Monday, January 08, 2007
Make Mine Pork
This New Year is making a quiet entrance with a low full moon that hangs in the night black sky. I am relieved to finally retreat into the emptiness of days, in the hollow cheek of the year and allow myself to sit free and clear after a bustling season of stimulation and plenty. While I intended to steer the course forward from day one with boundless enthusiasm and ironclad resolve to tackle the oncoming months, I nodded asleep before midnight- a sure tell sign of the slow easy pace to come.
Peacefully I awoke to a gentle memory, an ancient hunger for succulent sweet pork cutlet atop a bowl of perfectly steamed rice. This vision appeared from nowhere, from the zero of the year but has planted itself too plainly for me to ignore. In the not so distant past at least three lives ago, I privately acknowledged katsudon as my all time favorite home style meal. It is the kind of casual food that skillfully soothes subtle, shapeless and ravenous hungers into a manageable hue, which at that tender age was no small feat.
Katsudon arrives as steaming welcome in an earthen bowl. The pork cutlet breaded, deep fried and sliced is relaxed upon a bed of rice looking much like a small animal curled into itself. Just prior to dishing, over an ecstatic fire, the pig is soused in sweet-savory liquor bubbling with tender scallion greens and a delicate web of egg. It purrs in utter contentment and I hum alongside in happy union. The bowl is rustic balance in gentleness and strength.
Yet when I think of it further, this rice bowl became ritualized response to an unformed question angling somewhere below: a search, a wandering, and one possible end to a roving constant eye. After scooping the last glistening grains of pork infused rice and pushing the bowl back in a fluid crescendo towards completion, I found myself solid and awake in the darkened hush of a ryokan-style room in J-town. Hours of my life were spent roaming the cardboard box shops huddled together in silent complicity while the yet-named layers of my being clamored to be known through the mysterious kinks and draws of attention. Chubby mochi, the tinkling tear drops of chimes, musty plumes of incense, space aged rice cookers, kaleidoscopic obis, “Got Rice?” tee shirts and impeccably crafted tansu organized themselves into a crazy new language which eventually—magically, deciphered the whole of me. Fresh out of school, the pages of my life were wide open and in dark solitary spaces I was born.
While I’ve traveled so many miles from then to now, I sit once again with a smooth empty bowl cradled comfortably between my two hands. This container when empty asks to be filled. In the silent waiting and tasting, the remembrance of my many homes and the rush to discover new selves, I begin the year.
LIVE THE QUESTION KATSUDON serves 4: Adapted from About.com section on Japanese Food
4 boneless pork chops
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ C flour
½ C panko bread crumbs
4 C steamed rice
1 onion sliced
2 bunches of scallions chopped into 2” pieces
2 cups chicken stock
5 Tbsp tamari
2 Tbsp mirin
Directions: For the tonkatsu, dredge the pork in the salt, pepper and flour mixture. Dip the cutlets in a beaten egg and press into the panko crumbs. Take a nice heavy pan and after heating to medium hot, place a generous amount of oil in it (usually this is deep fried). Pan fry the pork until golden on each side and cooked in the center. Slice the pork cutlet and set aside. Put the stock, tamari and mirin in a pan on medium heat. Add slivered onions and scallions, cooking until tender. Add the tonkatsu pieces and heat for a few minutes. Beat the eggs in a bowl and pour over the meat and onions. Turn the heat to low and cover for about a minute. Spoon hot steaming rice in a deep bowl and cover with tonkatsu pieces and sauce with the onions and egg.