I am not one to normally use pre-made sauces and ingredients. I'll admit they taste good. I know they are handy and could save my sanity. But for some ridiculous reason, I just can't do it. So I hesitated a bit at Nigel Slater's oyster sauce creation. If this weren't a recipe from my current favorite diarist and king of vegetables, I would have glossed it over and gone on.
But Nigel Slater is just so fantastic. I really can't rave enough about him - his writing is beautiful, his garden is magnificent and he takes the time to cook wonderful food every day. Plus most of what he cooks is quick and easy, and, as far as I can tell, he doesn't have a personal assistant or live in maid, he is just a regular guy. Who lives in a spotless house full of stylish crockery. With no kids. And no responsibilities other than shopping, cooking, eating and writing.
So, I take my cues from him. He is a big deal in Britain, having just won Food Personality of the Year at the BBC's Food and Farming Awards (but I'm not sure exactly what that means, since his name is in small type at the end of the list). He has written a weekly column for the Observer since 1993, published two memoirs and eleven cookbooks and although he seems to invite us into his life in his writing, apparently refuses to discuss details of it with the media. Check his article and resulting discussion in Wikipedia if you're interested in getting gossipy on that.
I am really excited for the second half of his huge and wonderful tome Tender to be published, sometime in 2010. But back to the matter at hand - what is in oyster sauce, anyway? From the Kikkoman website:
Water, Brown Sugar, Salt, Oyster Juice Concentrate [Oyster (Molluscan Shellfish), Water, Salt], Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Caramel Color, Fermented Wheat Protein, Vinegar, Xanthan Gum.
Most of those look like food to me, except for a few of the latter. I would like to look them up in Marion Nestle's What to Eat, but I cannot find my copy. It has magically disappeared from my bedside stack. So in my search of the web I have discovered the USDA's EAFUS, which stands for Everything Added to Food in the United States. But sadly, its quite cryptic and not very helpful. I've also found a site called Nutrition Data, which identifies "modified starch" as a gelling agent or thickener, "xantham gum" as one or all of the following: Bodying Agent, Bulking Agent, Emulsifier, Foaming Agent, Gelling Agent, Stabilizer, Suspending Agent, Thickener, Whipping Agent, and does not list "fermented wheat protein". Its not so helpful either. I guess I'm really wondering: what is xantham, and where does it come from? Where do they get the food starch and how is it modified? Why is the wheat protein fermented and not just left as regular wheat? This site just makes me think about whether a whipping agent is something I want kept in my pantry.
Oh well. Xantham gum aside, I enjoyed my dinner tonight. Nigel Slater's pork free version would have been better, but now that my daughter has ceased eating all protein sources beyond peanut butter and yogurt, I'm offering up as many as I can find. Both kids ate their rice, a single 2"x1" piece of pork, and drank their milk.
Pork and Greens with Oyster Sauce and Ginger (adapted from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries):
2 cups rice (cook it in the steamer, or however you like to)
1/2 bunch coriander (aka cilantro), chopped
2 stalks of spring garlic or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped,
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 bag or bunch stir-fry greens, rinsed and large stems removed
4 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 boneless pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces
Mr. Slater actually calls this Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and ginger, but then goes on to say that you can make it with just about any broccoli or spring green, which I think means young green. So in my case, a bag of stir-fry mix from our produce box works perfectly. Along with some pork, to buff up the greens that my kids won't eat. I serve it with steamed rice, leaving out the cilantro for the kids but adding it for grown-ups.
Roughly chop the cilantro and fold it into the rice, which should be kept warm while you cook the rest. Warm the oil in a wok over high heat (or large pan over medium heat if you don't have a wok) . Add the garlic and ginger, stir it for about thirty seconds, then toss in the pork and stir them around for five minutes or so. Then add the oyster sauce and stir it in. Next, add the greens and 1/4 cup of water. Stir it all around, then put the lid on halfway for a few minutes, until the greens are as tender as you'd like them to be. Serve the pork and greens over the rice.