IT CAN’T BE RIGHT. IT SHOUDN’T BE RIGHT.
BUT IT MIRACULOUSLY IS.
History had it, that whenever two polar opposite cultures are smashed together, often under reluctant or even violent circumstances, despite hardships and losses, something mutated but beautiful eventually comes out at the other end. That something, is usually food.
No doubt that America has its unspeakable history from the time of slavery, but what was left from its ugliness, was the unapologetic creole and cajun. Taiwan’s predominantly Fujian and kejia culture (derived from China’s southern coast) adjusted to 50 years of Japanese rule by nurturing an uniquely categorized cuisine all of its own, which, some say, may be the last-standing pride of this politically fading island. So on… what unfortunate events gave us the Vietnamese coffee, and so forth… what conflict left us the baba-nyonya? Food, among sadness and realities, always knows how to find its own humble delights. Food, is always optimistic.
And right now, standing in Hong Kong where such experiences were no stranger, I’m holding in my hand, a glorious testament of such history. A legacy from Portuguese’s colonial time in Macao, the pork chop pineapple bun.
Macao’s pork chop bun compared to Portuguese’s bifana, obviously, is another life. It uses bone-in pork chops instead of cutlets, reflecting Asian’s general preference for flavour over convenience. On top of which, it deploys soy sauce as part of the seasonings, and baking soda, a typical and effecient meat-tenderizing agent in Cantonese cooking. But perhaps the most controversial act of it all is that, in one version, it stuffs the shallow-fried pork chop, without a blinking of an eye, in between an iconic pastry of this particular region. The pineapple buns.
It can’t be right. It shouldn’t be right. But in between the crispy and salty edges of a well-seasoned and juicy bone-in pork chop, and the sweet and crumbly crust of a buttery pineapple bun, it miraculously is. To be honest, I don’t even know why I doubted it in the first place. Salty and sweet. A proven equation that works. Really, give it a chance. No matter how unseemly and conflicting the idea may sound, like the clashing of the cultures that nurtured it, pork chop pineapple bun is a tasty mutation that made the best of it all.
And don’t forget to serve it with Hong Kong-style English milk tea.
- 2 slices bone-in pork chops
- 2 cups (500 ml) water
- 1?2 stalk celery
- 2 slices ginger
- 4 small shallots
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 1/2 tbsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce + 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 4 tbsp potato starch or tapioca starch
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- Canola oil for frying
- 2 Hong Kong-style pineapple buns
- Yellow mustard
- TO BRINE PORK CHOPS: Use a scissor to sever the silver membrane around the edge of the pork chop at every 1/2" (the silver membrane will prevent the pork chop to be pounded thin, and will curl up during frying), then pound the pork chop thin with a meat-pounder. Since I didn't have my blender with me because I'm traveling, I only smashed all the aromatics in the brine (or you should at least mince them). But ideally, in a blender, blend water, celery, ginger, shallots, dark soy sauce, salt, sugar, white and black pepper together until smooth, then stir in the crushed garlics and baking soda (this is what tenderizes the meat, a common Cantonese technique), and submerge the pork chops in the brine for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, mix 1 tbsp dark soy sauce and 1/2 tbsp sugar together. And whisk potato starch, white pepper and black pepper together, then set aside until needed. Rinse the pork chops under water to get rid of any excess brine, then pat dry with a clean towel. Brush a very very thin layer of the sugar-soy sauce on the surface (this is not for flavouring, but for encouraging caramelization during frying, so you get a nice color before the thin meat is over-cooked). Then dust the potato starch-mixture very thinly over the surface of the pork chops (like dusting a working surface with flour). You don't even have to cover every surface, and be sure to dust off any excess. We don't want a thick breading, but just a little crunch here and there.
- Add enough canola oil in a deep skillet until it reaches 1" deep, and heat over medium-high heat. You can drop a bit of potato starch in the oil, and if it puzzles up immediately and enthusiastically, the oil is ready. Fry 1 pork chop at a time, until golden browned on both side, drain well, then fry the next one.
- Slice the pineapple buns in half, then rub a thin layer of mayonnaise on 1 side. Place the pork chop on top, then squeeze a generous amount of yellow mustard over it, then cap it. Serve immediately with Hong Kong milk tea.