Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stir Fry Pork and Green Peppers

This comes from the new book by Fuchsia Dunlop, The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, that I bought recently and have fallen in love with. She is an extremely talented cook and conveys her huge knowledge of Hunanese cooking easily and with great authority. What I love most is learning to cook - successfully - a different kind of cuisine using unfamiliar ingredients. It is so easy to repeat dishes that you know and like and stop looking for inspiration elsewhere. Unfortunately that leads inevitably to that nightmare scenario of reducing life to seven dishes endlessly repeated every night so if it's sausage and mash it must be Tuesday. Don't want to go there.

With food from this region of China I know where I'm headed because I've eaten a few times at the wonderful Hunan restaurant in Pimlico. It helps enormously to have that sense of direction but this is a complex and sophisticated cuisine and you can't hope to understand it without guidance. I have never been able to accurately reproduce these dishes at home which is frustrating because it is some of my favourite food. So it's a great thrill to be able to use tofu and fermented black beans and make an intensely flavoured supper redolent of pleasurable nights out. You will definitely need to visit a Chinese supermarket for some ingredients like fermented beans - they are different to black bean sauce - but that just adds to the adventure.

Farmhouse Stir-fried Pork with Green Peppers

250g/9 oz Green peppers
50g/ 2oz belly pork or streaky bacon
200g/ 7oz lean boneless pork
1 tspn Shaoxing wine
1 tspn light soy sauce
1/2 tspn dark soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tsp black fermented beans, rinsed
1/2 tsp potato flour mixed with 2 tbspn of stock or water (optional)
About 3 tbspn groundnut oil or lard for cooking

Cut off and discard the stems of the peppers, and slice at a steep angle into 3cm/1 1/4 inch chunks. Cut the belly pork and the lean pork into fairly thin slices; set aside the belly pork. Add the Shaoxing wine and the soy sauces to the lean pork and mix well; set aside.

Smear the wok with a little oil or lard and heat over a medium flame. Add the peppers and stir-fry, pressing them against the side of the wok with your wok scoop for about 5 minutes, until they are fragrant and tender and their skins a little golden and puckered. Remove the peppers from the wok and set aside.

Remove any pepper seeds from the wok, and re-heat over a hot flame till smoke rises, then add 2 tablespoons of oil or lard and swirl around. Add the belly pork and stir-fry until the slices are tinged with gold. Toss in the garlic and black beans and stir-fry briefly until fragrant then add the lean pork. When the pork has almost changed colour and lost most of its water content, return the peppers to the wok and continue to stir-fry for another minute or so, adding salt to taste.

If using the potato-flour mixture - it gives a nice professional gloss to the finished dish - give the mixture a stir and tip it into the wok at the final stage, stirring just long enough for the sauce to cling to the meat.

Serve over fragrant basmati rice.

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