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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Range's Pork Three Ways with Japanese-Inspired Pork Jus

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 2:35 PM

Phil West of Range.
  • Phil West of Range.
A regular feature in which SFoodie

calls a local chef to ask what he or she is putting on the

menu that night, and

what inspired its creation.

Phil West, chef-owner of the Mission bistro Range, sounds much like you'd imagine he would after reading over his menu: thoughtful and sincere, a man who rewards the person who stops to listen to what he has to say. We'd communicated over e-mail before reaching each other on the phone, and he'd been thinking about which of his new dishes was most appropriate to talk about.

His choice: Pork sausage, glazed rib, braised belly with carrot purée, pea shoots, and pickled shallots ($24). More specifically, one part of the dish.

West: The way we prepare the belly is that we braise it, and the braising liquid that eventually makes it onto the dish is actually my effort to translate a sauce that I used to do way back when. When I moved here in 1996, I used to work at Eos [ed note: West rose  from line cook to sous chef over the course of three years]. There was a sauce called sanbaizu that I always really enjoyed. The chef at the time was Arnold Wong, and he used it in a number of different preparations. Mushroom dumplings were tossed in this sauce, which was finished with some butter ― it was Eos's signature dish. Sanbaizu has a Japanese heritage. It consists of soy sauce, mirin, and rice wine vinegar, and Arnold added some plum wine to it for a little sweetness and fruitiness.

In my preparation for Range, I wondered: How could I translate sanbaizu into more of a European sauce? We don't do anything very Asian here. So I came up with a braising liquid that had some dry, crisp manzanilla sherry; a little Madeira; some dry Dolin vermouth; a little Punt e Mes (a sweeter vermouth); as well as beef and chicken stocks and a whole mess of bay leaves.

In fact, I don't think I came that close to sanbaizu. [Laughs] But there's an interesting play in Asian cuisines between the sensations of sweet, salty, spicy, and sour, and I recreated something along those lines with the bracing dry vermouth and the herbaceous quality of the Punt e Mes. It's not your standard classic thyme, garlic, white wine, and veal stock.

The sauce is really loose and not reduced at all. We just season the raw pork belly a few days before, then put it in the jus, warm it until it's simmering, then throw it in a super-low-heat oven until it's tender. Then

we let it cool off, strain off the jus and remove the fat. It creates a very deeply flavored, yet thin, broth, that's kind of what I was looking for. That's the true tangent! Since the broth is very lean, it works very well with the pork belly [Ed note: The rich cut of meat is crisped up for service.]

We don't mention the sauce on the menu, and yet it's the most thought-out part of the dish, at least to me. That's how I like to operate, to hold a card back so that people are surprised.

SFoodie: Where do you get your pork from?
[Pause.] I get it from a number of people. Right now, it's from Becker Lane, Iowa organic pork.

[Noticing that West's intonation just went from energized to flat] Do you get tired of people asking you where all your ingredients come from? You're talking to the right guy here! If you look online at our menu, you'll see

we never mention farms. Range opened in 2005, and when my wife and I started coming up with the idea behind the restaurant, one of the parameters we agreed on was to never mention farms. We felt it was overdone, even back then. I'm at the farmers' market two to three times a week, and I'm

one of the biggest fans of eating local, but it is redundant, it's annoying, and it can be somewhat scheme-y. There are so many fake farms that you can put anything on your menu. Some of the big beef companies are putting out the exact same beef, just relabeling it "This Creek," "This Meadow." The consumers who come to Range who care [about sourcing], or who ask, we'll tell them. 

Range 842 Valencia (at 19th St.), 282-8283

Follow us on Twitter: @SFoodie. Follow me at @jonkauffman.

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