Jesus cautioned not to cast one’s pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6), but he said nothing about making swine into pearls. So, I did.
This is an old Hunanese recipe that is both easy to make and a delight to behold and eat. I call them pork pearls. They’re essentially small ground pork meat balls coated with glutinous rice and steamed. The steamed rice expands as it cooks, coating the finished meatballs in a shiny coat of multi-faceted opalescence.
I adapted this recipe from version I found in a bilingual (English and Chinese) copy of Chinese Cuisine, Wei-Chuan’s Cook Book by Huang Su-Huei. First published in February, 1972, the book is apparently sponsored by Wei-Chuan, a prominent Chinese foodstuffs producer. Following the introduction (in which the author warns readers about pirated versions “detected by the inferior printing”) is a comprehensive, if not at times amusing, lesson on Chinese cuisine and eating etiquette. The cookbook includes sections describing everything from table settings to diagrammed step-by-step instructions for stir and wok frying. There’s also quite an impressive glossary of ingredients, labeled photos of Chinese produce, meats, and ingredients, as well as sample banquet menus.
The recipes are organized in a manner not unlike most cookbooks – by major ingredients and food groups – and represent six Chinese regional cuisines (Canton, Szechua, Hunan, Taiwan, “Peking,” and Shanghai). Ms. Huang has organizes the 221 recipes into the following categories: Chicken, Pigeon, Duckling, Pork, Beef & Mutton, Viscera (offal), Fish, Shrimp, Seafood, Bean Curd & Eggs, Vegetables, Appetizers, and Soups.
For this recipe, I have tweaked a few of the ingredients and attempted to clarify the instructions, which, are terse and almost scientifically formulaic.
6 ounces ground pork
1/2 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 ground white pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
2 tablespoons chopped water chestnuts
1 tablespoon chopped dried shrimp
1 teaspoon chopped scallions
1 teaspoon ginger root
3/4 cup glutinous rice
Special equipment: A large steamer.
1. Mix the ground pork rice wine, soy sauce, white pepper, and 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch. Stir vigorously for 5 minutes to combine ingredients thoroughly.
2. Add to the ground pork mixture the water chestnuts, dried shrimp, scallions, ginger root and the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Mix well to combine ingredients.
3. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh sieve (or in a cheese cloth-lined colander) until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with water and soak for one hour. Drain the rice and spread the rice onto a large, flat plate.
4. Divide the pork mixture into 20 portions and roll into 1-inch balls. You may set them on a baking sheet (lined with tin foil, plastic wrap, or parchment paper) if you like. Roll each pork ball in the rice until it is completely coated. Place the pork balls onto a heatproof plate (the heatproof plate must fit into your steamer) 1/2-inch apart. If your pork pearls do not fit onto one plate, go ahead and prepare all of your pork pearls and divide them between two (or more) plates. Cover each plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to steam.
5. Bring water in the steamer to a vigorous boil. Carefully, set the pork pearl-lined plate in the steamer and cover tightly. Steam the pork pearls for a little over 20 minutes, but not more than 25 minutes, or our pork pearls will be tough.
6. While the pork pearls are steaming, shred the carrot and wash the cilantro. When the pork pearls are finished steaming, remove the the plate from the steamer and let cool just long enough when you can manage to transfer (by hand) the pork pearls onto a serving plate. Top each pork pearl with some shredded carrot and a single cilantro leaf. Serve immediately.
Cook’s Note: The pork pearls can be rolled and prepared for steaming, tightly covered with plastic wrap, and stored in a refrigerator for up to one day in advance.