I have a love/hate relationship with Chinese food. Or, Chinese take-out to be more specific. The problem with Chinese take-out is that a lot of it is so mediocre. I have often craved the sweet/sour/spicy combination of Chinese food, ordered up a cornucopia of food, only to be mildly disappointed. The vegetables might be too soggy, the crab rangoon might be nothing more than an fried, empty wanton wrapper, or the General Tso’s chicken might leave me with a sick bloated feeling. The phrases “Chinese take-out” and “healthy meal” most definitely don’t go together. I think we can all agree, we order Chinese food when we are craving something cheap, saucy, and inherently not good for us.
But somewhere along the way, I began to realize that my white girl Chinese take-out food experience doesn’t bear much resemblance to how Chinese food is actually supposed to taste. I remember once in San Francisco a co-worker of mine mentioned that the Chinese restaurant near my house actually had two separate menus. One, for the people seeking the “American” version of Chinese food, and a completely different menu in Chinese, for those who want the authentic food.
Well, I am ready to step up my game, and start making higher quality Chinese food. A few months back, I was tasked with making tea smoked duck and discovered a fantastic cookbook called China Moon Cookbook, by Barbara Tropp. Barbara has been described as the “Julia Child of Chinese cooking,” and her cookbook strives to teach Westerners to cook authentic and healthy Chinese food. Prior to her death, Barbara was the owner of a popular restaurant in San Francisco called China Moon Cafe. I was amazed after the first recipe I tried- it tasted like the best take-out I had ever had. I couldn’t believe I had made it in my own kitchen. Today I am going to share my adaption of the recipe for Hot and Sour Pork with Stir-fry noodles and Chard from this awesome cookbook.
Like all good Chinese food, this recipe is made in a wok. The first thing you need to accept before you start cooking in a wok is that there is a lot of prep involved. That is just how it is. Any style of Asian cooking will generally have a lot of vegetables and they all need to be chopped and prepped ahead of time. There isn’t anything overly difficult with this recipe, but it is a little time consuming. This particular recipe also has a lot of steps. Sorry about that, but it can’t be helped. I want to tell you that you can make this in less time than it takes to order food…but that isn’t really true. However, I can promise that the end result is totally worth it and will be 100 times better than any take-out you have ever had.
Learning how to “velvet” pork
I learned a new vocabulary word during this process- “velvet.” As in “velvet the meat.” I’d never heard this phrase before, but upon further research, learned that this is an important part of Chinese cooking. “Velveting” basically means to marinate your meat in a combination of cornstarch, egg whites, wine, and spices to produce a tender or “velvety” texture prior to being briefly fried.
First things first, you will need about a pound of boneless pork loin, cut against the grain into thin, 2 inch strips. Your grocery store might sell pre-cut stir fry pork. That is fine to buy, but if your pieces are cut too chunky, cut them into thinner bite sizes. In hindsight, mine were cut way to thick.
Combine the following ingredients into a bowl for a marinade:
1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce 1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dry sherry 1 tablespoon chili oil
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Combine all ingredients into a bowl, cover, and chill for at least an hour. 3-4 hours is preferable, but if you are like me and can’t plan that far in advance, don’t worry about it.
While your pork is marinating, it is an excellent opportunity to prep the rest of your veggies. Prepare the following, and set aside in separate bowls.
Prepare your vegetables prior to cooking
For your aromatics:
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 of a cup scallions
2 teaspoons Chinese black bean sauce
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Slice a small red onion into half moons and 1 red bell pepper into strips and set aside in one bowl.
Quarter 4 oz. of button mushrooms and set aside in another bowl.
Cut 1/4 pound of rainbow chard into ribbons, and set aside in a third bowl.
The recipe also called for 4 oz of a dried mushroom called a tree ear. I opted to use a few dried shiitake mushrooms instead. Feel free to skip this step altogether if you like. If you want to add in the dry mushrooms, rip them into pieces and begin to hydrate them according to package directions.
Beginning to stir-fry your meat and vegetables
Once you have all of your veggies prepped, it is time to get two pots going simultaneously. First, fill a medium sized pot with water, and bring to a boil. Once your water is boiling, add a package of stir-fry noodles of your choice to the water and boil for approximately three minutes (or according to package directions). The kind of noodle you buy is entirely up to you. Fresh noodles should be located in the section of your grocery store that carries tofu and other vegan style products. There are a million different types of noodles in the world, the type you choose isn’t important. Once your noodles are finished, drain them in a collander and rinse with cold water.
In the meantime, fill your wok with vegetable oil, about an inch deep. Let it heat up to about 350 degrees. The oil probably won’t be ready until after your noodles are completely finished and cooling off. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, dip the tip of your pork into the oil and see if it starts to sizzle. If it doesn’t, wait a little bit longer for the oil to heat up.
Flash fry your pork 20-30 seconds. If your pork pieces are very large you may wish to leave them in the oil a little bit longer. If the pork is still a little bit raw, that is alright. Fish your pork out of the oil and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
Finally, it is time to stir-fry!
CAREFULLY, pour off all but a couple tablespoons of oil out of your wok, and return it to the heat. The oil will be very hot! I dump mine into a large aluminum bowl, and discard it later once it has cooled.
Return your wok to medium low heat, and add your aromatics. Stir for 20 to 30 seconds and then add your onions and bell peppers.
Add the mushrooms, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add in your noodles, and dried mushrooms if using, and toss everything together using tongs.
Add in the chard and cook until it wilts.
While your chard is wilting, make a quick sauce. Combine:
1 1/2 cups chicken stock 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili oil
Add your sauce to the stir-fry and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Add in the pork, and cook until heated through. Test a piece if you aren’t sure. Nobody likes raw pork.
Dissolve 1 tablespoon of corn starch in 2 tablespoons of chicken stock. Stir into your stir-fry until the sauce thickens slightly, about 30 seconds.
Turn off the heat and plate it up!