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there’s something for everyone

Recipe: chinese salt and pepper pork

You know what I like about Chinese New Year besides all of the Chinese food? It’s later in winter than the regular winter holidays, which means there is usually better snow. You see, I like winter. But you already knew that.

he likes winter too… i think i’ll keep him

My parents are in Florida right now because (Southern) Virginia is “too cold” for them. I chuckle to myself when they tell me these things. Winter is probably the most maligned of all seasons. I sometimes think people dislike winter because they don’t appreciate it. Or maybe it’s because they have to travel in bad weather? I could totally relate to that. Or maybe they are living in a Bad Winter Zone? I consider Bad Winter Zones to be places that don’t get proper snow. Just the other day, Jeremy and I were discussing the seasons and I declared, “I LOVE winter! I love skiing and getting out into the backcountry, baking and cooking, snuggling with Kaweah, grilling in the snow, crystal clear night skies.”

i shooted it

I paused and added, “And autumn – autumn is great with the changing leaves and the cooler temperatures, the hikes and rides. Oh and spring! Spring mountaineering, spring skiing, wearing a light jacket, longer days…” Of course there is summer. It seems everyone loves summer. I do too, but it’s not my favorite season. Mountain summer is brief, but jam-packed: wildflowers, backpacks, rides, trail runs, afternoon thunderstorms, evening dinners on the deck with friends, dog walks as the sun sets, farmers markets, hummingbirds, alpine lakes, cool mountain air dancing through the house at night. I guess my point (Jen, is there a point?) is that I love it all. I just LOVE being here and being alive. There is something precious about every season, every day. I’m loathe to squander it.

winter love

But back to Chinese New Year. The food – there is so much food that I need to prepare in the next couple of days! Plus, we have to clean the house because once Chinese New Year is here, you are not supposed to clean the house for two weeks (sweeps out the luck). Oh, and don’t buy salt for the rest of the month of February. Bad luck. That’s what Grandma tells me. I made the trek down to Denver to meet up with my pal Kathya at the big Asian market to get groceries for the Lunar New Year. This year I’m keeping the menu “simple” since it’s just me and Jeremy. We’ll have soy bean sprouts, bean thread noodle soup (chocked full of lucky goodies), nian gao (rice cakes), potstickers, and lucky ten ingredient vegetables. How are you going to celebrate the Lunar New Year?

Jaden’s post on Chinese New Year reminded me about avoiding squid. Instead of cuttlefish balls in the bean thread noodle soup, I buy fish balls this one time of year. That’s because the superstition equates squid with getting fired. Eating nian gao (rice cakes), for instance, means a promotion or raise because nian (sticky) gao (cake) is a homonym for nian (year) gao (higher). So you can just imagine what a minefield planning dinner can be if you don’t have a Wise Chinese Grandma advising you on your menu selection. Since I had posted the recipe for salt and pepper squid, I thought it was only fair for me to give you an alternative that won’t get you fired.

this time it’s salt and pepper pork

When I’ve seen salt and pepper pork on the menu, it’s actually salt and pepper pork chops. These aren’t the pork chops that you find in your typical (white person) grocery store. These are cut rather thin and because 1) I have had disappointing results when I ask the butchers at Whole Foods to cut meat the “Asian” way and 2) it’s easier to eat without the bone, I didn’t bother with pork chops. I got a pork tenderloin instead (I prefer the dark meat) and sliced it myself. Control freak. Me.

mix up the flour, cornstarch, and sichuan pepper salt

slice semi-frozen pork tenderloin

The technique is pretty much the same as the squid, except the pork marinates in some garlic, soy sauce, and Shaoxing cooking wine for extra flavor. I guess you could mince the garlic, but I sliced them for ease of picking them out before coating the pork slices in the flour mixture.

marinate the pork

dredging in flour mixture

Unlike the squid, the pork doesn’t spatter and pop when you fry it. I like that. I like that very much. It takes a little longer to cook than the squid. The frying time will depend on how thick your slices of pork are. Mine were fairly thin (1/4-inch) and turned golden in about 3 minutes. You could conceivably stop at this point and wait until you are ready to serve before the last step. The pork gets a final pan-fry with the green onions and chilis.

draining on a cooling rack

seasoning the pork during the pan fry

I can eat the salt and pepper squid straight, but for some reason I find the salt and pepper pork is especially good when eaten with a bowl of steamed rice. That little bit of sweetness from the rice makes it so satisfying. It just works. And it won’t get you fired.

