Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stir Fry Pork, Cabbage and Tree Ears

Made a stir fry last night. What was interesting about the recipe from Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook, initially, was that it combined pork and cabbage and so ticked my boxes for a winter supper. As I started to prep it I realised that it contained no garlic or ginger, and the only onions were sliced scallions and there was no mention of scatterings of fresh coriander anywhere. The egg noodles were my idea rather than a requirement. All my strong held preconceived notions about absolute requirements for a dish to be chinese proved wrong.

Needed to soak things and marinate things to get the process started. When I announced that I was off to the kitchen to soak some tree ears the man laughed at me. Checked that I didn't really think trees had ears. But I had a packet of dried ones in the larder - so I knew better! Wood ears or tree ears are a kind of jelly fungus that is particularly popular in Szechuan cooking. Used for its texture it is a crucial element of this cuisine.

In the wild the wood ear fungus does strongly resemble an ear, as it forms folds and whorls while it grows on the trunks and bark of mostly dead trees. Like other jelly fungi, it tends to jiggle slightly when fresh or rehydrated, and has a slightly crunchy, slightly rubbery texture which is retained even after cooking. It is relatively tasteless but rather soaks up the liquid flavours of the other ingredients. The Shanghainese Hot and Sour Soup must include shredded wooden ear to have the right texture. Adding wood ear to braised meat dishes enhances the flavor. Using it in vegetarian dishes adds an extra shine to the dish, thickens the sauce and makes everything more flavorful. Magical.

Once the fungi are soaked this is a spectacularly quick dish to make. The only thing I would do differently next time is cut the pork much more finely. I was being lazy and didn't follow the guide to make each piece the size of a matchstick which would really have made this even better because it is about finding the perfect balance of texture to flavour.

Stir Fry Pork, Cabbage and Tree Ears

1/2 cup tree ears - buy them dried in chinese supermarkets
4 large dried black mushrooms, buy them at the same time as the tree ears
350g/3/4lb pork steak
2 scallions
3 tablespoons soy
4 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoon cornflour
1/2 small head of cabbage
7 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
500g fresh egg noodles

Put the tree ears and the mushrooms into a small bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for at least 20 minutes. Cut the pork into shreds the size of matchsticks - put the meat in the freezer first for 10 minutes to make it easier to slice and also ask your butcher to slice it thinly when you buy it. Put the meat shreds in a bowl.

Clean the scallions then slice both green and white parts into slivers approximating the pork slivers. Add them to the meat long with the soy and two teaspoons of the sesame oil and the cornflour. Mix well.

Peel off and discard the outer leaves of the cabbage then slice it into shreds as though about to make coleslaw.

Drain the tree ears and mushrooms. Rinse the tree ears very carefully under cold running water, picking them over to remove any impurities like little bits of wood still sticking to them. Slice them into shreds the same size as the other ingredients. Rinse the mushrooms, remove their tough stems and then shred them. Keep them separate from the tree ears. Rinse the noodles in a colander under a cold running tap to separate them.

Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds then add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil. When it is just at the point of smoking add the cabbage, stir fry for about 45 seconds, then add the salt and continue to stir fry for another minute. Remove it from the pan to a bowl.

Wipe out the wok then reheat over a high heat for a few seconds. Pour in the rest of the oil and, when the first few bubbles appear add the mushrooms. Stirfry for 30 seconds. Add the meat/scallion mix and a tablespoon of water and stir fry till the meat changes colour. Add the noodles and stir fry till all is hot - add a little more water if necessary. Then add the wood ears and stir fry for another 90 seconds.

Finally return the partially cooked cabbage shreds to the pan. Stir fry everything for about 3 minutes till the meat is cooked and the cabbage is still bright green. Turn off the heat, stir through the last of the sesame oil then serve immediately in large bowls.

Utterly amazing.

1 comment:

barb michelen said...
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