A River of Stars


20d7ecdcb6799c27991f4e45f43d83acc59d5b0fI learned about this book from an email Random House sent regarding books to look for in early 2019. It must be coming out in paperback, because the library book I read was published in 2018. I love books that plop me right down in a culture that is foreign to me, and this one delivered on that count in spades. Scarlett’s confinement during her pregnancy brought her to Las Vegas, about as far from her native China as she could get. Never one to fit in, even in China, Scarlett was an iconoclast among the other wealthy Chinese women at Perfume Bay, the resort for pregnant women who want their child to have American citizenship. When things took an unexpected turn, Scarlett had to think fast to forge a way forward for herself, and to keep her baby safe. She was joined in her adventures by Daisy, another outcast from Perfume Bay, and a very young one at that. The two wound up in San Francisco, where Scarlett discovered that she could make a living selling Chinese pork sliders on the street. Another entertaining immigrant story, I’m struck by how many women subsist by selling street food.

THE BEAUTY: “She (Scarlett) felt bound to this place and these people. To the gusts off the bay that swirled dead leaves into a cyclone, mesmerizing Liberty (her baby). To the scent of the meltingly soft egg tarts from the corner bakery that Didi would eat by the fistful if allowed.  The groan of the cars laboring up Chinatown’s steep hills. To the early morning sunlight, golden on the eaves and against Liberty’s cheek. The sweet naps and happy squeals in the apartment, the babies tugging toys back and forth, in a family that fit no definition but their own.” Sometimes family is the one that you make.

THE FOOD: Duh. Chinese barbecued pork sliders on steamed buns with plum sauce.

Plum Sauce

This version of plum sauce can also be used as a replacement for Hoisin sauce. Yield: 3 half-pint jars, 24 oz.

1½ C prunes
½ to 1 C water
⅓ C red onion (chopped)
¼ C soy sauce
¼ C honey
3 T rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 T white wine
1 T ginger (fresh grated)
1 small pinch star anise (or cloves; less than ⅛ teaspoon)
Optional: 1 tsp finely chopped fresh chile pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized pot. Start out with the smaller (½ cup) amount of water. Bring the ingredients to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Add additional water only if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pot. Home dried plums tend to be drier than store bought and may require the extra water.

Turn off the heat and let the ingredients cool for 10 minutes. Transfer them to a blender or food processor and puree the sauce until smooth. (Alternatively, leave the sauce in the pot and, after the cooling off period, puree it with an immersion blender.)

At this stage you have a choice: you can store the plum sauce in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or you can process it in a boiling water bath so that you can store it in sealed jars at room temperature for a year or more.

To can the plum sauce, return it to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and spoon the sauce into clean half-pint canning jars. It is not necessary to sterilize the jars for this recipe. Leave ½-inch of headspace between the surface of the food and the rims of the jars.

Press down on the center of the sauce with the back of a spoon to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a moist paper or cloth towel (any sauce stuck there could prevent the lids from sealing.) Process the jars of plum sauce in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Chinese Slow-Cooked Pork Shoulder
Yield: 4 servings

3 pounds trimmed pork shoulder
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3 C chicken broth
1 C dark soy sauce
¼ C packed dark brown sugar
2 T toasted sesame oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic head, halved
1 (2-inch) knob unpeeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced

Rub the pork all over with the five-spice powder and salt. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate overnight. In a crockpot, add the chicken broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper to the slow cooker. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the scallions, garlic, ginger, and the meat, turning it a few times to coat. Cover the cooker, set it on HIGH, and cook for 4 hours. Set the cooker on LOW and cook until the meat is very tender, at least another 2 hours (6 hours total).

Transfer the pork to a platter, cover lightly, and let rest 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the cooking liquid into a measuring cup, skim off and discard the vegetables and fat that rise to the surface. When cooled, shred the pork using two forks.

Chinese Steamed Buns
2 C all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1½ tsp instant yeast
a tiny pinch of salt
1 T sugar, optional
5 fluid ounces of milk, more if needed
1T cooking oil

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using. Add milk and oil. Use the dough hook to blend ingredients. Once blended, knead the dough for 6 minutes on medium. Remove hook, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for around 1 hour or until the ball doubles in size. If you have a proofing option on your oven, use that.

When the dough is double in size, dust the operating board and knead the dough for 3-4 minutes until the dough becomes almost smooth again. Divide the dough into two parts, keep kneading and shape each part into 1 inch thick long log. Cut each log into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball, place on a small piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet, and allow to rest in your proofing oven for about 10 minutes. I used a double boiler, but you can use a bamboo steamer if you have one.

Add cold water to steamer, cover with the lid and bring to a boil. When your pot is ready, cover the lid on the inside with a dish towel so water drops don’t fall on the buns, and place each bun on its parchment in the steamer  Cover with the covered lid and cook the buns in batches, leaving space between them in the steamer for them to rise a bit.

Steam the buns on high heat for around 20 to 25 minutes (depending on the size of your buns).

Remove from the fire and wait for 5 minutes before opening the lid. Serve warm. You can store them over night or freeze them. To freeze, cool them completely, place in an air-tight bag and put in the freezer for no more than a month. Re-steam to soften them before serving.


To assemble the sliders, cut the steamed bun in half, fill one side with shredded pork, cover with plum sauce to taste, use the other bun half to cover, and enjoy.



Kind of messy, but really good. The plum sauce was very different- in a good way, and I’d never had steamed buns before that I can recall, although I’ll bet I’ve had them at Dim Sum. Delicious meal, but a fair amount of work.









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s