Vanessa Tan is relatively new to home cooking, but she has taken to it effortlessly. The content creator has a hugely popular TikTok, @vanessatann, which showcases quick tips and tricks for making any recipe your own. With her Chinese-Canadian cultural upbringing in her back pocket, Vanessa has learned how to mix and match ingredients in unexpected ways while still paying homage to her heritage (and respect to her mother).
How does your heritage or culture influence your home cooking?
Growing up in an east Asian household, I always found cooking intimidating because I thought it had to involve lots of ingredients to taste good. Now that I’ve developed my own cooking style, I know it comes down to the quality of your ingredients — and knowing what mixes and matches — rather than the quantity of ingredients in each recipe.
Does the dish you’re sharing today have a story behind it?
I am sharing a cheesy baked pork chop rice. This is a classic dish if you visit a Hong Kong cafe (cha chaan teng). Growing up, it was (and still is) one of my favorites. As a classic cafe dish, we never actually made it at home, so this is a more grown-up and simplified version (still with ketchup though!).
How would you describe your relationship to home cooking?
I had actually never enjoyed home cooking until this year. For a very long time, I never understood why food aesthetic mattered so much — a salad was just a bowl of raw veggies, and fried rice was just mixed cooked veggies. Now that I have started exploring more, I understand that not only are salads and fried rice much more than just ingredients in a bowl, but their visual presentation helps add to the full sensory experience.
What do you like about cooking with cast iron?
I love that it can go into the oven and withstand high temperatures. The silicone Hot Grips are also so convenient and transferable to the other Our Place products as well.
Are there any recipes or dishes that are just better made with a cast iron pan?
I can’t wait to sear veggies in this pan. Blackened napa cabbage and charred broccolini are next on my list. Making meatballs is also going to be so much easier now that I can sear and pop straight into the oven (one less dish!).
What’s special to you about the cast iron Always Pan?
A cast iron pan is a kitchen staple, so having one that matches my kitchen aesthetic is such a huge bonus. It is also so much easier to maintain and handle!
Tell us about a meal that made you feel connected to your heritage.
The first time I learned to make Chinese steamed eggs was a real adventure. I always thought that it was a simple dish because, growing up, it was a classic weeknight meal my mom would make. I have come to understand it takes a lot more patience and skill than I imagined, but now that I have it figured out, it really is the perfect comforting weeknight dish.
If you could only cook (and then eat!) one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Eggs on rice. You can cook it in so many ways and season it in so many ways. You can get every single type of texture, mouth feel, and flavor!
What was the first thing you learned to cook?
Probably an omelet. (Or, in other words, something very hard to mess up on your first try, because then you can just call it a scramble!)
Vanessa’s Cheesy Baked Pork Chops and Rice
For the pork chops:2 pork chops
1 tbsp. white pepper
1 tbsp. sugar
11 tbsp. corn starch
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup AP flour or rice flour
For the tomato sauce:2 small onions
2 tbsp. water
For rice and assembly:
3 cups cooled cooked rice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
Marinate your pork. Use the back of a knife to pound the pork chops flat. Make your marinade by mixing sugar, white pepper, soy sauce, crushed garlic, corn starch, and 2 tbsp. of water. Marinate pork for 1 hour.
Prep your mise en place while your pork marinates. Dice onions and red bell pepper, and finely mince garlic cloves.
Cook the pork. Coat the pork with AP flour or flour of your choice on both sides. In your cast iron Always Pan, drizzle oil and turn the heat to medium-high. Fry until the internal temperature is 71°C (160°F) and golden brown on both sides, about 6 – 10 minutes.
Remove pork, leaving the browned bits in the pan (flavor!) and slice into 1cm strips.
Preheat your oven to 200°C (390°F).
Make your sauce. Turn the heat down to medium-low and drizzle in some oil. Saute onion and garlic in your cast iron Always Pan until translucent and fragrant (about 3 – 5 minutes). Add in your canned tomatoes, crushing them with the back of your wooden spoon. Add chopped bell peppers, then cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
Season with worcestershire sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, salt and pepper.
Make a corn starch slurry with 1 tbsp. corn starch and 1 tbsp. water. Drizzle into the sauce to thicken it.
Remove the sauce from the cast iron Always Pan and wipe down clean.
Make fried rice. Turn the heat back up to medium and drizzle some oil into your cast iron Always Pan before adding your cooked rice. Once evenly heated through, make an opening in the center and add in two eggs. Scramble eggs gently and then mix the rest with all of the rice until everything is a nice pale golden yellow.
Assemble and bake. With your fried rice evenly spread in the cast iron Always Pan, add your sliced pork chops and top with all of the sauce. Grate a nice layer of cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Optional: Broil for an additional 5 minutes for some extra crunchy cheesy bits.