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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Authentically Delicious Southeast Asian Stir Fried Pork and Squash

My boyfriend's dad loves to cook.  Though he isn't exactly the emotional, warm and fuzzy type and I definitely am, food is one of those things I feel connects souls.  I love to sit down with his dad and talk about traditional Cambodian food and learn a few recipes here and there. Stir fried pork and kabocha squash is actually one of my favorite Cambodian dishes.  The overall flavor profile of this dish is absolutely divine!  The rich flavor of the squash is an unexpectedly excellent accompaniment to the pork.  This stir fry is one of those things that's nothing like the sum of it's parts.  The squash acquires a velvety consistency, the pork is tender and flavorful, the garlic acquires a mild sweetness, the saltiness of the fish sauce balances the sweetness of the sugar and garlic, and the oyster sauce gives the dish depth, while the black pepper serves to break up the sweetness.  The green onion, although my boyfriend's dad does not use it, really adds a wonderful little pop of flavor that I just love!  The comparatively milder flavor of this dish makes it a wonderful introduction to Cambodian cuisine.  

Although it looks very similar to buttercup squash, don't be fooled.  Kabocha squash is a Japanese squash that is much firmer and has a much deeper, richer, sweeter flavor than buttercup squash.  The firm texture makes this squash ideal for stir fries.  With that in mind, I would strongly caution against substituting another squash in this recipe.  Although the preparation of the squash takes a bit of skill on the peeling and chopping end of things,the end result cooks so quickly that the overall time investment is actually quite minimal.  Just grab your squash and sit down in front of your favorite show, and it'll be done before you know it, maybe about 7 minutes.  For strategy tips, pay attention to the photos below.  Cut the peeled squash into wedges, then stand the wedges on their side and cut slices thickness-wise, as seen in photo #3.  From these slices, cut matchsticks, as demonstrated in photo #4, and there ya go!  Try this super easy and delicious dish and let me know what you think.  Yum, yum, YUM!!

What to do with the other half of the squash???  Bake it and eat it either plain or sugared; bake it into bread, sweet buns, muffins, or pancakes; or add in very thin slices to a frittata.  This squash works well in any recipe that uses pumpkin, buttercup, or butternut squash.  Don't forget to roast the seeds for a tasty snack ;).

Cambodian Stir fried Pork and Kabocha Squash

1/2 kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and julienned (sold at some supermarkets and most SE Asian markets)

1 1b of pork (pork sirloin preferred--shoulder or butt can also be used, my boyfriend's dad often uses pork belly), sliced into matchstick-like pieces

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

a generous pinch of sugar (maybe around 1/2 TB or so)

cracked black pepper (maybe around 1 tsp)

1 green onion, sliced into thin rings

oil for cooking

**These items are found at any SE Asian market.  The brands photographed are the recommended brands.  They are only about $2 or $3.  For those in Northern VA, you can also find these items at Global Foods.

*All of the amounts above are approximate.  This dish is pretty freestyle.  Adjust to your taste preference or until you sense that the flavors are sufficiently balanced.  The only thing that will really mess up the dish is overcooking the meat

1. Marinade sliced meat in a modest amount of salt along with garlic for a minimum of 30 minutes.  This step is not traditional, but I find that the resulting flavor is superior. 

2. Pat marinated meat dry, being sure to remove any excess moisture, as the moisture will result in a watery stir-fry.  

3. Heat oil in a pan over medium high to high heat.  

4. Once the pan is hot, add in meat and squash and stir frequently to prevent overcooking

5. Season the ingredients with the oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and black pepper.

6. Continue stirring frequently to allow for even seasoning and cooking of the ingredients.

7. Once the meat is about 85% or so done, sprinkle the green onion over the top, lower the heat to about low or medium low.  Cover, and let cook for two minutes.

8. Serve with Jasmine rice and enjoy!

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