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Author Notes: This dish is one of favorites from my home province of Sichuan. It is a recipe that I have made improvements on for many years now. It requires a bit of time and some ingredients not often found in an American kitchen, but the tender pieces of pork and melt in your mouth sweet potato are well worth the effort. —Jenny Huang | Hello My Dumpling
Serves 4 to 5
For the spiced rice meal:
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon whole sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
- 1/4 stick cinnamon, cassia bark (also known as Indian cinnamon) preferred
- 1 star anise
- 1 black cardamom
- 4 dried hot Sichuan chiles
- 1/2 cup white rice, like jasmine rice
For the pork and sweet potatoes:
- 2 pounds pork country ribs or spare ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons Pixian broad bean paste, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons fermented chile tofu brine (optional)
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
- Grapeseed oil, as needed
- 1 1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
- 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 5 dried hot Sichuan chiles, de-stemmed and broken into halves
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine or other rice wine
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut on a diagonal into rough 2-inch chunks
- Cilantro, chopped for serving
- In a medium pan over medium-high heat, dry toast all of the spices for the rice meal. The spices are ready once they are very fragrant and have darkened slightly. Finely grind them in a spice or coffee grinder. In the same pan, lightly toast the rice for 2 to 3 minutes. Add this to the grinder and pulse 4 to 5 additional times. The rice should be a combination of powder and broken grains. Set aside.
- Combine the pork, bean paste, fermented black beans, fermented tofu brine (if using), and 3 tablespoons of soy sauce. Mix well. In a large heavy-bottomed pan, brown the pork in batches with some grapeseed oil over medium-high. Depending on the size of your pan, this will most likely take 4 to 5 separate batches. At any point, if the pan looks a little dry, just add a bit more oil. Make sure not to waste any of the sauce that is leftover at the bottom of your mixing bowl. After the the last of the meat is browned remove from pan and set aside.
- To the same pan, add the ginger, garlic, and dried chiles, sauté for about 1 minute, or so. The chiles should start to blacken slightly and everything should smell very fragrant. Pour in the cooking wine and remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Use a spatula to scrape up every last bit of brown crust from the bottom of the pan. This is what gives the dish added depth. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add to the pork.
- Add the rice meal to the bowl of meat, mix evenly. In a medium-large heat-safe bowl (Keep in mind that this bowl will need to fit easily into a large stock pot.), layer in the sweet potato. Place the pork over the the sweet potato and now everything is ready for steaming. Into a large stock pot, add about 1 1/2 inches of water. Then place a metal vegetable steamer in the center, and your bowl on top. Cover with the lid and bring to a boil. Once the water has come to a boil, turn the flame down to a medium low. Steam for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the pork and potatoes are super tender. The water in the pot should last the whole cooking time. If it looks to be drying, you may have the flame on too high. Half way in, mix the pork layer a bit to allow the rice meal to cook evenly.
- Serve immediately, topped with fresh cilantro. I like to eat this alongside bowls of rice and a simple garlic stir-fried green vegetable.