Pork Parcels Stuffed with Star Anise Apricots and Cashews
Monday, July 12, 2010
Do you ever get the feeling that you have a sixth sense about food? Or that ... your palate talks to you? I get that feeling sometime. It normally happens when I'm in the kitchen, rummaging through cupboards, trying to plan out my menu and I see something and a spark ... er, sparks, in my brain & suddenly I'm bombarded with a thousand different combinations of ingredients that I could whip up to make a dish.
This is what happened while eating some dried apricots yesterday. Mmm, I thought, these will be good with pork. Mind you, this isn't a radical combination. After some research I realize that pork and apricots have been paired together in countless dishes. But what is radical is that this was only the second time I had ever had them. For me to instinctively know what they could be paired with is a bit ... weird but cool.
To make a long story short, I kept gnawing (metaphorically) on this idea of pork & apricots. Mmm, maybe with some star anise, I said to myself, thinking the complimentary colors would look good on a plate. Suddenly, a dish was born: Pork Parcels Stuffed with Star Anise Apricots and Cashews.
Today was D-day, as it were & I made the pork parcels using pork fillets. After pulsing the cashews in a blender (which was a mistake, I think, because they tended to lose some of their flavor) I brushed each fillet with olive oil, sprinkled some of the cashew crumbles on the pork and then topped with the dried apricots.
Tip: when cooking with dried food, remember to allow to soak in nearly-boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also soak them in wine or liquer. To bring in that smoky, licorice flavor, I dropped a few pieces of star anise in and allowed it to fuse with the water.
To bind the parcels, I simply pierced with a skewer and dusted with brown (demerera) sugar. Placed them on a lightly greased baking tray and poured the water over them and allowed to bake in the oven for 25 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius (350 F). While that was happening, I whipped up rice with mushrooms and a steamed broccoli, green bean and carrot mix.
When the parcels had finished cooking, I moved them onto a plate to rest, deglazed the pan and poured the contents into a saucepan. I simmered the mixture until nearly boiling, removed from the heat and stirred in two ounces of ruby port. Finally, I added a few sprinkles of all-purpose/plain flour to thicken and served.
I think the best thing about this dish is the combination of flavors. You have that unmistakable earthy pork with the sweetness of the brown sugar married with the plump fruity apricots and the subtle nutty cashew coming through. The port works well to balance them all and to bring out those earthy pork flavors as port tends to have that distinctive bite, a little stronger than wine but no more assuming on taste.
Next time I make this, I'll be sure to soak the apricots in port instead of water to really bring out the flavor of the port throughout the entire dish and to keep the cashews whole or halved at the very least so they don't forfeit any of their flavor. I might consider substituting the cashews for another nut. Perhaps an almond.