Dragon Boat Pork & Rice

I really, really wanted to make zongzi this weekend.

It’s a very traditional holiday food for the Dragon Boat Festival holiday– rice and meat steamed in bamboo leaf wrapping. Talk about comfort food! There’s something about bread and meat wrapped together that’s simply amazing… from tamales and corndogs to dumplings and calzones. Forget sliced bread, these are the best inventions. I will draw the line at stuffed-crust pizza, though. That’s just wrong.

But the problem with zongzi is that there’s just so many steps. My local friend’s mother makes zongzi to sell for a living, and she gets up at 4am and spends at least 4 or 5 hours to make a big batch. Well, I was determined to do it differently. Surely I could single-handedly change what generations upon generations have developed, right?

I couldn’t even get through the grocery store. Apparently, it’s more difficult for me to find bamboo leaves in Taiwan than it would be for me to find in Los Angeles. Unless, of course, I’m locally Taiwanese. My friend told me that in general you’d just have to go to various stores here and there to pick up all the ingredients, or go to a local wet market. But this was supposed to be a time-saving version of the recipe!

So in the spirit of East-Meets-West I present a completely different infusion inspired by the filling used to make zongzi during the Dragon Boat days. Really, it’s its own meal entirely.

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White rice, prepared
1 kg/2 lbs. pork shoulder
Spice rub:
– 1 tbsp. salt
– 1 tsp. black pepper
– 1/2 tsp. anise seed
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1/2 tsp. grated ginger
– 1/2 tsp. five-spice powder
– 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp. ground Szechwan peppercorns (or 1/8 tsp. cayenne powder)
1/4 cup beer
1 cup shelled peanuts
2 tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
1 large white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups shitake mushrooms, diced
1 cup bamboo shoots
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (or 1/4 cup sake with 1 tsp. sugar)
3/4 cup chopped green onions/scallions
2 boiled eggs, diced

1. Prepare the rice according to the directions.
2. Boil the peanuts for 30 minutes, while you prepare the other ingredients. Drain and set aside.
3. Combine all the spices for the spice rub, and coat the entire surface of the pork shoulder.
4. Use a microwave steamer/dumpling basket to create a pseudo-braised pork. In the bottom of the steamer, combine beer with hot water. Add the rubbed pork fat-side up and half of the diced onions to the basket. Microwave the steamer for 12 minutes.
5. Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a frying pan and sweat the remaining onions for 3 – 4 minutes. Toss in the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Continue frying on medium heat until the mushrooms have shrunk and the onions show signs of browning.
6. Add the soy sauce and mirin, reducing the heat to low and letting the soy sauce simmer for about 5 – 6 minutes.
7. Shred the braised pork, pulling with forks if possible.
8. Toss the shredded pork and peanuts into the sauce. Add more salt, pepper, and/or five-space to taste. You’re looking for a sweet but aromatic flavor with a hint of spiciness. If the soy sauce reduces too much, add a drop or two of mirin to loosen it, but don’t go overboard. This isn’t a sauce-y meal and you want enough to coat the meat without overpowering the saltiness.
9. Finally, turn off the heat and toss with the green onions and sliced boiled egg.
10. Serve hot over a bed of white rice.

Makes about 5 cups of Dragon Boat Pork & Rice. That’s a few days’ worth for me, but for big families you’ll have to adjust accordingly!

You’ll notice that this recipe relies on a steamer/dumpling basket that you can microwave. I’ve fallen in love with the way I can make easily-steamed vegetables and meat in minutes, and often much more health-ily! If you don’t get one for yourself, you’ll have to do an actual-to-goodness braised pork, or perhaps stir-fry some ground pork instead, in step 8. Just use the same spices there as the rub, adjusted for taste, especially the salt!

As you can see, this is still a somewhat involved process, but nowhere near the billion-step, multi-hour process of real zongzi. The real stuff uses glutinous rice/sticky rice (needing to be soaked for 3 hours) as well as stews the meat, eggs, and stuffs everything in leaves before finally steaming everything. Phew! This gives you a similar flavor and is better able to be plated, but of course can’t substitute for the real thing. Check out local Asian markets for some prepared zongzi around the end of May, and check out the great variety! This one hopefully will bring you a flavor of Taiwan.

Of course, if you really really REALLY want to make zongzi, here’s some helpful sites: