Cleanin' Out My Cupboards...

I never thought I would see this day. Frankly, it has always boggled my mind a little bit when I read a review of a recipe, especially a recipe that originally aired on television, and the author says something like, "Saw this and ran into the kitchen to make it. Delish!" Honestly, who has so much food in their house that they can watch a random cooking demo on television, then run to the kitchen, pull out all the necessary ingredients, and replicate it at home? Especially when that recipe calls for strange, and uncommon components? Apparently, I do.

Ordinarily, I rarely have food in the house that isn't spoken for in some way. I try not to buy anything that I don't have a specific plan for, because more often than not, it will go bad before it gets eaten. Our household only has two people, and we can only eat so much. Yet, somehow, the stars aligned this week, when I happened to catch a show on the Cooking Channel about Vietnamese food. This particular episode featured dishes from the mountain-dwelling Hmong people of Northern Vietnam, and the host prepared a dish of pork skewers that looked particularly interesting. Justin happened to be in the room watching as well (which is unusual unto itself, since he barely tolerates pretty much all forms of television), and he suggested that we give the dish a try. 

When I headed to the show's website, I realized that somehow, miraculously, we had all the ingredients in the house except for the meat. The original recipe called for pork neck, a fatty cut of meat popular in Vietnam, and I knew there was basically no hope of finding something similar in a regular grocery store around here, so I decided to substitute pork steak. We had the meat sitting in the marinade the very same day.

Now, I do probably have an above average number of southeast Asian ingredients in my pantry, since we seem to have become enamored with those flavors lately. The complete dark-horse for me was that I happened to have an unopened tube of lemongrass paste languishing in my fridge, purchased on a whim when Dominick's was giving out free tubes of different herb pastes to promote the brand that manufactures them. I had narrowed down the decision to basil and lemongrass, and went with the lemongrass because basil is readily available in its regular, leafy form. Plus, we had been making a lot of Asian dishes lately, so I figured I'd be able to find a use for it. Eventually, my instincts proved correct.

Even though we've been eating a lot of Vietnamese-inspired dishes lately, I was not prepared for these pork skewers. The recipe called for a whopping three tablespoons of fish sauce, which may not seem like a lot, until you factor in the fact that fish sauce is the smelliest, most pungent ingredient in my kitchen, and probably anybody's kitchen. Fish sauce is the liquid runoff that is the byproduct of rotting, fermenting anchovy carcasses. It is a very common ingredient in southeast Asian dishes, where a very small amount adds a hit of umami and complexity without overwhelming the dish. Given how bad it smells, I've always been amazed that it manages to fade into the background, but in the case of this marinade, there was simply too much of it.

Justin didn't seem to mind the skewers, but to me, all that fish sauce made them unpleasantly funky. It was really all I could do to finish the portion on my plate. Clearly, I'm not ready for the big leagues when it comes to Vietnamese food.

Still, I'm proud to say that I was able to cook an unusual recipe on a whim, entirely out of ingredients I had in my pantry and refrigerator (sans meat). I never thought I would be one of those kind of people, but now I feel like I've joined some sort of well-stocked pantry secret society. Now I'm left to wonder what else I could make out of the food already in my house -- only time will tell...

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