G2 recipe swap: Lionel Shriver cooks chilli-chilli bang-bang (spicy pork with garlic and walnuts)

'I'm sorry, but I can't eat this." Thus my friend R stared miserably at her plate when I last made my favourite pork stir-fry. It bristled with a menace of dried chillies. Managing only a forkful, both my guests spent that "meal" fantasising about the large bar of chocolate that would sustain them back home. I should have felt bad. Well, I did, really. Still, as I scarfed down my second helping, I couldn't help but think: all the more for me!

I'm not a subtle person, and I cook the way I write. In the kitchen or at a keyboard, I push flavour towards an absolute limit. Food, like fiction, should leave an after-burn. As a good novel should make you cry, so a good main dish should make your eyes water and your nose run.

In neither books nor cookery is Shriver nice. I would no more concoct a bland, cautious dish with half a teaspoon of rosemary and a "pinch" of cayenne than I would write a novel about a kind lady who knits and her exciting trip to the post office. Although the hands-on physicality and instant gratification of cooking provide a merciful antidote to a mere-words manuscript of two years, both projects hew to the same directives. They both benefit from the drama of the triangle. They should both lead with a dominant theme. And both food and fiction should knock your socks off.

As I measure chillies by the cup, I measure garlic by the bulb. Indeed, let's now dispel three widely cherished culinary myths:

1) Garlic ruins your breath

Rather, raw garlic ruins your breath. When completely cooked, garlic is no more antisocial than a cucumber sandwich. The technique described in the adjoining recipe, which partially steams the slices under a pot lid at super-low heat, allows for bunging garlic by the bulb into a host of recipes that call prissily for one to two cloves. When it's lolling and sticky, there is no such thing as too much garlic.

2) Pork must be completely cooked

Trichinosis was a terror of my mother's generation. Unless it's slow-cooked until falling apart, well-done pork is disgusting. Its fibres seize like a woollen jumper washed at 60C. Rare pork is relaxed. For this recipe, it's crucial to pull the wok from the fire before your meat goes tight, grey, and hostile.

Another note on the meat. For exquisitely thin slices, freeze it first. Thaw it for two to three hours, and slice it while still half-frozen. The tender results belie the lowliness of pork shoulder, a rubbish cut often selling for as little as £2 a kilo.

3) Rice requires a water-to-grain ratio of 2:1

And you wonder why your rice is always mushy. Directions on rice packets are barking. Opinions on the economic downturn may come and go, but here's some information in a newspaper that's truly life-changing: one cup of short-grain brown rice takes 1½ cups of water; one cup of white rice, a scant 1⅓ cups. My mother has never got with this programme, and at family gatherings my brother or I will sneak to the cooker and scoop two-thirds of a cup of water from her rice pot. She's never been the wiser.

Now, the average Brit is a total wuss about spicy food. Even if you cut the chillies here down to two shrivelled brown pods that have mouldered in your cabinet since before New Labour came to power, you'll still have guests filing lawsuits. But chillies are like exercise. The more you eat, the more you can eat. No pain, no gain! So roll up your sleeves, and give yourself a workout.

Try out the recipe for Lionel Shriver's chilli-chilli bang-bang (spicy pork with garlic and walnuts)

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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