Thursday, November 10, 2011

Asparagus in Perilla with Pork Rillettes and Leek Chives

I mentioned previously that I got some "sesame" leaves at Jong Boo market. These are perilla, a Korean relative of the Japanese herb shiso. They taste somewhat of wintergreen or licorice and are about the size of small grape leaves. As soon as I had the Perilla leaves in my hand, I imagined wrapping something in them, and was pleased to discover while googling them that they are used that way in Korea. Since I also just acquired some nice white asparagus, I decided to make some asparagus rolls. I love asparagus for eating and am charmed by the magical way it transforms the smell of my urine. It's amazing how quickly it gets through your system. I've eaten asparagus as an appetizer and visited the toilet between courses a few minutes later and been greeted with the familiar (yet magical) transformation. Charming and intriguing. Nothing else does this to pee that I know of, though I've heard from a few experienced women that a diet heavy in celery improves the taste of semen.* So far I've been unable to confirm this due to scheduling conflicts, and my sole reference book on the subject doesn't mention it.

I like regular asparagus, but for some reason the white stalks are better represented in the produce sections of supermarkets around here. Lately whenever there are both white and green, the green is usually older, with open, drying florets and woody stems, while the white stalks are nearly pristine and closed tight. I have no idea why this is, but if I have a choice I'll take whichever looks better and lately that's been white. The modern Japanese restaurant Macku has an excellent white asparagus custard on its dessert menu, and whenever I see white asparagus in the store I make quiet plans to attempt something like that some day. Today was not the day.

With green asparagus I generally peel the bottom third of the stalks, more if the skin looks sturdy, and nip off the very end of the stalk, which can be scarred or fibrous. The "trick" often seen on TV cooking shows of snapping the bottom quarter of the asparagus stalk off is wasteful and crude. Just peel it like any vegetable and trim the bad part. White asparagus has a thinner skin, but I peeled and trimmed these out of habit.

We had eaten a bunch of braised pork shoulder recently, and there was still some left, so I imagined frying it into a sort of shredded carnitas to accompany the asparagus in the rolls. I still had some of the Korean leek chives (or are they chive leeks?) left, and while they proved underwhelming generally, I thought they could compliment the mild flavor of the asparagus and pulled them out of the fridge.

I got a pot of water boiling, salted it and threw the asparagus in. I figured it would take a couple of minutes, but while that was underway I could make use of the boiling water. Using a skimming ladle, I blanched the perilla leaves in the salted water, then shocked them in cold water to set their color. I did the same to a bunch of the leek chives, after tying them together to keep them in a tidy bundle for easier handling.

While the asparagus was boiling, I sliced an onion into thin rings and started them caramelizing in a skillet with some olive oil. I shredded a bunch of the slow cooked pork into the skillet to cook along with the onions. My plan was not just to reheat the pork but caramelize it with the onions, give it a crisp texture and intensify the flavor of the braising liquid that had clung to the pork. There was enough fat clinging to the pork that it wouldn't be lying to call it rillettes, but I would only do that if I was trying to impress somebody.** 

The pork would take a couple of minutes, so I removed the asparagus from the water and shocked it, then cut it into lengths that would fit inside the perilla leaves. I didn't intend to roll the ends of the leaves over like a burrito or dolma, but I didn't want the asparagus poking out the ends. I also made a quick dressing, a kind of loose aoli with some garlic, mustard, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, honey and Sriracha.

Since the water was already boiling, I got a third use out of it. I threw in some extra salt and a few colorful new potatoes to serve along with the asparagus rolls. The new supermarket had a special on colorful little potatoes, so I bought a bag of mixed hues, golden, blue and pink. They seemed like a good candidate for a side dish and they were small enough that they could boil in the time it took to make the rolls.

When the pork was ready, I made the rolls by laying a couple lengths of asparagus on a perilla leaf, dressed them with the aoli, laid in some of the crispy browned pork and a few of the blanched chives, then rolled them up. For presentation I cut a few of the rolls in half to show off the insides and made a nice pile of them on the plate. By then the potatoes were done, so I drained them and dressed them with the remaining aoli, black pepper and some of the chives, chopped fine, then set them on the plate and garnished with a couple of bright red olives. I was happy with the jolly look of all the different colors rumbling around on the plate. Reminded me of childrens' building blocks or Legos or something. Do they still have Legos? They must.

About the rolls, Heather ate them but said they were "a little thing, not a meal." She's right, I should have served them with something else, like a soup or a cutlet or some other more substantial item but I didn't think of it until she mentioned it.

It's honestly amazing about the pee.

* I don't even need to say it really.
** I am trying to impress you.


  1. good fucking zombie jesus.... a semen cook book. steve you just ruined custard for me.

  2. It's "Legos", and yes, of course they do.

  3. Chips, of course it is. Ninja edit.

  4. Hi Steve. Enjoying your blog. Ever read "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Garcia Marquez? He describes one of the characters enjoying “the immediate pleasure of smelling a secret garden in his urine…purified by lukewarm asparagus.” Damn straight.


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