A couple weeks ago, I wondered my way into a small break from cooking. For no particular reason than because, over one morning coffee, I felt it was called for. People talk about the ferocity of love and passion a lot, in all forms and sizes that drives humanity for what it’s worth, rising in salute for its consuming, inconvenient, majestic torment and glory. But what fuels it, what fuels love and passion, is often less marketable.
At certain points, what fuels passion is simply absence.
THE AU JUS… AND THE THOROUGHNESS OF ITS RAMPAGE DOWN THE RECEPTIVE PORES OF A TOASTED ITALIAN ROLL, DETERMINES WHETHER THIS IS A SANDWICH WITH PORK, OR,
A ROAST PORK SANDWICH
So I took a break, cruising. I didn’t think about cooking other than making basic sustenances. I rubbed my dogs‘ heads a lot. I binge-watched two Netflix original series eating junk foods. I rekindled with the familiar joy of ordering take-outs. Holding a brown bag of meal No. 2 and a large diet coke, I waited, on the curb, for the lights to turn.
And just like that, I bumped into Fedoroff’s.
To be exact, Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwich shop in Brooklyn. And by “bumped into”, I really just meant, like everything else nowadays, that I saw it on Instagram.
It spoke to me. I took one look at this monstrous, ageless battle of meat VS bun, and I felt the jolt of adrenaline seeping back into my veins. I wanted to cook this sandwich.
For the record, once again, I have not had a Philadelphia roast pork sandwich in my entire life. Hence, this recipe is not based on any single one of your particularly preferred joint, especially not Fedoroff’s. In fact, I’m dead certain that my approach to this beloved classic is as offensive to its disciples as inserting hot dogs onto a margarita pizza. No one intact trunk of meat to marvel over!? No searing before roasting!? Oh sweet mother of Jesus, ginger? Fish sauce!?
Why? First of all, it just makes more sense. To come to this conclusion, you have to be willing to let go of a few fairy tales about roasting. No 1, there’s no such thing as “locking in the juice”. Meats don’t get sealed. They’re not sexual scandals. Legitimately, they can get seared/caramelized/browned for more complex flavors, but if you think that’s going to stop their juice from leaving the mothership in the oven (the antidote to that would be super low temperature but that’s not the story today), I’m afraid this is the adult’s equivalent of realizing there’s no Santa claus. Besides, why make the futile effort to “seal”, when au jus, or aka, drippings is exactly what we are gunning for?
So I’m proposing, to cut the pork into smaller chunks, allowing faster absorbing of the seasoning as well as cooking-time, then straight into the oven and when it’s rendered soft and pulled apart, exponentially exposing more surface areas to welcome that sought-after caramelization, then and only then, is where we “sear” them in their own reduced-down dripping. And here enters fish sauce. It caramelizes beautifully. We then soak this heap of golden glory back into the remaining au jus, letting every fibers of their beings drink up this savory and nourishing liquid of life, ready, destined for their final act.
One does not “pile” the roast pork on top of the bread, you ladle, along with the au jus, and the thoroughness of its rampage down the receptive pores of a toasted Italian roll, determines whether this is just a sandwich with pork, or, a roast pork sandwich.
It was everything I imagined it to be, sticky, drippy, along the salty crunch of broccoli rabes and the happily-compromised, sodden base of the toasted roll, it tasted like the triumphant return of something significant.
Tomorrow, I’m making kibbeh nayyah.
- 35 oz (1 kg) pork butt/pork shoulder
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 5 small slices (15 grams) ginger
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper and white pepper each
- 18 oz (500 grams) broccoli rabe
- extra virgin olive oil to coat
- fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
- 3 cloves of garlics, finely minced
- 4 crusty Italian rolls
- Dijon mustard
- Extra toppings: sliced provolone cheese and pickled peppers
- ROAST PORK: Preheat the oven on 300F/150C. Cut the pork but into large pieces about 5"x1 1/2" big (13 x 4 cm). This allows the seasonings to penetrate better and reduces cooking-time. Now toast the fennel and coriander seeds on a skillet over medium heat, swirling constantly, until the seeds start to pop. Ground them coarsely in a mortar or spice-grinder, then rub the spices evenly over the pork butts along with garlics, ginger, fish sauce, salt, black and white pepper inside a large and deep baking sheet (the pork will emit considerable amount of liquid). Cover the baking sheet tightly with aluminum foil, then bake in the oven for about 2:15 hours. The pork should be very tender but NOT completely falling apart. You can prepare the pork up to 2 days ahead of time, keep them in air-tight containers soaked in its own juice until needed.
- Remove all the ginger slices and discard, and transfer the pork into another baking sheet. Then with two large forks, pull apart the pork into large 1 1/2" (3 cm) chunks. Heat up a large NON-STICK skillet over high heat. Add the pulled pork along with the cooked garlics (should be super mushy) plus 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp of the dripping-juice. Cook, mashing the garlics and flipping once or twice, until all the liquid has evaporated and starts to caramelize/brown on the edges of the porks. Add the remaining dripping-juice (you should have about 1/2 cup left, if not, make up with chicken stock), and cook just until warmed through. Re-season with salt if needed.
- PREPARE BROCCOLI RABE: Wash, drain, and cut the broccoli rabe in half lengthwise. Lightly coat them with extra virgin olive oil, set aside. Heat a large skillet over high heat, then add the broccoli rob in a single layer. Cook until the first side is deeply caramelized and partially charred, then flip, and cook until the other side is caramelized as well. The broccoli rabe should be slightly wilted but not too soft at this point. Transfer into a large plate, and repeat with the rest of the broccoli rob. Now add all the caramelized broccoli rabe back into the skillet along with minced garlic, season with sea salt and black pepper, and toss just until fragrant. Turn off heat.
- TO ASSEMBLE: Cut off the tips of the Italian rolls, then slice into half lengthwise. Toast the cut-side lightly under the broiler, then smear with a layer of Dijon mustard on both sides. Ladle the pork onto the roll, including enough juice to seep through the bread but not too much that it becomes soggy. Place sliced provolone and pickled peppers (if using) and the broccoli rabe on top, then top it off. Serve immediately.
Broccoli rabe is hard to find in Hong Kong, so I substituted with jie-lan, an Asian vegetable with similar crunch and resemblance of flavor.