Recipe: fish-flavored pork
Fish-flavored pork is the translation for yu-shian ro-tse, a tangy and spicy Chinese stir fry of pork, water chestnuts, tree ears, and other fragrant ingredients. My mom makes this dish to perfection with her hands tied behind her back. Whenever we would go home to visit my parents, or if they came to visit us, they would invariably end up cooking a feast of our favorite Chinese dishes (and for Dad, he would do his western specialties like Bouillabaisse or roast rack of lamb). This happens to be one of Jeremy’s favorites. My mom is the type who, once she learns what your favorite foods are, will do everything in her power to make those for you. Got a little strange when she got me and Kris mixed up and kept buying gallons of cranberry juice for me when I’d come home from college!
One day, I thought to ask my mom for the recipe. Nothing is ever measured out in my family and documenting a recipe is an even more ludicrous concept. It’s all intuition with them because they’ve been cooking for decades. So I’ll sit on one end of the phone while mom says things like “a little sherry” – “well, how much sherry?” or “and some green onions” – “how many green onions?” I know I don’t cook this as well as my mom does. It will take a few decades to dial it in the way she has, but every time I make the dish I think of her and I feel a small tug from inside pulling me in the direction of my culture and my mom.
tree ears, a.k.a wood ears, a.k.a cloud ears
If you can score fresh tree ears from an Asian or gourmet market, that’s a nice thing to get a hold of. Otherwise, you are left (like me) with dehydrated tree ears. They come in many different packages – some already sliced, some whole. My biggest “avoision” of tree ears stems from the copious amounts of grit and sand that have to be washed and rubbed off after they are rehydrated. Not a fun task. That is, it wasn’t fun until my grandma found a terrific brand at a local Vietnamese shop in California. The tree ears are clean, whole, and pressed down into a tiny packet the size of a compact flash card! I have a stash of about 20, but if I ever find the original packaging, I’ll try to get a picture for reference.
garlic, green onions, ginger, water chestnuts, tree ears
For the pork meat, I used to buy pre-cut strips of pork at the Ranch 99 in Arcadia – that was when I lived in So Cal. Now, I purchase boneless pork loin chops and trim and cut the meat myself. The strips should be similar in size to the water chestnuts and tree ear strips. That’s the thing with Chinese cooking – lots of uniformity for the stir-fry to work properly.
adding cornstarch, soy sauce, water, and sherry
I used to buy just any old cooking sherry for my Chinese cooking. Then one day while my parents were visiting me in California, my Dad was walking me through the Chinese grocery store and picked up a bottle of Shao Xing Chinese cooking sherry. He looked at me and asked, “Is this what you normally use?” I told him no, that I normally used generic California cooking sherry. He made a face as if he had just bitten into a lemon. “Don’t use that! Baba will buy you a bottle – you need to use this,” and he held it up for me to commit to memory and then placed the bottle in the cart before veering toward the live seafood.
stir fry the pork in some vegetable oil then remove from the pan
There is a lot of flexibility to this dish in terms of how much pork you want versus how much vegetable, or how sour or spicy. Play around until you find the right combination to suit your tastes. I actually prefer more vegetable than pork, but make this dish infrequently enough that I *forget* to increase the veggies.
sauté the garlic, ginger, and green onions with some chili garlic paste until fragrant
add the water chestnuts and tree ears
I like this dish in winter because in summer, I sweat like a pig over a hot stove (and we don’t have air conditioning). It is perfect with a bowl of steaming hot rice. Another variation is fish-flavored eggplant, which is also terrific. I’ll try to get around to documenting that this winter – I actually like it more than the pork version.
like being home again
1/2 lb. pork meat, julienned
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 can water chestnuts, julienned
1/2 cup wood ears, rehydrated, cleaned, and julienned
mix with pork
1/2 tbsp sherry
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tbsp water
1 tsp chili paste
1 tbsp green onion, minced
1 tbsp ginger root, minced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp sherry
1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
2 1/2 tbsps water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
dash sesame oil
In a bowl, combine the pork and “mix with pork” ingredients. Combine the ingredients for the finishing sauce in a bowl and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a high-sided frying pan or wok on high heat. Add the pork when the oil is hot and sauté until pork is cooked. Remove the pork from the pan (reserve in a bowl). Heat another tbsp of oil in the same pan and when hot, add the fragrant mix and sauté for a few minutes until… fragrant. Add the water chestnuts and wood ears and stir-fry for a minute more. Add the pork to the pan and continue to stir-fry. Add the finishing sauce and stir until it thickens. Remove from pan and serve hot.