Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sichuan stir-fried green beans with minced pork

Stir-fried beans with minced pork is a classic Sichuan dish. I've seen it on the menu of every Sichuan restaurant I've ever been to and I love it (5 or 6 of them, enough to know it's a running theme). A cracking version at Red Chilli the other weekend reminded me that it was about time I tried to cook it again.

On the couple of occasions I've attempted the dish before the results have been reasonable but I've never quite hit the nail on the head. It's never quite scaled the heights of deliciousness found in a good restaurant version. This time was better, I think I've nearly cracked it so I thought I'd share the recipe.

I did three things differently this time. I used pork belly and minced it by hand, I added shaoxing rice wine and I added a sachet of preserved vegetables. The pork belly was all my idea, but I can't claim credit for the wine and veggies as I perused plenty of recipes online that suggest their inclusion. The resultant method and quantities however are all my own work.

Cutting the meat by hand from a piece really sorted the texture out. You want little tiny nuggets of meat rather than actual mince which will either disintegrate into mush or form longer strands rather than nuggets. I used belly but shoulder would also work as I still trimmed quite a lot of the excess fat from the belly.

The rice wine and preserved veggies provided the depth of flavour and umami succulence (MSG may have been present in the preserved veg) that was otherwise lacking.

In it's original incarnation I think this is supposed to be a vegetable dish with pork garnish, but I upped the meat quotient a bit for no reason other than that I wanted more pork. One strip of pork belly should be plenty but you may want to use less if you are having this as a side dish. At Red Chilli this was our vegetable dish alongside other mutton, chicken and pork dishes so extra pork in the veggies wouldn't really have been necessary. Obviously a little bit of pork in the veggies was necessary, but not a lot. One has to consider arterial health on occasion.

The resultant dish should have an intensely savoury flavour balanced by some sweetness. It should also pack a punch from the chillies and make your lips tingle from the Sichuan pepper. All this, coupled with the fact it will contain lots of pork fat should combine to make it very more-ish indeed.

The more unusual ingredients are readily available in Oriental supermarkets.

You will need

These quantities will serve 2 as a main meal with rice, more as a side dish.
100g piece of pork belly
200g green beans
half a tsp sichuan peppercorns
handful of dried chillis
3 tbsps shaoxing rice wine
5 cloves garlic
an inch of ginger
3 spring onions
2 tbsps soy sauce
white pepper
vegetable oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 sachet of Sichuan preserved vegetable (made with mustard greens I think)

What to do

1. The first step is to prepare the meat. Cut any large quantities of excess fat from your meat, but don't get carried away as you still want it quite fatty.

2. Chop the meat into very small, almost minced pieces. The easiest way to do this is to attack it with scissors for a good five minutes.

3. Put your finely chopped meat into a small mixing bowl and add a good pinch of white pepper, a tbsp of soy sauce and a tbsp of shaoxing rice wine. Give it a good stir and set aside.

4. Top and tail your green beans, then cut them into roughly equal sized pieces. Get a wok on a medium-hot heat with a generous glug of vegetable oil and a tbsp of sesame oil in it.

5. Add the green beans to the wok and fry them until the surfaces start to blister and the insides are cooked but retain a little bite. This should only take 3 or 4 minutes. When they are done remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and put them onto kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil.

6. Whilst the beans are frying finely chop, crush or grate the garlic and ginger (I grated it) and slice the spring onions. Crush the sichuan peppercorns lightly in a pestle and mortar (if you haven't got one just bash them up a bit with something heavy on your chopping board). Open the sachet of preserved vegetables and have the dried chillies, soy sauce and rice wine to hand. Make sure all of this is done before the next step, as the rest of the cooking process takes only 4-5 minutes so you need to have everything ready to throw in quickly.

7. After the beans have been removed keep the wok on the heat and add the pork. Stir-fry it for a minute or two, don't worry if it sticks or catches as the crusty bits are delicious.

8. Add the handful of dried chillies and stir-fry for another few seconds, then add the garlic, ginger and sichuan pepper, then stir-fry for another minute or so.

9. Add the sachet of preserved vegetables and the beans, then stir-fry for another minute or so.

10. Throw in a good glug of shaoxing rice wine (about 2tbsps) and a glug of soy sauce (about 1 tbsp) and fry for one more minute.

11. Garnish with the spring onions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

...and finally, apropos of nothing other than to cheer me up here are a couple of photos taken in the Dales on Sunday. Just a little reminder that we do have blue skies from time to time in dank, dark November.

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