Do you remember in March I let the garlic in my kitchen sprout? Yes, it’s been almost three months and no news about the shoots. I am guilty of being neglectful with you, my readers. The fact is I’ve harvested the garlic shoots (蒜苗) twice but I was not motivated enough to record the events. This weekend however I collected another batch of these flavorful young shoots and made the classic Twice Cooked Pork (回鍋肉). This time I am determined to share the marvelous herb and dish with you.
Garlic shoots are the very tender young greens sprouting out from common garlic. They have the same distinct pungent garlic taste but are sweeter and not as strong as the bulbs. They are used throughout China in many different types of dishes. But somehow Sichuanese have a special fondness for them. Many traditional Sichuan dishes incorporate garlic shoots as a flavoring agent. Dishes such as Stir-fried Dried Tofu with Garlic Shoots (豆干炒蒜苗), Stir-fried Cured Pork with Garlic Shoots (蒜苗臘肉), and dare I say, Stir-fried Dog Meat with Garlic Shoots (蒜苗燒狗肉). But the best-known classic dish that relies on garlic shoots is non other than Twice Cooked Pork. This dish relies on Sichuan hot bean paste and sweet wheaten paste for the sauce, and garlic shoots to round out the spicy pungent taste.
Twice Cooked Pork was introduced to America during the 1970’s when Sichuan and Hunan dishes were first made available. Then as now, most restaurants use hoisin sauce instead of Sichuan hot bean paste and sweet wheaten paste. Hoisin sauce was readily available then but not the others. The use of hoisin sauce in this classic dish is the origin of many of the brown sauce dishes we now find in so many takeout Chinese restaurants.
Twice cooking is a generic term for a cooking technique. The name “twice cooked” refers to the fact that meat is precooked before being stir-fried. This technique is excellent for making use of tough meat in a stir-fry dish. For best results it is common to use cuts of meat with high fat. The most often used meats are pork belly, beef shin, and lamb leg meat. The meat is precooked by boiling in water until tender, cooled, cut into very think slices and then used in the final stir-fry.
The recipe that follows is the traditional method for making twice cooked pork. Regular cabbage and garlic shoots are two main ingredients. Although I’m sure you will have no trouble finding cabbage from your local markets, I doubt you will be able to obtain garlic shoots readily. They are not even available in New York’s Chinatown. That is why I often plant them so I can enjoy this classic dish in its most authentic form. But if growing garlic and waiting for three weeks to harvest the shoots is not your cup of tea, I encourage you to substitute scallion for garlic shoots. There will be a slight difference in the taste but the result will still be delicious.
Twice Cooked Pork (回鍋肉)
- Preparation time: 15 minutes
- Slow cooking time: 45 minutes
- Rapid cooking time: 10 minutes
- 1 lb. pork belly
- 8 ozs. cabbage
- 2 ozs. garlic shoots (蒜苗) or scallions
- 1 red chili thinly sliced diagonally (optional)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan hot bean paste (辣豆瓣醬)
- 2 tablespoons sweet wheaten sauce (甜麵醬)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Put the strips of pork belly in a wok or a pot and completely cover the meat with water. Bring the water to a boil and immediately turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook the meat for about 45 minutes. Skim the scum that forms on the top regularly as the meat is being cooked. Drain the pork and let cool. Cut the pork into very think slices of about 1/8 inch thick and set aside.
- Cut the cabbage into pieces of about one-inch squares. Cut the garlic shoots into one and a half inch long pieces. Mix Shaoxing cooking wine, Sichuan hot bean paste, sweet wheaten paste and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
- When you’re ready to stir-fry, heat the vegetable oil in a wok until just beginning to smoke. Add the cabbage and stir-fry for about 4 minutes. Be sure to keep stirring so as not to burn the cabbage. Remove the cabbage from the wok and set aside in a bowl. Put the sauce mixture into the wok and stir-fry for about 30 second or until fragrant. Add both the pork and cabbage into the sauce and continue to stir-fry for another 2 minutes or so. Then add the garlic shoots and stir-fry for additional 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and add the red chili if using. Plate and serve immediately.