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fish-flavored pork

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.

pork strips

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

Fish-flavored Pork
[print recipe]

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

fragrant mix
1 tsp chili paste
1 tbsp green onion, minced
1 tbsp ginger root, minced
1 tbsp garlic, minced

finishing sauce
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.

13 nibbles at “fish-flavored pork”

  1. Wendy says:

    Sounds and looks wonderful. Where does the “fish flavour” come from?

  2. peabody says:

    LOL…this is what conversations with my mom are like. “You take enough rhubarb to fill a dish?”…what kind of dish, is the rhubarb cut? And the response is usually something vague like a baking dish and just cut the rhubarb up. It is a sad little conversation. :)
    This looks good, I would have to omit the chili paste(allergic) but everything else sounds wonderful!

  3. manggy says:

    Awesome. In my country, “wood ears” are called (translated) “rat ears.” Still widely used despite the gross name.

  4. jenyu says:

    Wendy – I don’t actually know why it is called fish-flavored (this is something that always puzzled me as a kid). I’ll be sure to ask my mom when I get a chance and let you know.

    Peabody – I wonder how many of us have these experiences with parents who cook? :)

    Manggy – ha ha, that’s cute. They are shaped like little rodent ears (hopefully a lot tastier than rodent ears).

  5. holybasil says:

    This looks so delicious. I wish our neighborhood Chinese restaurant could make a dish like this rather than Orange Chicken. I’ve also had a hard time with cleaning the dehydrated wood ear mushrooms. I hope you can post an image of the package one day. Thanks!

  6. jenyu says:

    holybasil – i see you guys are in Ann Arbor! my pal is moving there in january (she’s gonna be a prof). i spent a summer there when i was a teenager. i don’t remember if there were any authentic chinese restaurants in the area, but there is most definitely a large chinese population… but it’s true that the majority of the chinese restaurants in this country serve up these americanized menus. i really love chinese food for it’s homestyle cooking. hopefully i’ll get off my butt and start cooking more homestyle and posting the recipes here. i’m waiting anyday now for my mom to appear out of the blue and comment on my blog (and tell me i’m doing it wrong) – ha ha ha! ;) with regard to the wood ears, i always throw the packaging away because my grandma loads me up with so many goodies when i fly home from visiting her. next time i’m in California, i’ll look around and try to score a box for you.

  7. Bernadette says:

    LOL! Learning my Mom’s recipes are fustrating too because she cooks by instinct. I have to be there with her in the kitchen to learn her recipes, if I’ve forgotten something, it’s no use calling her on the phone. I have yet to learn her curry paste recipes, but I have now, at 37 years of age, mastered duck and beef salad (larb ped and yum nua). Next on my list is papaya salad (isaan style) and snake bean salad.

    One of Fuschia Dunlop’s explanation for “fish flavour” (from her book “Land of Plenty”) is that it recalls the combination of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavours along with the garlic, ginger and scallions traditionally used in Sichuanese fish cooking. The recipes looks delicious, the pork chops in the freezer are calling out to me!

  8. jenyu says:

    Bernadette – you’re correct about the fish-flavor. I asked my mom yesterday and she said it’s just the combination of flavors (garlic, ginger, scallions, sweet, sour, spice, salt) that is referred to as fish-flavored, but that it doesn’t taste like fish :) Thai food is one thing I wish I knew how to prepare better. I *love* Thai food.

  9. Greg says:

    The basic yuxiang recipe can be used with other stuff as well – aside from Chongqing hotpot (huoguo), my favorite dish in China is yuxiang qiezi – fish-flavored eggplant. Also, as is typical of Chinese cooking, yuxiang sauce varies greatly from chef to chef – I’ve ordered yuxiang qiezi and yuxiang rou si from 4 or 5 restaurants within about 150 meters of each other and they barely resemble each other from restaurant to restaurant. Most of them include lajiao (spicy red peppers of the variety you’ll see at most Chinese restaurants in the States) and/or pickled green spicy peppers to make it a little spicier.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this recipe for yuxiang rou si, Americans need far more exposure to Chinese cuisine beyond the tasty, but typical Cantonese fare at the average American Chinese restaurant.

  10. jenyu says:

    Greg – yes, it varies wildly from kitchen to kitchen. I personally prefer the eggplant to the pork, but the pork version is Jeremy’s *favorite*. I like the la jiao, but always forget to buy them and since I am never without la jiao jian (the chili garlic paste), it’s a handy substitute :) I always regard Cantonese restaurant fare as a completely different cuisine from what I know as “Chinese” food, but… it’s all good! I do enjoy sharing these beloved home-style recipes with others – good to educate, right? :)

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