NANNA PICKED A PECK OF PRICY PEPPER

Dear Amelia,
The last time we were together we were dancing around your Mum and Dad’s kitchen to Skip To My Lou and I must say you’re a pretty spectacular dancer considering you only started to walk three months ago.
I know it’s hard to imagine at the moment, but one day you’ll be coordinated enough to handle a wok full of boiling oil.
When that day arrives, I hope you’ll try this recipe for Chinese-spiced Salt and Pepper Pork, which is my version of a recipe by WA chef Sophie Zalokar.
The original recipe had two tablespoons of sea salt plus half a teaspoon of table salt, and it was so salty we couldn’t eat it (to be honest, it was disturbingly like that stuff you have to drink to clear out your bowels before a colonoscopy).
The next time I cooked the pork I drastically reduced the amount of salt and added some chilli powder.
It was delicious and not blindingly hot but this could have been because my Szechuan peppercorns expired in 2008.
I still used them because fortunately I remembered the words of the late, great Erma Bombeck, who said, “Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.”
Despite Erma’s wise words, I chucked the expired peppercorns in the bin the next day and went out to hunt for some more.
None of the four supermarkets had them, of course, because that would have been too easy.
And when I eventually found some (two hours later in a deli), I discovered that while you can buy 5 kilos of Szechuan peppercorns for 50 cents at the Chinese supermarkets in Perth, they’re about five hundred bucks per tablespoon down here.
So I handed over my life savings and took them home and realised I’d forgotten to buy the limes.
So I smiled a little smile and said, “Silly me.”
No I didn’t. I said, “Shit, shit, shit.”
Then I went all the way back to the shops.
I did this because the limes make this dish taste sensational.
Don’t ever leave them out.
PS: I exaggerated slightly about the cost of Szechuan peppercorns here in Albany. They’re $4.95 for 15g, which equates to $330 per kilo.
Yes, THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY DOLLARS PER KILO.

CHINESE-SPICED SALT AND PEPPER PORK

Serves 4

2 pork fillets
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
½ tsp chilli powder
1½ cups peanut or vegetable oil
½ cup cornflour
half a dozen grinds of black pepper
2 limes, quartered
a bag of supermarket salad greens or equivalent home-grown

Cover a platter with salad greens and put to one side.
Remove the silvery sinew from the pork and slice the meat thinly across the fillet.
Put the cornflour in a small bowl, add half a dozen grinds of black pepper and mix thoroughly. Wear an apron because the cornflour goes everywhere (as in down your legs and over the dog).
Put the sea salt and the Szechuan peppercorns into a wok and dry-roast them over medium heat until they’re fragrant – about 5 minutes.
Let them cool then grind them finely in a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder.
Mix in the five-spice powder and chilli and put to one side.
Crumple up some kitchen paper and put it on top of a dinner plate.
Put your wok on a high heat, add the oil and heat until it’s very hot. It will start to shimmer on top when it’s ready.
Coat the pork fillet slices lightly in the cornflour and cook them in the oil for a couple of minutes each side (you’ll need to do this in two or three batches so the oil stays hot).
When the pork slices are a pale gold colour, fish them out with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them on the crumpled kitchen paper to drain.
If you’re worried they’ll go cold, stick them in a really low oven.
When all the pork is cooked, tip the slices into a big bowl, shake over the five-spice mixture and mix everything together quickly.
Tip it all on to your salad greens and get everyone to squeeze over some lime juice before they eat it, straight off the platter, just with a fork.

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2 Comments on “NANNA PICKED A PECK OF PRICY PEPPER”

  1. Boothy says:

    Erma Bombeck – now that’s going back a bit, mid 70s if I recall correctly. Mum had one of her books – “If life is a bowl of cherries, why am I living in the pits?”. Funny even to an 8yr old.

  2. Michele says:

    Erma was a star (shining up in heaven now unfortunately). She and Alan Coren were my heroes.


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