goes great with rice and baby bok choy

Chinese Salt and Pepper Pork
[print recipe]
adapted from here

1 pound whole pork tenderloin (actually, you can use ribs if you can find someone to slice them about 1/2-inch thickness)
1 clove garlic, sliced thin or minced
2 tsps soy sauce
4 tbsps Shoaxing cooking wine
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted
3 tbsps salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
vegetable oil (something without strong flavor) for deep frying
4-5 Thai bird chiles, diced
3 stalks green onions, diced

Place the pork tenderloin in the freezer for 3 hours OR thaw the frozen tenderloin until soft enough to slice. Slice into 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick pieces on the diagonal. Combine the pork, garlic, soy sauce, and Shoaxing cooking wine together in a bowl and let marinate for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, crush the peppercorns and salt together (use mortar and pestle). Place a tablespoon of the salt and pepper mixture into a bowl with the flour and cornstarch. Mix well. Heat 2 cups of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan (or a wok) over high heat. The oil will be hot enough when a pinch of flour sizzles. When the pork is ready, dredge the pieces in the flour and fry the pieces in batches. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan because that will result in a drop in temperature and nothing will fry properly. Fry until just golden – about 3-4 minutes. If your slices are thicker or larger, please let them cook through. Remove from oil and let drain on a cooling rack. After all of the pork is fried, place two tablespoons of the frying oil in a wok or sauté pan and heat on high. Toss the chilis and green onions into the oil and stir fry until fragrant. Add the pork and a teaspoon of the salt and pepper mixture and stir for a few minutes. Remove from heat and serve hot. Sprinkle with more of the salt and pepper mixture. Serves 4.

37 nibbles at “there’s something for everyone”

  1. schlachtplatte says:

    I also looove winter! I started skiing when I was only three years old but nowadays, I hardly ever get the chance too. But whenever I do, it’ s such a rush of adrenalin!

  2. Nina says:

    Great post! Love that you subbed with the tenderloin…looks wonderful! Photos are gorgeous, as always!

  3. Kristin says:

    You didn’t ask, but…I hate winter in Kansas City because it is a Bad Winter Zone…usually useless snow & not enough sunshine. Being able to XC ski or see sunshine more often would make a HUGE difference in my winter attitude. Oh, there’s also the fact that even though I grew up driving just fine in Wisconsin winters, I absolutely dread getting on the road here when it’s bad. People just don’t drive carefully or wisely.

  4. kate says:

    I’m in the Lovin Winter section. Except I have a very “bum” knee and it’s difficult getting around with the ice we’ve had in Kansas City. I was going to two Asian supermarkets daily last week trying to find items I don’t usually get. Currently bunkered in for a Blizzard Warning and realizing things I should have gotten at the grocery store, oh well.

    I do pot stickers and dumplings, stir fry year round. But lilyng linked to a cache of you tube videos on different ways to pleat so I’ll be practicing that tomorrow. Will do a batch of nori crisps today. Tried making red bean paste and got it wrong Sunday, (too much oil, not thick enough to form balls for cookie filling). Cookies, today baking pineapple cookies, peanut cookies and pandin kuih bangkit. As long as I can’t get any farther than the neighbors next door, steamed bao that I haven’t made for years and I found my recipe for Fatt Koh made with soda pop just last week. (I have stash of passion fruit, dragon fruit and litchi fruit pop.) I’m not Asian and somewhat oblivious to the superstitions, thought I had a clue but they vary by region so I’ve given up on that end. I just try not to offend my lovely Asian grocery store folks, they are so kind to help newbies with recipes and groceries. I do miss that this year the weather has interfered with the usually lower prices for fresh veggies and exotic fruits they get in for the festivities. Darn it, low on salt but glad I didn’t buy squid, how about octopus? And someplace I bookmarked a recipe for small sized New Year’s Steamed Rice Cakes…..good thing Chinese New Year celebrations go on for two weeks!

  5. Bri says:

    I don’t hate winter, but we don’t have a pretty winter like you do. We get rain, and lots of it. Except, of course, for the two week period we get every year around this time that feels like spring (60 degrees and sunny). Poor daffodils won’t know what hit them in another week when we get another freeze.

  6. Jennie says:

    Jen, this recipe looks wonderful. As for not cleaning the house for two weeks, well, let’s just say I’ve got that part of Chinese New Year covered!

