Crisping the crackling on the suckling pig
I know. The irony of a post on suckling pig in the midst of a swine flu outbreak is not lost on me.
But this pig. It was consumed last week in a world where pork still made people happy. It made us very happy. Oh happy indeed.
Ru zhu quang ti
Barbecue whole piglet
Perhaps not so happy for the piglet. He in his silver-lined red cardboard box, skull flayed in two, and body subjected to a roasting by the barbecue masters at Emperors Garden.
Graphic? Yes, but if you eat meat, this is the reality. An animal died and we're determined not to waste any bit of it.
Thanks to Chinese New Year banquets hosted by Veruca Salt, I'm certainly no stranger to the whole suckling and roast pig from Emperor's Garden. Unlike the whole ones she normally buys, this one is chopped and ready, and I have to say the spectacle of seemingly endless crackling is positively swoonworthy.
K seems to enjoy brandishing a blowtorch, and whilst she assures us that the pig was already in fine condition, she uses the flame to gently warm the meat and studiously blisters any crackling that may may possibly be improved.
We congregate around the table, chopsticks poised. It's a bit like Christmas really. And we're about to eat ourselves into oblivion.
The crackling. Oh my. The thinnest layer of fat is sandwiched by melt-in-your-mouth flesh and an earth-shattering shard of golden toffee-coloured bubblicious crackling.
Peking pancake with roast pork and hoi sin
At the start we have the pork on Peking pancakes, the delicate pancakes more often served with Peking duck. The soft pancake further adds contrast to the indescribable crunch of crackling. A slick of glossy hoisin sauce gives a caramel sweetness.
But the pancakes soon run out, and then it's just an all-out orgy of pork, fat and crackling. No conversation, just crackling turning into smithereens--like the sound of footsteps on gravel--and the occasional gutteral moan of irrepressible delight.
Liang bang hai ze
And because we're at the home of Pig Flyin', Stomachs Eleven is ready for heaven. His generosity boundless, we're treated to a banquet of dishes, some that accompany the suckling pig, others that are served directly after.
The jellyfish is purchased from the shop, but the cucumber salad is homemade, cool spears of green macerating in a dressing of garlic, sesame oil and vinegar. Both offset the richness of the suckling pig nicely.
Pai huang gua
Qian cheng feng
Thousand layer wind (pigs ears)
Thousand layer wind is such a poetic name for what is essentially a terrine of pigs ears. This is Pig Flyin's first attempt at this dish, and I'm impressed with its professional appearance. I relish the delicate crunch of cartilage against the soft wobble of gelatin.
La wei chao lian ou
Preserved meat stir fried with fresh lotus root slices
Wafer-thin slices of fresh lotus roots are stir-fried with preserved pork belly (like a Chinese version of speck) and shallots. We eat up our greens in the form of baby pak choy.
Bai cai miao
Stir fried baby pak choy
Zhu shen hua gu ji tang
Bamboo fungus and shiitake mushroom in chicken broth
I'm re-united with the textural revelation that is bamboo fungus, the delicacy I'd only just recently discovered at our dinner of hotpot. Here, Pig Flyin' has simmered the crunchy tube with its net-like appearance in a simple soup of chicken broch alongside shiitake mushrooms.
Yu rong dian chao dou ya
Fish cake and bean sprout stir fry
Oh the feasting. It continues.
A stir fry of fish cake and bean sprouts is a happy jumble of vegetables and protein but it's the steamed egg dish I fall in love with, a simple but supremely elegant dish that's cooked slowly over a low flame and topped with the complex saltiness of prawn roe. It's soft and slippery and without an air bubble in sight.
Xia zi zheng shui dan
Steamed egg with prawn roe
Mei cai kou rou
Red braised garlic pork with preserved vegetable
Red braised garlic pork is our final dish, a humble and hearty homestyle offering. The thick chunks of pork belly have a generous layer of fat, the skin tinged a reddish-brown colour, and the flavours of soy and garlic mingling with the flavour of the preserved mustard greens.
Gao shao san bao
Three vegetables with sugar and shallots
The Chinese theme continues with dessert. The pot of three vegetables with sugar and shallots is a dish Pig Flyin' learnt from his grandmother. Thick batons of sweet potato, pumpkin and taro are slowly cooked into a kind of sweet stew. It doesn't resemble a Western
concept of dessert, and I struggle to appreciate its heavy starchiness as a post-dinner treat.
Fan sha yu tou
The sugar-coated taro, on the other hand, was quite a surprise. Taro is characteristically mealy, but it was disguised here in a thick coating of coarse sugar crystals. I watched Pig Flyin' make this dish using caster sugar and water. The dish, he explains, came about when someone's toffee went wrong, but the resulting rubble of sugar was soon embraced as a worthy dish in itself. The addition of shallots adds a vegetably oiliness to the dish that somehow works too.
The taro inside
Sugar and shallot rubble
With thanks to Pig Flyin' and Mrs Pig Flyin' for hosting another fantastic meal once again, and Stomachs' Eleven for their translation skills and eating expertise.
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Emperors Garden BBQ and Noodle
215 Thomas St Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 9899
Open 7 days: 9.30am-11pm
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4/29/2009 01:00:00 a.m.