Saturday, November 22, 2008

Climbing a tree...

Next recipe up in my attempt to cook through Land of Plenty is "Ants climbing a tree".
It's yet another noodle dish, and it's also a classic sichuan noodle dish. These kind of recipes are great, since they're pretty simple dishes without a lot of ingredients or advance preparation, and they're packed with flavor.

In the case of "Ants...", this was about as quick and easy as you can get. The noodles are bean thread noodles, so they don't need to be boiled, just soaked in hot water for about 15 minutes (I guess that's kind of a wash, though, since you're either boiling for 15 minutes or soaking for 15 minutes).

The recipe, like many of the noodle recipes in the book, doesn't use much meat (only 1/4 lb of pork (but I went with ground turkey, since it was on sale)), and other than some scallions that need to be sliced, there's no prep other than measuring out the various seasonings, which include chili-bean paste, light and dark soy sauces, and shaoxing rice wine. Other than some chicken broth (and I admit, I cheated and went with the stuff in a box because I didn't feel like thawing out some homemade), that's it.

I paired the noodles with an eggplant dish I made long ago (see the write up )
The eggplant dish paired well, since the eggplant softened some of the heat of the noodles (which were, like many of the dishes in this cookbook, pretty spicy), even though the eggplant was liberally spiced with chili flakes. Plus, I plain love cilantro, and I made sure to liberally sprinkle cilantro all over.

Overall, tasty, fast, and good on a wednesday night. What's not to like?

Here's the recipe for "Ants climbing a tree":
1/4 lb bean thread noodles
1 tsp shaoxing rice wine (or sherry)
1/4 lb ground pork or beef (or turkey)
peanut oil
3 tsp light soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp chili bean paste
1 2/3 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
3 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced

Soak the noodles in hot water for 15 minutes. While the noodles soak, add the rice wine and a couple pinches of salt to the ground meat, and mix well.

Stir fry the ground meat with 1 tsp of light soy sauce in 2 tbsp oil in a wok (or frying pan) until lightly browned and crispy. Add the chili bean paste, and stir fry until the oil is red and fragrant. Add the stock and the drained noodles, and stir well. Add the dark soy (for color) and season with the remainder of the light soy to taste.

Bring the stock to a boil, and simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated/absorbed. Add the scallions, mix well, and serve.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Belly laughs...

My second Land of Plenty recipe is a recipe for "salt-fried pork". This recipe's important to me, because it's the first dish I've ever made that uses pork belly as an ingredient.

As a properly hip food guy, I know that pork belly is a kind of cool ingredient, popping up in cookbooks, and on menus from places like Momofuku and even the local Jujube. For such a hip ingredient, though, if you limit your shopping to "regular" markets like Lowe's, Harris Teeter and the like, you'll never find pork belly.
It's in that "ethnic" ghetto, where other meats that don't conform to the generic grocery vision live (like liver, or veal breast, or even lamb for the most part). To get something like pork belly, you have to go over to the asian market side of things (although, having never been to an ethnic market that wasn't asian, I can't say if you could find pork belly in a hispanic market, for example). Regardless of where you find it, I think of pork belly as "uncured bacon" or "streak o' lean". The belly I bought just looked like slab bacon (but differently colored, since it wasn't cured), and it had the skin still attached (perfect for cracklings, I guess. I wonder if chinese cooking has those?).

Enough belly talk. My recipe today was salt-fried pork, and it was described in the book as being a very "homestyle" recipe. I don't know enough about homestyle chinese cooking, but it was easy, and the flavors were definitely basic. I was just looking for a pork belly recipe that didn't take a lot of work, since I've had a busy week, and I wanted to be able to bang something out relatively quickly for dinner.

My mis-en-place:

Salt-fried pork
1/2 lb boneless pork belly, sliced into thin 2x3in slices
2-3 baby leeks or 5 scallions, white and green parts
peanut oil
salt to taste
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuanese chili-bean paste
1 1/2 tbsp fermented black beans
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

Heat 3 tbsp oil in a wok or large pan until hot, but not smoking. Add pork and stir-fry briskly for 3-4 minutes, until oil has cleared and pork has lost most of its water content. Add 1/8 tsp of salt halfway thru cooking. Push pork to one side of pa, and tilt pan/wok until oil runs into the space cleared. Drop chili bean paste and black beans into oil and stir-fry for 30 secs until oil is red and fragrant. Mix in pork slices, add soy and sugar, and throw in leeks/scallions. Stir fry until leeks/scallions are just cooked.
Serve over rice.

Of the ingredients, the chili-bean paste is your typical "hot chili deal", but I thought the black beans were pretty unique. I made sure to taste some before I started cooking, and I guess I'd describe them as salty beans with a complex chocolaty flavor. It's hard to nail down, but they're definitely a special flavor. Overall, it was a good quick meal. The girls looked at it in their usual skeptical way, but I thought it was tasty. The leftovers are definitely going to make it to lunch this week. There are a ton (ok, more than a few) pork belly recipes in the book, so this won't be the last time I cook belly, and I'm looking forward to trying other recipes. Once you get past the "belly" name, it's just a fatty cut of meat, and lord knows, things like shank, oxtails, short-ribs and what-not may look or sound gross, but they're all really really good eating, so there's no reason why belly can't slide into that repertoire.

Music to cook by tonight:
Spoon's "The book I write":