We often order salt and pepper pork ribs when we eat at Chinese restaurants. I love the moist fall off the bone meat, the crispy crust and the boldness of the flavors of rock salt, coarsely ground black pepper and chopped chilies that are sprinkled on top.
I’ve always wanted to cook a home version but it’s not easy getting meaty pork ribs that had been cut through the bone into two-inch cubes. And buying regular ribs and do the chopping at home is really beyond the capability of our sturdiest kitchen knife. So, boneless pork it is.
If you’re wondering why not just use a boneless but fatty cut like pork shoulder or short plate, well, I would have but pork chops were all we had. Save for the layer of fat on the top, pork chops are on the lean side. So, to ensure that they will stay moist during deep frying, I tenderized them overnight.
The process is called velveting. The cubed pork chops were mixed with an egg white, starch, salt, pepper, Shao xing rice wine, a bit of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame seed oil and a little baking soda. The pork was allowed to sit in the fridge overnight to allow chemistry to do its job.
The next day, the marinated pork was tossed in more starch and deep fried in batches over medium heat just until the crust was lightly golden.
The fried pork were then fried over high heat a second time to turn the crust into a crispy delight. If you’re new to the technique, double frying is a popular frying method in Asia. The initial frying cooks the meat all the way through; the second frying creates the lovely crispy crust.
When the pork was done, sliced garlic and chilies were tossed in a little starch and deep fried. That’s for the topping.
To assemble the dish, the fried pork were placed on a plate, the fried chilies and garlic were sprinkled on top along with rock salt and coarsely ground pepper. A dipping sauce of vinegar spiked with chili flakes and more coarsely ground black pepper was served on the side.
Salt and pepper pork
- 4 pork chops - boneless and skinless
- 1 tablespoon rock salt - or ½ teaspoon refined salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons potato starch - or cornstarch, divided
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg white
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- ¼ cup Shao xing rice wine
- 1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
- cooking oil - for deep frying
- 2 finger chilies - thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic - peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon potato starch - or cornstarch
- rock salt
- coarsely ground black pepper
Marinate the pork
- Pat the pork dry with paper towels and cut into 1 ½-inch cubes.
- Mix together the salt, pepper, two tablespoons starch and baking soda. Add to the pork and toss to coat all pieces.
- Add the egg white, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Shao xing rice wine and sesame seed oil. Mix well.
- Place the pork in a covered container and keep in the fridge overnight.
Fry the pork
- Add the remaining starch to the pork and toss to distribute evenly.
- In a wok or frying pan, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
- Fry the pork over medium heat (see notes below), separating them with tongs or chopsticks just until the crust is lightly golden.
- Scoop out the pork and spread on a rack.
- Turn up the heat to high and fry the pork a second time until the crust is crisp.
- Scoop out the pork and spread on a rack once more.
Finish the dish
- Toss the chili and garlic slices with the starch and deep fry just until lightly crisp.
- Transfer the pork to a plate, scatter the chilies and garlic on top, then sprinkle in more rock salt and coarsely ground pepper.
- Serve with vinegar (optionally with chili flakes and more coarsely ground black pepper) for dipping.