Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes, and Tomatoes

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 01

With fresh ingredients, Mr. Shi's stew of pork, garlic scapes, and tomatoes is magnificent. Mr. Shi got started prepping ingredients and cooking while in the middle of making noodles.

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
5 lajiao, dried red chili peppers, cut in half (with seeds)
250g pork
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped into 1" pieces
2 tsp salt
1/2 medium purple onion, sliced and separated
3 long green peppers (these are spicy), roughly chopped
250g garlic scapes, cut into 2" pieces
250g thin celery, stalks only, cut into 2" pieces

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 02

Mr. Shi cuts off the pork fat and slices the meat into 1/8" pieces.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 03

Here's Mr. Shi's mise en place. The garlic scapes are under the onions, because those will go in together.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 04

In one tablespoon of peanut oil, cook the ginger until the flavor is released. You'll know that's happened when a cloud of intense ginger perfume rises from the wok. If you're standing over the wok with the spatula, you won't be able to miss it.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 05

Then add the dried red chili peppers and cook until they're light brown.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 06

Add the pork and the dark soy sauce, and stir-fry until the pork has become completely opaque and lost its raw pink translucence.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 07

Add the chopped tomatoes and mix them into the pork, ginger and peppers. Add the salt and mix well. (Mr. Shi prefers to use MSG, but we didn't have any in the house.)

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 08

Cover the pot and let it cook for about five minutes, or until the tomatoes have released their juices and the pot is simmering. In the meantime, you can make some more noodles.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 09

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix them together.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 10

Cover the wok and allow the ingredients to simmer together for about 10 minutes, the onions should be tender and translucent, and the scapes and celery should have darkened from stewing in the tomato juices.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 11

The final mix should look like this.

Mr. Shi's Pork, Garlic Scapes and Tomatoes   - 12

Serve over Mr. Shi's noodles.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles

Today we're going to watch Mr. Shi make noodles.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 15

It's pretty easy to find cooking schools in Beijing that will teach you about famous dishes, restaurant food, and specialty cooking. (For a range of perfectly executed traditional dishes, I highly recommend Chunyi Zhou at Hutong Cuisine). But finding someone to teach basic home-style cooking, the kind of dishes you couldn't order in a restaurant without getting a weird look from the proprietor, is a little more difficult. Our friend Mrs. Zhao has been giving Nick and I a primer in the kinds of foods she cooks every day at home, which I've found to be very fresh, seasonal, and completely made from scratch. Prepared or preserved foods are in general much more expensive here than fresh foods that can be picked up inexpensively at the market.

Mrs. Zhao is from a village in Henan, which she says is a place where they eat wheat instead of rice. "In places where people eat rice, there's just rice," she said. "But in places where we eat wheat there's steamed buns, stuffed buns, pancakes, noodles, and more. There's all kinds of things you can do with wheat."

Today Mrs. Zhao's husband, Mr. Shi, came over to make some food. When people come over to show us how to cook something, usually they just start cooking and I try to watch, ask questions and take notes as they go along. But sometimes they just jump in and get to work. Today, for instance, I was just putting the pork in the refrigerator, and I turned around to discover that Mr. Shi had magically generated a ball of dough in the time it took me to turn around.

Mr. Shi's had a lot of practice making noodles, and he didn't bother measuring anything. For anyone else who wants to try it, the recipe involves equal parts flour and water (one and a half cups of each, in this case). No sugar, no yeast, no salt. Just flour and water. Mix it together with your hands until you have a big, soft ball. If it's too sticky, add more flour. Then, proceed like Mr. Shi:

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 02

Mr. Shi kneads the flour by pushing the dough away from himself with the heel of his hand, then lifting it back towards himself and pressing again.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 03

After kneading it as a ball for awhile, he stretches it out and makes it a long, fat snake about the size and shape of a boa constrictor. He continues kneading along the snake in one-hand increments, pushing it away from himself and then back towards himself again.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 04

