I regularly browse through the second hand or unsold food magazines at mall stores like “Book Sale” and other shady re-retailers of books and magazines. Sometimes the stuff looks like it might have come out of someone’s garbage, other times they are unsold issues of magazines that somehow make it to the Philippines. At any rate, when the prices of the magazines are PHP100 or below, I stock up, and I don’t mind reading issues that may be as much as a year old… food will still be food. So when I found a nice looking issue of Waitrose FOOD Illustrated (February 2009 issue) the other day, with a fantastic feature section on pork, I snapped it up. And within 48 hours tried one of the recipes entitled “Sweet Soy Pork Hocks” or something rather similar to pata tim served in local Chinese restaurants. It is an INCREDIBLY SIMPLE recipe, and while it can take up to five hours, the results were superb for the effort expended. An instant household favorite.
I purchased two large “patas” or hocks and saved the hooves for another use. The two meaty parts of pork fit nicely into a un-enameled dutch oven that I had, made by Lodge, the cast iron folks. To this I added about a cup of rice wine, a cup of chicken or pork stock, 1/2 cup of kikkoman soy sauce (though a dark soy would work too, maybe just add a little less of it), 4 tablespoons of muscovado sugar, about 8 1/2 inch thick slices of fresh ginger, 5 cloves of garlic smashed slightly, 5 star anise, and several whole dried red Chinese chillies.
I covered the pot and stuck put it in the oven with the shelf set in the middle. I then turned on the oven to 300F and went off to take a nap. About 1.5 hours later, I flipped the patas over, put it back in the oven, then went off to answer reader emails and comments and write a new post. About another hour later, I went back to check it and it seemed to be cooked but not yet soft enough. So I left it in the oven for another 45 minutes or so, for a total braising time of roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes. Next, I removed the cover of the pot and stuck it back in the oven and checked it every 20-30 minutes to make sure it wasn’t getting caramelized too fast and that the liquid was drying up. Turn the patas over once and keep braising with the liquid. When total cooking time hit 4 hours and 45 minutes, it looked brilliant to me, so I removed it from the oven.
About 30 minutes into the cooking, I had a nervous moment when I realized the Chinese rice wine was acidic, and acid and cast iron aren’t a good pair, so I worried that it would be a disaster and I would ruin the pot to boot. But I think the stock and soy were enough to dilute the wine and it turned out fine, and the pot seemed unharmed. Maybe we had a little more iron in our diet than intended yesterday, but that’s okay once in a while. The pata was tender, the sauce almost gelatinous and salty and sweet and flavorful. It had a nice slow spicy twang to it, but not painfully spicy. It was perfect with loads and loads of steamed rice. Serve with some green veggies on the side, to counteract the absurdly cholesterol laden but delicious dish. This would be perfect holiday food if you have guests over; and it can be done and waiting for you in the oven. The meat cost roughly PHP350 along with other ingredients some PHP450 total, and it would serve six people, so it only cost PHP75 per serving. A word of caution: don’t be tempted to speed up the process by increasing the heat. The slower, the better and the more tender the result. Many thanks to commenters on the mechado post that gave me some great ideas like letting the meat come up to heat with the oven, these tips were used in this recipe. :)