In Pursuit of Fry

Friday, May 27, 2011

   I'll just come right out and say it: I'm afraid of fried food.

   I think perhaps it has something to do with my New England roots- there is undeniably a deep, dark place amongst my appetites that demands all things fried whether they be salty or sweet or both. Some of my earliest food memories are of going to Ronnie's Clams deep in the rolling hills of Springfield Massachusetts. Here, my brothers and sisters would foolishly order fried clams (how disgusting!) and I would get an order of onion rings all to myself. Early on in my life, during the picky years as I will call them, I liked the flavor of onions but not the texture or the idea of eating the onion itself. I would sit and contentedly separate the fried, onion flavored goodness from the vegetable itself which was left behind in a wet, salty heap as I enjoyed my crispy plunder.

   After moving away form New England when I was eight, we rarely ate out since our farm was located at least an hour from any decent restaurant. As we got older and it was easier to drive longer distances, restaurants made a more regular appearance, but as a kid the majority of the meals I ate were of my mother's making and she very, very rarely fried anything. In fact, the only time I ever remember her frying was when she would break out her old cast iron fry pan (it was so seasoned from use that the bottom of it was slick and shiny, completely stick proof!), pour about an inch of vegetable oil in, and fry rounds of her home made dough to golden perfection. After a lightening quick dusting of confectioner's sugar she would distribute the pillowy dessert, still hot, to our eagerly waiting hands where we savored each bite.

   Maybe that is the real reason I shy away from fried foods as an adult. They were such a rare and anticipated treat as a child I think the abundance of fried-ness in our American lives is kind of a shame. I advise holding out for the good stuff- true, freshly cut french fires, fried dough from the hands of someone who cares, a doughnut hot from the oil of a friend's kitchen- I can't stress the value or flavor of these things enough.

   In the days and weeks between indulging the New Englander hiding inside me, I cheat with the stir fry. A couple of weeks ago I was perusing my favorite recipe websites, feeling uninspired. What I really wanted was something full of spice, flavor, lean protein and still crisp vegetables. An observant friend sitting nearby pointed out I was describing the prefect stir fry. That is what I set about to make, and that is the recipe that follows: a combination of all the flavors I craved on that day, one that I've revisited several times since, it's that good.

Gingered Pork Loin Stir Fry
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pork loin
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 medium sweet onion, halved then sliced thinly
3 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger root
1-2 pinches red chili flakes (depending on your heat preference)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 cups broccoli florets
3 cups cauliflower florets

Slice the pork loin crosswise into 1/2 inch rounds. Cut those round to measure uniform cubes, about 1 1/2 inches in size. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and just a pinch or two of salt (the soy sauce later will add a lot of sodium, so go easy on the salt). Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, wide skillet. Wait until the oil shimmers and is very hot then add the pork and resist stirring for a few minutes, you want to get a nice sizzle and browning on the meat. While the meat browns, add the onions on top along with the ginger and chili flakes. Stir and flip the meat around to try and get the caramel color on as many surfaces as possible. When the meat is almost completely cooked through, add the soy sauce and stir to incorporate. Add the broccoli and cauliflower on top and, without stirring, cover the whole thing with a lid and allow the veggies to steam for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and season with more soy sauce or a few tablespoons of water depending on the saltiness. Test the veggies, if they are crisp tender, the meal is done, if still too crunchy, replace the lid and allow to cook another minute or two.
   This can be enjoyed on its own or on a bed of egg noodles. Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry you are!

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