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Cheap Eats:
Noodles with Pork Sauce

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong, like baby Richard, is being taken from the only parents it has ever known and is being handed to those who claim to be its "true" parents — Communist China. Only Hong Kong isn’t going "back" anywhere, because it didn’t really exist before the British arrived; it was simply a rocky, weed-covered lump in the ocean, which the Chinese called Pirate Island. Britain, needing a port for trading with the Orient, turned it into one of the wealthiest and most fabulous cities in the world. (Actually, it is literally true that much of Hong Kong didn’t exist when the British arrived 150 years ago — the colony has been significantly expanded by means of reclaiming land from the sea.)

In the May 19, 1997 Newsweek Special Report on Hong Kong, Jonathan Alter predicts that Hong Kong’s future will not be "a sudden dismembering by a mainland tiger; just a slow weakening of its foundations as corruption and connections eat away its heart." So, if you haven’t seen Hong Kong yet, you may still have a little time to enjoy something of its glory.

It is an unsettling time for those living in Hong Kong — a country that is accustomed to even greater freedom than we enjoy in the US. Memories are still vivid of Tiananmen Square (it has only been eight years), and human rights issues are still a major sore-point between China and the rest of the world. But China is showing an increasing interest in, if not our freedoms, at least our money, so perhaps Hong Kong’s economic future will be more stable than her political future.

On the bright side, the exodus from Hong Kong of those who could leave has meant a tremendous increase in the availability of great Chinese restaurants and good Asian markets here in the states. Hardly compensation for losing Hong Kong, but it’s better than nothing.

The dish below is basically a peasant dish. It would have been easy to prepare when whole villages moved into their fields during planting and harvest, and cooking fuel was not readily available. Though noodles were basically an invention of the common people, arising during the first century BC, they soon permeated Chinese society all the way to the level of the emperor.


Noodles with Pork Sauce

Garnish:

1 cucumber

4 scallions/green onions

4 cloves garlic

2 tsp. rice wine or dry sherry

pinch of salt

Main dish:

3 Tbs. light olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 lb. lean pork, ground

3 Tbs. rice wine or dry sherry

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs. soy sauce

1 large onion, chopped

⅓ cup chicken broth

12 oz. fine egg noodles

Peel and split cucumber, and scoop out seeds. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into "sticks" about ¼ in. wide and about 2 in. long. Chop scallions finely, including some of the green, and combine in bowl with cucumber. Crush the four cloves of garlic (use a garlic press, if you have one — it actually makes the garlic stronger), and add to the cucumber and scallions. Add wine and salt, toss veggies, and set aside to let flavors blend.

In a large frying pan, heat 2 Tbs. of oil. Crush one clove of garlic and add to oil. When garlic starts to sizzle, add the ground pork and cook until it loses its pinkness, stirring occasionally to break up the meat. Stir in the wine or sherry, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion, brown sugar, and chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated almost entirely. Cover pan and remove from heat.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add salt after water reaches a boil, then add the noodles, stirring to separate. Boil for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the noodles are just tender. Drain, add 1 Tbs. of oil, and toss. Arrange the noodles on a serving dish, cover with pork sauce, and garnish with cucumber mixture. Serve at once, accompanied by any remaining garnish.

Serves 4-6.


Notes:

You don’t have to buy Asian noodles for this dish, but your egg noodles should be the really skinny ones — about 1/16 inch wide.

You can (and I usually do) make this with ground turkey instead of ground pork. If you do, and especially if you use the low-fat, all-white-meat ground turkey, you will need to slightly increase the flavor elements, since the turkey is blander than pork. So add another clove of garlic to the oil, and use another teaspoon of wine, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce (or to taste). Since the turkey can be drier, too, increase the broth to ½ cup.

Lastly, if you don’t want to buy a whole bottle of rice wine or dry sherry just to make this recipe, check the vinegar section at the grocery store for "cooking sherry." They add a little salt as a preservative, and since they figure that, with the salt, you can’t really drink it, it isn’t taxed as liquor, so it costs less (the bottle’s smaller, too). Plus, it will sit on your shelf for ages without going bad. (Don’t worry — there really isn’t enough salt to affect this recipe.)

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