If plain stir-fry is the least known stir-fry variation in America, then moist stir-fry is the best known. The gooey, tasteless sauces in “Chop Suey” and Moo Goo Gai Pan found in so many Chinese-American restaurants all rely on this technique. Whoever created these recipes obviously had a special affinity for this common technique and used it ad nauseum.
Just as the name implies moist stir-fry (滑炒 or hua chao) creates a dish with a sauce, which is the key to its flavor. Matching complementary sauce ingredients with the main ingredient is important to a successful dish. I cannot tell you how many Chinese sauces have been abused by Chinese take-out restaurants. Hoisin sauce among them has become, I believe, the bane of American Chinese cooking. Search through sample Chinese stir-fry recipes on the Internet and you’ll find plenty that call for Hoisin sauce. It is the base for all the universal and uniformly uninteresting “brown sauces,” which seem to cover so much Chinese restaurant food.
Sauces used in moist stir-fry define regional cooking styles. In Cantonese cooking oyster sauce, abalone sauce or garlic sauce are common. These sauces complement the wealth of seafood, vegetables and game meats of the region. Sichuan cooking uses a variety of hot and spicy sauces, many based on hot bean paste and pickled red chili.
Since most Americans are more familiar with Cantonese cooking, I decided to share a fiery hot moist stir-fry dish from Sichuan called YuXiang Stir-fry Pork (魚香肉絲). YuXiang literally means “fragrant fish”. Although it’s fragrant, there is no fish in the dish. Legend has it that one night, when her husband arrived home early, a devoted, but harried housewife put together a pork stir-fry dish and tossed in some leftover fragrant fish sauce that was lying around the kitchen. The pork was such a hit with her husband that she started using the sauce successively in more and more dishes. And the tradition continues.
The cooking process for the moist stir-fry closely resembles the procedure, which I described in my stir-fry introductory post. Follow the recipe closely and you will create an authentic, spicy and very satisfying Sichuan dish, which will undoubtedly impress your friends.
YuXiang Stir-fry Pork (魚香肉絲)
- 12 ounces pork loin
- 1/3 cup wood ear (木耳) thinly julienned
- 1/3 cup bamboo shoots thinly julienned
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger minced
- 1 tablespoon scallion minced
- 2 tablespoons red chili chopped
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (生抽)
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
- 2 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar (鎮江香醋)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup water
This is a very spicy dish that relies on heat from pickled chili, which can be purchased from Chinatown markets. In Sichuan many cooks would likely double the amount of chili I specified. But you can adjust the amount to suit your own taste.
Cut both the pork and bamboo shoots into thin strips of about 1/8 inch thickness and set aside. Soak dry wood ear mushroom in hot water until soft. Shreds it to about 1/8 inch thickness also and set aside. Marinate the pork for at least about 20 minutes. Mix the wet ingredients of the sauce including light soy sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine, dark Chinese vinegar, and water along with sugar and cornstarch then set aside.
Heat the two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok on high heat until it just begins to smoke. Drop the pork into the wok and quickly stir-fry to separate the shreds. Cook until the meat just turns color, about 2 minutes. Scoop and drain the pork and put in a bowl. Leave about 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok and put the garlic, scallion, ginger and pickled chili in. Stir-fry them for about 30 seconds or until the oil is fragrant. Put in the bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms and stir-fry for about a minute. Return the partially cooked pork to the wok and add the sauce mixture. Continue to stir-fry until the sauce is thickened. Plate and you’re ready to serve.