Here is a flavorful healthy East-West influenced meal that you can serve in less than an hour…admittedly with a little multitasking of preparations earlier in the day, and juggling a couple of east-west cooking procedures in the making.
Having spotting a bank of New Zealand spinach (Tetragon), looking wonderfully fresh, resilient, and lusciously green at my local Royal Project produce shop here in Chiang Mai, had a meal plan already fermenting. In the basket it went along with some organic Thai fragrant brown rice, and dark brown Thai Gaba rice. Then off to the pork butcher for some thick cut boneless pork loin chops!
The NZ spinach is really the star of this meal, paired with seared brined sweet and succulent pork loin chops, rather than the usual wok fried pork strips that tend to be overly cooked and dry, and fragrant rice as a hearty regional compliment. All cooked fast, Asians style, and layered with flavor to spare!
The recipe is organized in order of preparations and cooking to facilitate an easy pace and staying on target time wise for serving.
Brined pork loin chops: (prepare up to 6 hours ahead)
- 4 1 ¼ inch thick boneless pork loin chops
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups water
Combine the salt, sugar, and water in a non-reactive bowl and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the pork and add additional water if needed to completely cover the cops. Cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours.
Steaming New Zealand spinach:
- 1 pound/450 grams New Zealand spinach
- water for steaming
Rinse the spinach and place in a large bamboo steamer with lid set over simmering water in a wok. Steam for 2-3 minutes. Remove the steamer from the wok, rinse the spinach with cold water to stop the cooking, and set aside to drain.
Steaming the rice:
- 1 cup fragrant (jasmine) brown rice
- ½ cup dark brown Thai Gaba rice (or wild rice)
- enough water to cover the rice by ½ inch
- pinch of salt
Rinse both rices together until the water runs clean. Place in a rice steamer along with water and set aside to soak for an hour or so. Add a pinch of salt and begin steaming the rice 30 minutes before you intend to serve the meal. When done, set the rice aside to rest and then fluff with a wooden spoon when you are ready to serve.
- 2 garlic cloves, skin removed and minced
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns, coarsely ground
- ¼ teaspoon anise seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing cooking wine (or sherry)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
- 2 teaspoons corn starch mixed with 2 teaspoons cold water
- additional water as needed
Combine all the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch and water), mix together and set aside until you are ready to add to the chops later.
Preheat the oven to 400F/ 205C
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok over medium heat until nearly smoking. Add the onions and stir fry quickly until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the wok and set aside.
Remove the wok from the heat briefly while you remove the chops from the brine, rinse the chops, and pat them dry.
Searing the chops, sauce, and finishing:
Return the wok to the heat and add the additional tablespoon of oil and heat until nearly smoking. Add the chops and sear until nicely caramelized; 2-3 minutes. Turn the chops and sear the other side; about 1-2 minutes. Transfer the chops to an oven proof tray and place them in the oven for 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and set aside to rest while you cook the sauce.
Add ½ cup of water to the wok, over medium heat, and deglaze the pan, scraping all the bits and pieces off the bottom of the wok, and reduce the water by half. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the sauce mixture and stir, letting the sauce reduce slightly. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened.
Add additional water to thin the sauce to the consistency you prefer.
Reduce the heat to medium- low and add the chops and the reserved sauteed onions. Stir to evenly coat and then add the steamed spinach. Toss to evenly coat the chops and the spinach with the sauce.
Garnishes: (both available at Asian Markets)
- fried shallots
- red chile oil
Serving: Place a portion of the steamed rice to one side of each serving plate. An easy way to portion the rice is to wet a ramekin with water, pack the rice into the ramekin and invert onto each individual serving plate.
Remove the chops and place next to each serving of rice and spoon the spinach around both. Spoon remaining sauce in the pan over the chops. Serve with fried shallots and red chile oil for drizzling at the table.