Which cut for Hainanese Pork Chops
By Tris Marlis - Friday, Nov 08, 2013
The quality of ingredients can make or break a dish, being a good cook may not be helpful if you end up with less than ideal meats. Whether you are thinking of brewing bak kut teh or frying up some Hainanese pork chops, building a good relationship with your butcher is the key to getting your hand on that perfect cut. Don’t just throw money at them and expect preferential treatment. Someone on a tight budget will also throw a good smile and a “good morning”.
A good butcher understands what to recommend based on your needs. Like Mr Sunny Lee, who owns 286 Fresh Chilled Meat in Tiong Bahru market (stall #176). He would always ask his customers what they intend to cook, before suggesting certain cuts. We learned a few tips from Mr Lee, based on cooking methods.
Roasting is a dry heat cooking method, thus for perfect roast meat (think char siew), you will need some fat. These fat will render itself when heated to create a self-basting effect. If you like the idea of juicy meat, go for pork belly. But Mr Lee also suggested pork collar (or neck) which is tender has enough fat but not too much. This is also the cut we used in our char siew recipe, by chef Vivian Pei. (read here: http://bit.ly/1emJd3a) One tip for roasting is not to place too many pieces in the oven, as too much juice would create a steaming effect.
Grilling is also a dry heat cooking method, the only difference is the heat travels through the air which lessens the intensity and impact. Hence, meat is almost always in direct contact with fire when grilling. This cooking method cooks surface quickly, it is best with meat that has thin layers of fat and soft muscle fiber so it remains tender – such as spare ribs. If you are seasoning the cut with salt and pepper, do so just before grilling, as leaving salt on meat for too long would dry it up.
Stir frying is a popular method in Chinese cooking – think sweet and sour pork. Lean cut such as sliced pork loin, or minced meat, would be best for this cooking method. Too much fat, it will become too wet for stir frying. Thinly sliced or minced pork cooks quickly on the wok, and it absorbs the flavour better too. Tenderloin is also suitable for deep-frying, as it has just enough fat to keep the cut moist, without getting too chewy or hard. This is the pork cut you want to use to make Hainanese pork chop.
For slow cooking, such as braising, it is good to have bones and tendons in your cut. These two hold the meat together during long cooking process to prevent it from breaking. It also gives flavour to the dish. Pork cuts such as pork belly and pork trotters are best cooked with this method, braising also helps to soften the usual thick and chewy skin. If you do not like excessive fat, Mr Lee suggests using the side of pork collar. It has enough fat and muscle fibers, without being overwhelming so.
Another cooking method that is not as common in Singapore is smoking, to make dishes such as pulled pork. For this method, it is best to use cuts such as pork shoulder or pork butt. These cuts have enough fat for the juiciness and it breaks apart easily, best if shredded meat is what you are looking for.