  7. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Jen, this was terrific! Your writing really “pops!” in this post–your passion and personality shine through the entire thing. Happy Year of the Rabbit!

  8. Courtney says:

    you are a rebel for shooting :) yummy this looks great!

  9. JelliDonut says:

    It is after 10:30 in the morning here in Denver and it’s still eight BELOW zero. I don’t hate winter but I’m sure as heck not in love with this! Maybe your salt and pepper pork will make me feel better. YUM!

  10. Melissa says:

    The shot of the chiles and scallions is making me fidgety. In a good way.

    And while it’s lovely of you to give kudos to all the seasons, each for their own gifts, I must respectfully disagree. Summer can suck it. Especially August. *Sizzle*

  11. Sarah Hope says:

    Ugh, I live in North Texas and the only time we get snow is like now, when it’s really only hard packed snow on top of 3 inches of nasty ice that halts all normal functions of the entire city. No one can drive anywhere without sliding all over the place and people make runs on every grocery store so that you can’t even buy a banana. Needless to say, winter is not my favorite season. However, the winter in your photos gives me hope for happier winters elsewhere. :-)

  12. Margie says:

    I love that you, ‘shooted it’….!

    You can have winter. I live in a bad zone. There’s no in-between, as witnessed by the latest. Poor Chicago and Kansas City, well, add Oklahoma City and Tulsa, all of Indiana…heck, I could be endless on this…the point I’m trying to make:
    Dallas, Fort Worth winters are fair-to-Midland, to downright, horrendous. There’s no winning. Black ice is everyone’s nightmare. We can’t ski on it, and it’s a known fact that we sure as heck can’t navigate a vehicle on it! But I digress….

    If I bring a plate, can I eat with you and Jeremy? I’ll bring Miss K. some homemade doggie vittles. Oh, and I’ll bring the two of you a bowl of Posole…Hatch’ed’….they be canned, but they do in a pinch. (I’m out of the good stuff.)

  13. powder princess says:

    I can agree with your love of winter. Coming from the southern interior of British Colombia where the snow is deep and the sky’s are blue (at the moment). I love winter. I also love pork tenderloin I’ll have to try this.

  14. Bing Chou says:

    As I’m semi-retired from skiing, I don’t have quite the same level of enthusiasm for winter. That said, I do have the same enthusiasm for chinese salt and pepper anything.

  15. Barbara says:

    I’m a summer person. If we had snow I’d like winter more. Cold and rain is no fun at all. I do love autumn though.

    Jen the black square it a brand I could buy here. I’ve been looking for one black and on white just like it. I’v checked all the Asian stores in my area without luck. I’ve thought about having them made to order by a potter.

  16. Christine says:

    I generally love the winter. I love snow, but man this year in Philly has been less powdery snow, and more grey days plus slush. Slush everywhere! Plus a leaking roof, and well, this winter has not been my friend. Fall and spring though? Favorites.

    I am a pork tenderloin girl myself. I like to pan fry them and make a quick pan sauce with wine, some shallot and a bit of dijon. This will be a nice change up for the New Year. Thanks and Happy New Year to you!

  17. cindy says:

    just reading the words salt and pepper makes my mouth water!

    we’re celebrating in the best way we know how: making and eating food. lots of it! i’m going to ask my mother (nicely) to make salt and pepper something. if not pork, then shrimp for sure, peel intact. and then there’s always the passing of the red envelopes, which my mother always says: “this is the last year!” yet somehow, she continues to hand them out.

    happy year of the rabbit!

  18. Alyson says:

    Mmm. That looks so good!

  19. Lacey @ dishfolio says:

    Yummy! We’d love for you to share your recipes and photos with us at!

  20. Andra@FrenchPressMemos says:

    Fall is definitely where it’s at for me- there is so much beauty in something that is theoretically sad and dark. There is a lot of magic in the colors, the smells, the feel of fall that I am hooked! I see what you mean about winter- having a kid forced me to let go of ‘rules’ about winter and cold that I built in my head the past few years. Now, simply making snow angels even if I can wet and cold makes perfect sense.

  21. Melanie says:

    Happy year of the rabbit and greetings from Shanghai! May you have prosperous, healthy and blissful 2011. I will try this this week! And many thanks as always for your recipes, photos and your time. :)

  22. LimeCake says:

    Winter seems pretty un-Chinese New Year-esque for me. Salt and pepper pork isn’t traditional CNY fare in my books, but this looks delicious! Gong hei fatt choy!

