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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Nervous Chef Eats Meat, Now. She Cooks One Thing With Meat. That's it.

When I was twelve years old, I announced to my parents that I wanted to tell them something. I genuinely--and I cannot stress this enough--had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth until I actually spoke the words.

"I want to be a vegetarian," I said.

Of course, lots of stuff had gone into this decision, beforehand, tho' semi-consciously. Seeing dead pigs gutted in butcher's shops. Getting grossed out by the lumps of fat--so vital and alive-looking!--in my salami (note: obviously high-quality salami, in retrospect). Reading things--albeit, twelve-year-old-level things--on environmentalism.

My parents, to their eternal credit, were totally on board. Fine, they said. Keep on eating fish, they said. We want you to have the protein.

My mother, though she is a virtue ethicist and radically opposed to utilitarianism, even gave me Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation. (Could there be greater evidence of maternal love?). *

*My mother would hate the fact that I am linking to wikipedia. Give me better links and I'll put them in, Mom.

Anyway, my non-meat-eating-but-fish-eating self was basically (for many, many years) an acutetarian.

Then, I had an extended spiritual/psychotic experience involving 1) The Phoenix airport; 2) Aunt Annie's pretzel dogs; 3) A Quiznos' roast beef sandwich; 4) A Minneapolis farmer's market; 5) A bratwurst.

I would explain, but I've already done so in person so many times I'm worried it's in danger of becoming one of Those Stories (you know, the ones you tell over and over, oblivious to how much they are boring the folks that have heard them already). So I'll skip that (for now) and say just that I eat meat these days.

I am a newbie to meat, though. After all, I didn't eat meat from age 12-27, pretty much. I find this awesome:

1) There are so many things I haven't tried! For example: a pork chop. I MAY have had a pork chop pre: age 12, but I'm not sure. For all intents and purposes, I'VE NEVER EATEN A PORK CHOP.

2) Awesome conversation starter at parties:


Person At Party: Um, what are you talking about?


New best friend forever!

3) Whole new range of tastes to explore! At this point, the sex metaphors start becoming obvious. To these comparisons, I say: yes! As someone raised in the "joyfully we lark about" religion, I was never raised to find sex particularly "forbidden." But, having decided at age twelve to becoming a vegetarian, I pretty much, inadvertently, created for myself a category of forbidden thing. Now I get why indulging in the forbidden thing is so freaking awesome. I kind of think eating meat is wrong, but I do it anyway! I never got all those Catholic novels about forbidden love, repentance, etc. BUT NOW I DO! Meat is WRONG. But I LOVE IT ANYWAY.

Anyway, my cooking habits haven't really caught up to my new eating habits. I can only make one thing with meat. Cooking-wise, meat sort of still scares me (OMG BLOOD! IT COULD HAVE GERMS!).

So this is the only thing I can confidently make. It's taken from this book, though changed in a few significant ways.

Pork and bean curd (tofu): also known as Ma Po tofu

8 oz fresh beancurd (in my mind, one packet of extra-firm tofu)
2 teaspoons oil
2 teaspoons, garlic, finally chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped (grated, in my mind)
8 oz (half a pound) minced pork
Several teaspoons (depending on how spicy you like it -- I do three, and I AM A WIMP): Szechuan bean paste

1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
2 1/2 ounces chicken stock

(It's worth noting that the bean paste, peppercorns, and pork are all purchased at Lee Lee's: a recent addition to Tucson that is completely awesome. I think there's something mysterious you have to do to the pork -- getting...rid...of...the...fat...somehow?--but the pork at Lee Lee's is so lean you don't have bother. {Credit is also due to my Dad, for his discovery of the above facts. In fact, maybe the pork thing is entirely made up by my Dad. I WOULDN'T KNOW. I JUST TAKE HIS AND LEE LEE'S WORD FOR IT THAT THIS PORK IS AWESOME AND DUMP IT IN THE PAN.} )

So, you chop the garlic and grate the ginger.
You can use a regular grater (shown above) or this awesome thing:

It's worth noting, however, that in true Nervous Chef fashion, I once accidentally grated off half a fingernail using this microplane. Yes, it was an accident. Yes, I was using the microplane improperly. Yes, if used correctly this won't happen. But still. Half a fingernail. Grated off.

Anyway, after the chopping and hopefully uninjured grating, you put the garlic and ginger into a wok or wok-like thing with the oil, heated. Then a few seconds later, you put in the pork. You cook for two minutes, on high heat, then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the tofu. Bring to a boil and let simmer.

During this time, you have hopefully been squeezing your tofu. No, that's not dirty. Even with extra-firm tofu, you want to get some of the excess water out. I recommend using a cookbook:

I particularly recommend Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything because it is very large and thus an effective tofu-squisher. I've never actually made anything from this cookbook but as a tofu-squisher I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Anyway, after it's squished for awhile, you chop up the tofu into cubes and put it into the wok with the rest of the ingredients. You let the whole thing simmer, covered, for about fifteen minutes. Then, serve with whatever! The pictures show it up with cashews and soycatush, but it's also good with soba noodles, or rice, or whatever, really.
This picture is not very appetizing, but I swear it tastes delicious. Probably prettier over noodles or rice, but I haven't been bothered to take pictures of that!

This first time I made this dish, I was way freaked out. Look how flesh-like the pork looks:

And then--horrifyingly--the meat started to change color:


However, it was. Cooking pork turns brown:
With soy sauce, bean paste, chicken stock et al, it turns even browner!

So that's my first adventure into cooking meat. That's all she wrote.

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