Monday, November 18, 2013

Smoked Salmon Rousong




I grew up with two freezers in my house. The standard two-door half fridge wedged between the pantry and the stove, and the stand-alone backyard freezer. You know the one I'm talking about. That dusty and cavernous cube lined with clearance meat and month-old mysteries wrapped in aluminum foil. What was the point of that second freezer? Maybe it was prep for a Tropical Depression at a moment's notice; a disaster relief fridge. It was more likely for the ability to always have access to food, purchasing because it is on sale and putting it on reserve for who knows when. Now when I visit my family, they quickly dip their hand in the ice box and reveal something new for me to take home. Laying out packages and Ziploc bags on the table as if it were our next round of Texas Hold 'Em. Finding it difficult to say no to free food, I reluctantly pick one or two items thinking in the back of my mind (and the back of my freezer) that I can one day do something decent with these impulse leftovers.

What I end up taking home is usually manageable; offcuts of ham, frozen shrimp, pre-seasoned steaks, cut up mangoes. No complaints here. But every so often there is that one wild card "there's a reason this is on clearance" item. It's usually a variation of pepper-jack cheese or a preconceived seasoning blend that I'm just not interested in. This time it was a vacuum-sealed piece of smoked salmon, the packaging trying to convince me that it was made in the wilderness. Normally I would decline these last minute offerings, but for some reason I thought this could actually be good (I mean, smoked salmon is usually always good, right?). I let it linger in my fridge for a while and finally decided to shave a few slices for breakfast. 
It was not good.
Did they get the fish mixed up with the wood they smoked it with? Texturally, I don't think I could tell the difference. Maybe they did make it in the wilderness.
As bad as it was, at least it wasn't rotten. My gut will not allow me to throw this away, so in a satisfying rage I hacked at the hunk, pulling it apart into shreds and strands. Now staring at a bowl of sawdust salmon I needed a solution to remedy this nearly inedible ingredient and I don't own any cats. I recalled a popular snack food, particularly in China and Taiwan, called rousong (sometimes just called sung). I've also heard it called meat floss, pork cotton candy and meat fluff. Primarily made with pork, it's also used as a savory topping for congees, porridges and the like. My attempts to replicate this rarely homemade treat began by dry frying the salmon threads in a wok over low heat. I made a quick mixture of shoyu, sugar and fish sauce in a squeeze bottle and gradually added it to  the salmon while constantly stirring to prevent it from burning. I tested the texture as I went, pulling the meat apart with a wooden spoon as it twirled in the pan. After about 12 minutes it felt ready. I let it cool down then transferred it to a container. It's kept in the spice pantry and used most often for impromptu toppings (usually omelettes, salads and noodle soups) or just to snack on while I cook. It's texture is more woody then that of traditional pork sung but I think a smoked pork sung or a ham sung would also be delicious. 

There's always potential even in food you don't like. A grocery mistake can be remedied with innovation. Always think twice (or more) about every ingredient in your kitchen and never buy too much food out of fear of not having it readily available. You might end up with a second freezer.


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