  23. Paulette says:

    It’s cold and gray here, but if the sun would just shine I guess I wouldn’t mind winter so much. But when it comes to seasons I know Fall wins everytime. The food looks wonderful, I don’t eat much chinese food, but since finding your blog I will try it now. That is the nice thing about blogs, all the wonderful and new ideas that are created by people like you. Inviting us to enter your world and stirring our imaginations, adding a little bit of this and that. A unique recipe for our brains to digest, a visual treat for our eyes to behold. Thanks Jen. Happy Year of the rabbit from the Ox. Paulette

  24. Valerie says:

    This looks soooo good! Happy New Year!

  25. Rocky Mountain Woman says:

    I am breaking up with winter….it was 25 below zero F this am at my house.

    Enough is enough! Take your clothes and your books and your cd’s and get the heck out of my house!

  26. thechildcooks says:

    For the Chinese New Year(I am not Chinese) I have convinced my family to have some sort of rice noodle stir fry. Slightly pathetic, but, oh well.

  27. Ruth Ann says:

    Happy Year of the Rabbit! 新年快乐的兔子!
    Interesting to learn about the dangers of squid. BTW, I love your “Winter Love” photo- it captures the essence of Colorado’s winter beauty.

  28. Allison says:

    Heh so… Son wants to know… if he eats squid AND rice cakes, does that mean he’ll get laid off with a good severance package? (He’s sitting right here, saying, “Type it! Ask her!”) ;D

  29. marianne says:

    Looks effing delicious!!

  30. Paul says:

    I just made this tonight and it was excellent! Also it is tasty with a bit of sweet chili sauce for dipping.
    Thanks for all of the great recipes and photos

  31. Shannon says:

    We made this for dinner tonight and it was AMAZING! The whole family loved it and we will be fighting over who gets to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.Thank you for your wonderful recipes, photos and words. Your blog is a big source of inspiration for me.

  32. jenyu says:

    Happy year of the Rabbit, everyone!! :)

    Kristin – we’ve got our fair share of bad drivers here too :\

    kate – I have no idea about octopus… never had it for the new year before.

    Bri – Boulder gets crazy warm spells then 2 feet of snow in springtime too. I feel bad for the plants down there. In my neighborhood – it’s WINTER until June (then it’s MUD season) ;)

    TKW – love you, babe!!

    Melissa – summer here is nice, and mild :) But after 3 months, I’m READY for fall!!

    Barbara – so true. I think cold and rain is a little bit of a downer too :(

    Andra – now you’re talking! :)

    LimeCake – it’s not traditional for us either, but it’s SO GOOD! ;)

    Paulette – xo

    thechildcooks – nice! and you don’t have to be Chinese :)

    Allison – ha ha ha! YOU GUYS crack me up! Don’t eat the squid!!! xo

    marianne – if you’d come home from Antarctica, I’ll make this for you.

  33. Skinny says:

    Really looks delicious….just want to eat them… awesome post

  34. Maddy says:

    I made your salt and pepper pork. I followed the recipe and it was horrible. Very salty and not edible. I double checked the recipe quantities, and made it how you listed it. It still was horrible. We always order salt and pepper from our local Chinese restaurant, and it is sooo much nicer. Sorry but thumbs down on this one.

  35. jenyu says:

    Maddy – that’s interesting, because YOU are the one to determine how much salt/pepper mixture to add at the end. Logic says perhaps use less salt/pepper mixture on the finish if you found it too salty the first time.

  36. megan says:

    hi jen!
    it’s nice to see your chinese food recipes and compare how similarly/different we make things :)
    I loaded up on the filling in my dan jiao when i made it for the past CNY… to my demise, as some of the dan jiao didn’t close up all the way!! greedy me ;)

    i will assume you speak mandarin and type some pinyin here…
    for the jiao yan part, the one time i did make it, I toasted the salt until it was golden browny/ yellow before I mixed it with ground peppercorns. it may a bit more oomph to it!
    mmm…i have some pork loin in the freezer……….. = D

    thanks for the recipe!

    BTW, i’ve always wanted to say ever since I read your ‘about me’- holllaaaaa to a pasadena-ian! I lived in south pasadena before college :)

  37. megan says:

    (or once upon a time pasadena-ian)

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