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 05

He then brings the snake back together into a coil, kneads it back into a ball, then lays the ball out flat on the cutting board. He smears the top with peanut oil, then covers the whole thing in plastic and lets it sit for 10 minutes while he prepares the rest of the food.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 06

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 08

After the dough has been allowed to sit 10 minutes, he slices thin strips off the edge, leaving the rest of the dough covered.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 09

The thin strip is rolled and pulled into a long, thin snake, more like a garter than a boa this time.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 11

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 12

Finally, he flattens the noodle with his thumbs until it's about an inch wide.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 14

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 15

Then he tears the noodles into 3" pieces and boils them quickly until they're tender and chewy but not mushy, about a minute and a half. He boiled them in batches, preparing the next bunch of noodles in the brief interlude while the other noodles boiled. He removed the noodles from the pot with a strainer and plunged them immediately into cool water to stop them from cooking, removing them immediately so they didn't get cold.

Mr. Shi Makes Noodles - 16

The noodles then went into bowls for serving. I'll show you what he did with them in the next post.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Red-Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou)

Red-braised pork, hong shao rou, is a classic Beijing dish. I don't eat it as much as I'd like to because it's excruciatingly fatty, but it's wonderful on special occasions. (OK, the presence of a plate of hong shao rou pretty much creates a special occasion by itself).

Hong Shao Rou - 1

First you take about two pounds of pork belly (with the skin on), cut it into bite-sized pieces of about .75"x.75"x1.5", then you boil them until they change color and turn white, like this.

Hong Shao Rou - 2

Then you put the blanched pieces into an empty wok (it will make its own oil shortly) and stir-fry them. This stage of the preparation is kind of like fighting the Medusa, because you have to hold the lid up like a shield to protect yourself when the pork pieces start to pop and spray hot oil at you.

Hong Shao Rou - 3

In no time at all, the pork will be happily simmering away in its own oil. Don't let your guard down; they'll still pop at you. When they get nice and golden brown around the edges like this, remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Pour off the oil and set that aside, or throw it away if you prefer to use vegetable oil for the next step.

Hong Shao Rou 4

In about two tablespoons of the melted pork fat or cooking oil (peanut, corn, canoloa, vegetable), caramelize two and a half tablespoons of white sugar. This part goes lightning fast, so be careful. The sugar should be golden brown, but not burned.

Hong Shao Rou 5

Cooking sugar is notoriously difficult to time correctly. It's probably easier when you don't have a girl getting all up in your grill with a camera. "Stop stirring, I need a picture!" "It'll burn!" But as always, Nick is a trooper.

Hong Shao Rou - 6a

As soon as the sugar's the right color, put the pork back in the wok and mix until it's covered well.

Hong Shao Rou - 7a

Gather all the meat in the center of the wok. Around the edge add two teaspoons of shaoxing wine, two tablespoons light soy sauce and about 2/3 teaspoon dark soy sauce. This is where it starts to look really delicious, but don't eat it yet; it's not finished.

Hong Shao Rou - 8

Cover the meat with two cups of water. Add a star anise, a bay leaf, half a teaspoon of salt, and a little piece of cinnamon about the size of a pinky nail. Also add 30g of ginger, cut into coins, and a 3" piece of spring onion (white part only). Cover and let it simmer over low heat for an hour. If the water isn't gone by then, uncover it and cook the water off.

ine Shao Rou - 9

Finally, serve this dish with fluffy white rice. (In this case, it was also served with mu xu rou, ie: moo shoo pork, and shredded cold spicy/numbing chicken). This is one of the few dishes where I think rice is actually a better accompaniment than beer. The rice is an excellent match for the heavy, sweet, oily and salty sauce. If it comes out properly, the taste should be deep and smoky, simultaneously sweet and salty with the savory edge of caramelized sugar and crisp, browned pork fat.

Note: There are as many authentic versions of hong shao as there are cooks making it. This one comes from Chunyi Zhou of Hutong Cuisine, who's had the often difficult task of teaching me Chinese cooking for the past six months.