Pork Belly and Water Spinach Rolls
Mr. J is on a week long work trip. I took advantage of this time alone by indulging in comfort food that may seem weird to most people. My sister L and I LOVE boiled pork. Most people think that boiled meats are bland and boring and more often than not the meat is dry which is funny since it's boiled in water.
At a very young age, my mom taught me the secret to boiling any type of meat to keep it juicy and tasty. It's very simple but it's nerve racking to my Western sensibilities but works every time. It's really simple, put cold meat into cold water/ broth/ flavored liquid, bring the pot to a roiling boil and immediately turn off the heat, put on the lid, let rest for 30 minutes. Easy. I always worry that the meat isn't going to be cooked all the way through but it is. Even if the meat isn't to the temperature you desire, after you slice you can dip the slices into the still warm water to cook the rest of the way through.
The real secret to this dish though is my deep, deep love for fermented seafood products in this case shrimp paste, mam ruoc, that makes up a nommy nom sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about this sauce. I know that fermented seafood sauces have a bad rap for being stinky and I'm not going to lie to you it is pungent but in a delicious way.
You do have to prepare the sauce with lime juice and sugar in addition to the shrimp paste. Lee Kum Kee has a good version and the label calls the product "Fine Shrimp Paste." The "fine" refers to the milling of the shrimp paste itself. There is a chunky version that is mixed with crushed pineapple that people use for other type of spring rolls or Thai eggplant.
I've included links to a blogger, Wandering Chopsticks, that also has a HUGE love for the fermented seafood sauces too. In fact she was the one that spurred my craving. One night we were up late commenting on one of her recipes and affirming our love for these sauces! I use a lot of her recipes and she's a great blogger. If you are interested in Vietnamese food or want recommendations for restaurants in the LA area, you should follow her blog.
The other component to this dish is the boiled vegetable that goes by many names - rau muong in Vietnamese, water spinach in English, and ong choy in Cantonese. This is hands down my favorite green leafy vegetable. The difficult part for me buying this vegetable is that the bunches are really big and Mr. J is not a big veggie eater. I hate wasting food so I generally don't buy this vegetable. But since I was on my own I figured I could cook the whole bunch and work on it the whole week. This vegetable is really economical too - $1.29 for a huge bunch!
The downside to rau muong is that it can be very dirty, like fully grown spinach. It takes 3 washings to get this veggie ready. Also the preparation can be a bit tedious since you have to break it down into small pieces. I guess if you were in a hurry you could simply chop the stems into 1 inch pieces. However, I like to have a little bit of crunchy stem with one silky, herbaceous leaf still attached in every bite. So I laboriously hand pluck each piece before washing. It's not that bad but it is a consideration.
I especially love the aftertaste of this veggie - it's slightly lemony leaving a refreshing feeling in your mouth and I love the silky leaves juxtaposed to the crunchy stems. If you haven't tried this vegetable before you can find it during the summer months in most Asian food supermarkets.
Once cleaned, cooking is a snap just like most leafy green vegetables.Stir frying is a popular option and most Chinese restaurants do a good job with this veg. For this dish I boil it in the same liquid I used to cook the pork for added richness to the veggie.
You can eat this combo of boiled pork and boiled rau muong with the shrimp paste sauce over rice but I've been trying to cut down on my rice intake and opted for more self contained units of rice: rice paper. These come in 2 sizes (large - about an in shorter in diameter than a standard dinner plate and small - shown below).
Once everything is cooked, assembly is a breeze if you get your mis-en-place all set like this:
What you can't see from this picture is a pie plate off to the side with about one inch of hot water that I will use to DIP the rice paper into to soften it.
I often see/ hear people talking about soaking the rice paper. You never want to soak these rice papers. Once they get too soft it's near impossible to wrap them properly. If your rice paper gets too soft, start over. (Wandering Chopsticks and I would simply dip the unwrappable rice paper into the prepared shrimp paste sauce hehe).
The key to a good dip is to try and get almost the entire wrapper wet in one swipe into the water. I find that if I try to dunk the paper half way and rotate, the paper will get to soft. So I grasp it by the smallest possible area near the edge and swipe it at a 45° angle into the pie plate all the way up to my fingers - yes there will be a super tiny spot where my fingers were that did not get wet. The paper should still be firm and hold its shape when you put it on your plate - don't worry it will soften as you load it up with ingredients.
Place your filling in the bottom third of the wrapper closest to you,like this:
Now I'm a pro and can deal with the filling taking up a lot of the wrapper. If you are new to spring roll wrapping, keep your rolls skinny and filling light. 'The goal is to not pass the middle point of the wrapper with filling. The pork here is sliced super thin to make rolling easier.
The next step is to fold in the sides to keep your fillings neat and centered. This will also help the fillings not fall out when you are eating.
Now here is the crucial step, pick up the edge closest to you and lift it over the filling about half way up the filling. Put the rice paper ON TOP of the filling and FOLD it over to create a crease. This fold will allow you to compress the filling and make sure the roll is tight ensuring a better eating experience. Continue to roll the paper up as you use your other fingers to gently gather up and hold the filling in place as you roll the paper all the way to to the top. You have to work with firm, assured pressure but not too much strength as it is easy to tear the paper. If you do tear the paper, just rewrap the whole thing with another wetted rice paper or a lettuce leaf, if you are watching your calories.
It takes a while to get the hang of wrapping but it gets easier. If all else fails, throw it all in a bowl and eat with chopsticks! Or you could be like Mr. J and just sit next to me and have me roll them for you!
The recipe below will have measurements to make 4 rolls, which is a decent serving size. I made a lot more and snacked on these rolls for a few days. This was my stash:
Recipe: Pork Belly and Water Spinach Rolls: 290 calories
- 1 onion, small (0 calories since you don't eat this)
- 1 T salt (0 calories)
- 56g (2 oz) pork belly (167 calories)
- 56g (2 oz) rau muong; picked through, cleaned, and roughly chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (11 calories)
- 4 pieces rice paper, small 6 3/8" in diameter (79 calories)
For Sauce: 1.138 calories per gram
- 1 tsp fine shrimp paste (7 calories)
- 1 T lemon juice (4 calories)
- 1 cloves garlic, microplaned (4 calories)
1 chili pepper (2 calories)
- 1 tsp sugar (16 calories)
- Put enough water to cover the meat in a pot
- Peel and cut onion in half. Place in water along with salt and bring to turn heat to high
- Place pork belly into water
- Once the water has come to a boil, turn off heat and cover with a lid. Let sit 30 minutes in the water. With tongs, remove pork from pot and let rest until needed.
- Bring water back to a boil and cook rau muong until leaves are stems are pliable but still crunchy, about 5 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Mix all the ingredients for the sauce. Adjust with more sugar or lemon juice (at additional calories) until the flavors are balanced.
- Moisten rice paper, place pork belly and vegetable on the paper and roll. Repeat for all 4 rolls.
- Dip in sauce and enjoy!