That’s dinner. The only thing you don’t see in the photo is rice. That might sound redundant considering there is a pile of carbs on the plate in the form of fries, but this is Asia and we do like rice in our big meals. The thing here is that everything on that plate (and even the rice you don’t see) was hot when they were served.
It’s something we love about eating out, right? Everything newly cooked. In restaurants, line cooks prepare each component of a meal so they land on your table while they’re at their prime.
At home, when there’s just one person cooking, is that possible? Yes, it is. But, first, let’s not pretend that this is a complicated meal. It isn’t. It’s rather simple. But it is a balanced meal with protein, carbs, veggies… all flavorful and all cooked properly.
How did I manage to finish all that in half an hour? It helps a lot if you have the kitchen to yourself. No family members peeking in and milling around because they’re curious about the tantalizing aromas that have reached their noses. It helps even more if there are no spoiled dogs sneaking in and just waiting for an opportunity to snatch something behind your back.
But the most important keys are timing, and making the most of the oven and rice cooker. The pork and fries cooked in the oven together. The okra was cooked on the steamer basket that came with the rice cooker. Let me show you the process with photos.
I started preheating the oven to 200C even before I took out from the fridge the pork strips that had been marinating in grocery-bought bulgogi sauce for a couple of hours (if you want to make bulgogi sauce from scratch, click here).
The pork strips were arranged on a rack set over a baking tray lined with foil (the foil catches drippings for easy cleanup). The marinade was reserved but more on that later.
The tray with the pork went into the oven on the upper rack. I wanted to give the meat a five-minute headstart before placing the tray of frozen fries on the bottom rack of the oven. From experience, half-inch thick pork slices take five minutes longer to cook than frozen fries. Hence, the headstart.
Note that these are frozen fries from the grocery. They had been fried once before freezing. All they needed was to thaw and turn crisp in the oven. If you’re making fries from scratch, it will take longer.
The frozen fries were spread on a tray lined with parchment paper that had been sprayed with cooking oil. Once the frozen fries where in place, I sprayed them with cooking oil as well before popping the tray into the oven.
Note that temperature drops every time you open the oven door. Sometimes, doing so is unavoidable as when you have to check the food for doneness or, in this case, because I had to put in the tray of fries. So, if you have to open the oven door, do it quickly to avoid excessive heat loss.
While the pork and fries were in the oven, I started cooking the rice. It takes 20 minutes so I noted the time. The steamer basket with the okra in it would go in after the first ten minutes.
Meanwhile, I poured the leftover marinade into a small sauce pan and boiled it for about two minutes to make a dipping sauce. Why boil the marinade at all? Isn’t it perfect the way it is? Well, yes, but there are traces of raw meat juices in it and that might make it unsafe to eat. So, to remove anything that could cause stomach upset, I boiled the marinade then set it aside.
Ten minutes before the rice cooker was set to automatically switch off, I spread the okra (we’re harvesting them daily these days) in the steamer basket, sprinkled them with salt, dropped the basket in the rice cooker and shut it close again. Ten minutes are all it takes to cook young okra.
With the bulgogi dipping sauce done, and the rice and okra cooking away, it was time to switch the trays in the oven. The pork had been cooking for about 20 minutes, and the fries for 15 minutes. The tray with the fries went on the upper rack. I took out the tray with the pork, flipped the pork strips over then put the tray back in but, this time, on the lower rack.
Ten minutes later, I switched off the oven. The rice was done and so was the okra. While the okra had been salted during cooking, it needed a final touch.
The hot okra was dumped into a bowl and dollops of herb butter were dropped in. The butter melted into the okra and all that was needed was to toss everything together to make sure that every piece of okra was coated with the flavorful butter (see my herb and spice butter recipe).
And dinner was ready. Yes, in 30 minutes. Well, minus the time it took to preheat the oven. Every component of our meal was piping hot because they finished cooking at almost the same time.
The excess marinade that had been boiled was served as a dipping sauce for the pork. For the fries, there was ketchup.