Char Siu Pork in Lettuce Cups Served at a Launch for “Farm to Table”
It was the year 2005. In search of a geographical cure with an escape to the bucolic countryside, I moved lock, stock and barrel from the big smoke of downtown Toronto where I had lived and worked for 30 years to the small rural Ontario town of Stratford – the land famous for swine and Shakespeare.
I scouted out this community alone and almost in secret (none of my friends or family could believe that I, an obviously urban, urbane woman would carry my cockamamie plan to fruition) on free weekends throughout one summer (this is important – read on) staying overnight in a nice motel and dining in several of Stratford’s above-average restaurants.
The thriving restaurant scene is one thing that attracted me to this Perth County town. Spawned, manned and womanned mostly by the many graduates of the well-known Stratford Chefs School founded 35 years ago, there are many diverse eateries offering food from pizza to poutine to polenta – most of them good or great.
Another was the general culinary scene populated by organic farmers, church suppers, pigtail dinners and specialty food shops. As a food writer and broadcaster, there was plenty for me to explore.
Now to explain why I only lasted four years – and I struggled to last that long.
I say I scouted out Stratford in summer – my bad. Bathed in sun and warmth, the place is downright picturesque during that season. It’s also alive with tourists taking in plays at the several theatres around town. It’s peopled with happy visitors enjoying a picnic on the grassy, sun-dappled banks of the swan-bedecked river. The restaurants are full with diners washing down dinner with a nice glass or two of wine.
In winter, it’s in the thick of the snow belt. Nary a tourist to be seen. The theatres are in hiatus. In other words, a bleak, lonely, isolating place. Not ideal for a big city girl who feels safest amidst buildings and human beings.
My brother, who lived in Montreal at that time, said it best. Dropping in for a few days to stay with me, he said these words: “It’s so quiet here, I can’t sleep.”
Andrew Coppolino lives near Stratford in Kitchener-Waterloo. He’s a food writer and columnist for CBC radio in the Twin Cities. He’s a cheerful, intelligent, affable soul who is quite content living in those conditions. In fact, he’s an enthusiastic, unofficial ambassador for his region.
I met him recently in a coffee shop in Kitchener. He explained why he rose to the challenge of touting his home and environs’ culinary virtues by penning a book called “Farm to Table: Celebrating Stratford Chefs School Recipes & Perth County Producers.”
The subtitle says it all. The blurb in the book about Andrew says the rest: “… he believes a strong food landscape requires imaginative and technically proficient cooks, creative and forward-looking restaurants, and consumers who are knowledgeable about the art, craft and economics of the industry.”
Here is one of three recipes I tried from the book – all with success. Testing note: I halved quantities of the Slow Braised Lamb Shanks and of the Cheese Biscuits.
Char Siu Pork Shoulder
This recipe is from food writer and ace cook Kathleen Sloan-McIntosh who opened the Black Dog Village Pub and Bistro in Bayfield in 2005. She uses boneless pork shoulder from Gerhard Metzger of Metzger’s Meat Products in Hensall, Huron County for this delicious Chinese-inspired dish that makes its own barbecue sauce. Serve it in lettuce wraps or simply serve with rice or on top of mashed potatoes.
4 lb (1.8 kg) boneless pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, cut into 2-inch (5 cm) chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup hoisin sauce
¾ cup liquid honey
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup shaoxing (Chinese cooking wine)
2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
2 tbsp fresh gingerroot, grated
8 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ tsp red chili flakes (optional)
Finely chopped green onion
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).
Add pork chunks to large ovenproof baking dish along with olive oil and sliced onion. Add salt and pepper; toss together thoroughly. Cover dish snugly with foil. Place in oven; bake 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in small bowl. Remove pork from oven. Add sauce mixture to pork and stir to combine. Return to oven; bake another 30 minutes. Give pork another stir; return to oven for another 30 minutes. Test a piece of the pork – it should be tender but not falling apart. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped green onion and serve with Boston lettuce on the side for wrapping. Or serve with rice or mashed potatoes.
Makes 6 to 8 main course servings.