This year is turning out to be a great year for apples on the East Coast. And besides that – fall is THE season for apples. Crisp, cool, tart and sweet – they are turning out in hues of red and pink, burnished gold, pale winter yellows, bright greens… ::sigh::
Apples are possibly my favorite fruit – they are generally durable, easy to handle and to cook with, versatile and perfectly delicious in any number of recipes – pies, salads, roasts, soups, sandwiches – and (unless you are seeking the delightful Honey Crisp variety) inexpensive. I love apples in savory dishes especially – apples are great for brightening up a dish, and they pair well with both chicken and pork! You can still wander into older forested areas across the United States and find apple trees growing wild. Historically, it wasn’t that long ago that well over 1,000 varieties of apple were grown in the U.S., and though the majority of these are now extinct (thank you, mono-crop farming and a certain seed company), there are still several hundred known varieties, many heirloom, that are actively grown today.
This dish is a great way to use up spare ingredients if you happen to have a bunch of odd bits and pieces of Asian cuisine languishing in your fridge. Otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to experiment with ingredients that aren’t terribly expensive and that (for the most part) can hang out in your fridge for a VERY VERY LONG TIME.
I love otsukemono – assorted pickled vegetables – because there are so many colors, flavors, and textures! They can really dress up a dish (even just a quick bowl of rice porridge), and while I used my favorites in this recipe, don’t be afraid to experiment, especially if hot and spicy is not your scene.
Now, as for rice – if you want to cheat and use some form of parboiled rice, that is your prerogative – but every time a person uses a package of pre-cooked rice a puppy gets kicked. True fact. Don’t be afraid of preparing rice, and don’t feel as though you have to have a rice cooker – most inexpensive rice cookers are like quick-cooking crock pots anyway. You can prepare rice in a pot of water on the stove no problem, and it really is as simple as following the directions on the bag. And if you’re still not sure what to do – measure one cup of rice grains into a pot/rice cooker, fill the pot with cold water until the rice is just covered, and rinse the grains by swishing them around in the pot with your hand. Do this for about thirty or forty-five seconds and then drain the water and repeat three more times. ALWAYS wash rice, even if the bag says it’s cleaned or treated – washing your rice this way will rinse off extra starch that would otherwise make it mushy and gross. After you’re done rinsing, fill the pot up until the rice is covered about three-fourths of an inch. If you’re using a pot, set it on the stove (if you’re using a rice cooker, follow the cooking directions that come with your device), turn it to medium heat, and stir with the stick end of a wooden spoon every once in a while to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. If you want to salt the rice, salt the cooking water before it starts to boil, just past the point where you would enjoy it (when you think it’s too much salt, it’s probably enough). When most of the water is absorbed and the rice is swelling, turn the heat off and take the pot off of the hot eye, let it sit a few minutes, and fluff it with a fork. For this recipe I’ve left the rice unsalted – instead , I added about a quarter cup of Rice Wine Vinegar while fluffing. If you’re nervous about making rice, then do the rice first, before you prepare the pork rolls – otherwise, just start the rice when you start chopping up the pickles for the filling (see recipe below).
Please keep in mind that this is an inspired interpretation of Tonkatsu – fried pork cutlet – and while these are not the ingredients you would traditionally fill the pork with, I hope you find the taste yummy and comforting (it IS a comfort food, after all) when you try the recipe. ^_^
Apple-Stuffed Pork Rolls Katsu Style
- One Green Apple (Suggest: Granny Smith)
- One Red Apple (Suggest: Fuji)
- Rice Wine Vinegar – 1/4 cup for apples, 1/4 cup for rice
- 6-8 Korean Salted Pickled Green Peppers
- 1 Large Clove of Garlic
- 2 Red Umeboshi (Pickled Plums), Pits Removed
- 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons Aka Miso Paste
- 4 Thin Pork Cutlets, Cleaned and Trimmed (There may be a bit of connective tissue, but they usually come clean at the supermarket)
- 1 and 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
- 2 Eggs, Well-Beaten
- Most of a Package of Panko Crumbs (if you are concerned about waste, the best thing is to store any leftover crumb in a plastic container labeled with the meat you have used it for)
- 1 Cup Short Grain Rice (I use Han Kuk Mi Sushi Rice – it’s not terribly expensive for a five pound bag, and it has a nice texture when cooked)
- Vegetable Oil – Enough to fill about an inch and a half on the bottom of a deep pan or wide-bottomed pot
- Optional Toppings: Katsu Sauce, Tempura Dipping Sauce, Pickled Daikon, Shin Shin Parikko (pickled Spanish Cucumber), Leftover Cooked Apple, Umeboshi, etc.
