Warm, tender pork in a tart, spicy dressing served with a plate of ice-cold uncooked broccoli stems is a thing of beauty – the perfect interplay of spicy and clean flavours, soft and crunchy textures, warm and ice-cold temperatures.
The type of broccoli traditionally used in this dish is Chinese broccoli, sometimes labelled with its Chinese name gai lan or kai lan. I have found the stems of regular supermarket broccoli to be a perfect – actually better and less expensive – substitute. Although nontraditional, I have even found fresh asparagus to be a great substitute when I do not have broccoli stems around.
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Reprinted with permission from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.
1 pound lean pork loin or tenderloin or boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons baking soda
12 ounces Chinese broccoli or regular broccoli stems
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon packed grated palm sugar, or 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 fresh bird’s eye chiles, minced
8 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup crushed ice
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves (optional)
Cut the pork against the grain and on the diagonal (30- to 40-degree angle) into thin, bite-size pieces. Put the pork in a bowl, sprinkle the baking soda over the top, and mix well (this is best done with your hands). Cover and chill while you ready the other ingredients.
If using Chinese broccoli, test to see if the stems are tender enough to eat without peeling them. If they are, trim about 1 inch off the bottom of each stalk end and any leaf stems, leaving just the main stem, which will look like an asparagus spear but thicker. If they are not, trim them as directed and then lightly peel them with a vegetable peeler. If using stems of regular broccoli, peel off the fibrous skin with a vegetable peeler until the inner core is exposed. Cut the Chinese or regular broccoli stems into sticks 5 inches long and 3/4 inch thick. Arrange the stems on a plate, cover, and refrigerate.
In a bowl, stir together the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and chiles until the sugar dissolves. Place the bowl next to the stove.
Pour the water into a four-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the salt. Lower the heat until the water is barely bubbling. Immediately add the pork to the water and stir. The temperature of the water will drop to the point that it is no longer bubbling; increase the heat just a little so the water is barely bubbling again.
Stir the pork gently until it is no longer pink, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a wire-mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, lift out the pork, shaking off the excess water, and add it to the dressing in the bowl. Toss the pork with the dressing and transfer the mixture to a serving platter.
While the pork is still warm, remove the plate of broccoli stems from the refrigerator and scatter the crushed ice over the stems. Serve the pork salad and the iced broccoli stems together, instructing diners to enjoy a bite of the pork alternately with a bite of ice-cold broccoli stem. Garnish with mint leaves.