredients. The technique is called “velveting”, which I’m given to understand is a (very) rough translation of the Mandarin word/phrase for the process, which involves coating the meat (seafoods as well) with a slurry of cornstarch, egg white and soy or rice vinegar. Not much is needed, 3 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of corn starch to one egg white, and enough vinegar or soy to make a thin paste. Coat your meat with this mixture (add a little salt if you use rice vinegar; you can use white vinegar, but I wouldn’t recommend apple: it’s just counter-cultural). Set this mixture aside for that half-hour, then toss it into a heated oiled wok (or whatever) and stir until the meat has separated and cooked through. Remove and set aside, cook your other ingredients (garlic FIRST!) and add your velvet meat last, mixing it in well before serving.

This works VERY well with the cheap cuts of beef I use. Mind you, I still cool beef and chicken to near freezing and slice as thinly as I can before the velveting, but it does make a dramatic difference, especially with beef, pork and shrimp.

The Game of Thrones Gourmet

If you live in Mississippi, you’re likely to know a hunter, and sooner or later you’re likely to find yourself with game in your kitchen. Deer, duck and dove are among the most typical, but the possibilities are only limited by the state legislature, and even that august body is subject to circumvention. Feral hogs have become very much a nuisance in Mississippi. I’m given to understand that hunting them is encouraged; the only red tape involved is permit fees. The season stretches from October to May, but that, too, is (again, from what I understand) loosely enforced. So it’s a good bet that if you show the slightest interest, you’re liable to end up with a haunch of wild hog even if you don’t remember telling someone you wanted one at a kegger in Pelahatchie.

Yes, I have a copy of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on DVD, and yes, I know all the words to every song Donna Summer ever recorded, and I even once had a pair of Daisy Dukes (don’t say it), but I am not what you would call delicate, much less fastidious, so when my buddy Raymond showed up at my door with this huge bloody haunch of meat in his hands, I gratefully accepted it and sent him on his way with a jar of pear preserves and his promise that he’d be back the next day after work to take some of the cooked meat home. 463895653_masterBack in my college days I studied medieval literature, and the accounts of their gargantuan feasts, where great gobbets of meats were served and consumed with vast goblets of wine made a great impression, so the sight of this shoulder of boar sent a vicarious thrill through my little want-a-Garter mind. I longed to have an open hearth with a blazing fire and a turnspit dog to cook the meat evenly. Alas and alack, I had no such fire, not even a place to build one in the yard (my snooty neighbors would look askance on me roasting meat on anything less than a designer grill anyway), so I was left with my trusty little oven (c. 1964).

First I washed the shoulder, which thankfully had been skinned but still had a generous sprinkling of stiff, short black hairs. I knew this wild meat had to be marinated, and for a long time, so I dragged a cooler out and there I placed the leg, which I’d salted ever-so-lightly, while I made the marinade. Not being one to waste wine, I chose to use a big can of pineapple juice and apple vinegar (4:1) with about a half-dozen freshly-squeezed oranges, two tablespoons pickling spices, several branches of fresh rosemary and threw in a Zatarain’s sack out of sheer habit. I let this simmer for a while on the stove, then poured it on the meat, added enough water to cover, closed the lid and sat the cooler in a corner.

After the leg had marinated for almost precisely 12 hours, I drained it, stabbed it in the meaty parts with a short, sharp knife and stuffed sliced cloves of garlic into the cuts. I then brushed it with a light oil (NOT olive oil), and dusted it with a mixture of salt and pepper (50/50). It went into the oven about 8 a.m. on a rack at 375 for about an hour, then I reduced the heat to about 225, and there it cooked for the rest of the day. I took it out around 4 to cool, and when Raymond came by around 5:30, we carved it up, Raymond taking most of it as well as the bones for his dog Terry, who is a friend of mine as well. The meat was quite good, not gamey at all, and just as tender as it could be.

Hoover Lee Chicken

Hoover Lee is a grocer in the tiny hamlet of Louise, Mississippi, on the southeastern edge of the Mississippi Delta. Mr. Lee makes a sauce for marinades and barbecue that he describes as one formulated to replicate roasted Cantonese duck. The sauce has a heavy soy background accented by ingredients known to him alone. These chicken leg quarters were marinated overnight and roasted in a slow oven for two hours. The skin is crisp and the flesh is succulent, proof that his sauce is a success in recreating the character if not quite the flavor of roast duck. A recommended marinade for any fowl.