[You’ll notice I’ve left salt/pepper out of this recipe – that’s because you really don’t need it. The miso paste and green pepper pickles are salty enough in the dish that the pork really doesn’t need any help]
First thing’s first – peel, core, and slice your apple into longish pieces on the thicker side (no need for julienne here!). I like combining red and green apples in most dishes, for both flavor and texture (I also like leaving a bit of the peel on for color, but you’re welcome to strip it all or leave it all on!). In a pot or pan on medium-low heat, gently toss your apples in the Rice Wine Vinegar and allow to steam and sweat until they just begin to soften. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for later. Remove the stems from the green peppers and finely chop (alternatively, you can just dump the peppers, garlic and pickled plums in a food processor and pulse to a fine relish) finely. Finely chop the plums and garlic, stir in with the peppers, and set the relish aside.
On a flat, clean surface, stretch out two lengths of plastic wrap – be sure to squish out all the air bubbles so you don’t pop any holes while your pounding out your cutlets. When rolling a chosen cut of meat, it’s better to use as thin a piece as possible – not only will you have more surface area to spread filling on to, but the meat will cook much more quickly. It’s best to choose a pounding implement with a flat surface, you’re just trying to break up bits of muscle and spread out the surface area, not poke holes in your meat with a carryover from medieval weaponry. As it happens, I have an ice cream scoop that, while being perfectly useless as an ice cream scoop, is smooth and has just the right amount of weight for pounding thin cuts of meat – so don’t feel that you have to go out and purchase a proper meat mallet if you don’t have one.
Lay out your pork cutlets (you can do them all at once or one at a time) on the plastic wrap, cover with more plastic wrap, and commence pounding. The surface area should increase by at least a 1/3 to 1/2 of the original size of the cutlet. As you finish each cutlet, layer them in paper towels. You want to draw out as much moisture as possible before you begin rolling them up – your filling will stick better, and the meat will seal better to itself, instead of unrolling while cooking.
Now the fun part! lay out your cutlet, take a fourth of your miso paste, and using the back of a spoon spread VERY thinly over the whole of one side of the cutlet. Next, spoon a quarter of your pickle mixture and spread it thinly over the surface. Take four or five pieces of your cooked apple, lay them out on top of the relish, and tightly roll up your cutlet. The edge should seal nicely to itself. Set aside seam side down and repeat with the rest of your cutlets.
Depending on how quick you are about it, you may want to take this moment to go ahead and heat up your oil for frying. Set it to medium-high heat – when the oil shimmers in the bottom of the pot, it’s ready.
Set out three dishes – one each flour, beaten egg, and panko crumbs, in that order. In turn, roll each cutlet first in the flour, the egg, and then panko crumbs (you want to coat it well).
When the hot oil is ready, place two rolls at a time, seam side down, in the pot. The cooking time is not exact here, but it should be about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes per side, or until the crumb is a deep golden-brown. Remove from the oil and set either on a paper towel or colander to drain and rest. Allow the rolls to rest about 5-10 minutes before serving.
To serve, slice each cutlet on a diagonal with a serrated knife, and lay out over a bed of rice. What you serve the dish with is up to you, but I like a nice squirt of katsu sauce, and my favorite pickles (daikon radish!!!) to go with it. The pork should be moist and the filling should be lip-tingling spicy. The apples won’t overpower the dish, but will add a richness and brightness (not unlike a good tomato sauce) that is surprising when you’re not used to apples in savory dishes.
Go and enjoy! And don’t forget to vote for next week’s recipe (below in next post)!