All-Purpose Pork and Pickled Green Bean Stir-fry (Rou Mo Jiang Dou)
If Larb Were Sichuan~~
As you all know, I did not grow up in Sichuan watching my mom cook dinner every night and learning her secrets for family-style, home-cooked food, and neither, for that matter, did Fong Chong. Therefore, the Sichuan food I know and try to recreate here is generally restaurant dishes. Some of them are rather quick and easy, but most are not. However, we do cook quick-and-easy Sichuan food in our house, and this is one of those homey, any-night recipes I’ve learned on my own.
Rou mo jiang dou, or ground meat long beans, springs from the home pickle crock of lacto-fermented vegetables, or pao cai, the details of how to make I covered in my previous post. With naturally fermented long beans (or green beans) at the ready, along with pickled red Sichuan chilies and perhaps some pickled Sichuan peppercorn, as well as ground meat—pork or chicken—this simple stir-fry is made in no time.
We serve it as is on rice or wrapped in lettuce cups for a Sichuan-style larb—though Sichuanese would never use that word. (It actually annoys me when people appropriate the name of a dish for something that’s not really that dish, but sometimes you just need some shorthand description.) If you eat Lao, Burmese or Thai larb, then you’ll get what this dish is about, even though the pork is seasoned completely differently and pickled green beans stand in for the fresh herbs. Having said that, my recipe includes one ingredient—fried whole garlic cloves—from my favorite Burmese larb recipe. I just love the big chunks of golden, sweet garlic in the mix with the tart pickles and savory pork.
Rou mo jiang dou also is very similar to the topping for jiang dou zajiang mian, or green bean zajiang noodles, a recipe I tackled a few months ago. So what more could you want than a quick-fix topping that works for rice, lettuce or noodles?
As a quick aside, Fong Chong and I recently went on at great length (28 minutes to be exact) about cooking and eating Sichuan food at home in a podcast we did together for the Southern Foodways Alliance. The podcast is about how she adapted to America after being adopted by a white family in the South when she was 11 years old. Any of you who have followed us for a while will not be surprised that her biggest hurdle to happiness has been American food. If you’re interested in our story, this is the definitive telling, because Fong Chong gets to speak for herself about how she has gone from shunning all American food to gradual acceptance of various American immigrant cuisines, while remaining fiercely loyal to her own cuisine.
By the way, if you don’t know the Southern Foodways Alliance, based at the University of Mississippi, it is one of the premiere food organizations in the country, both scholarly and downhome, producing “stories of the changing American South told through the foods we eat.” The folks there have won numerous James Beard awards for both their print magazine for members and their podcast, which is free to everyone. I am truly grateful to them for inviting us to be a part of their world and letting us tell our story.
Now back to the pork and pickles!
I actually like this dish with either pork or chicken. But it’s important that you use lacto-fermented pickles for this recipe, not vinegar pickles. Fermented pickles taste like sour versions of themselves, while a vinegar pickle would bring a whole other taste to the proceedings.
While I think of this as a home-style dish, I heard from a really interesting reader recently (actually, all my readers are interesting I’ve learned) that he made a version of this for years as a cook in Sichuan restaurants in Santa Cruz, California. David Stilley wrote me with his thoughts on pao cai and this pork stir-fry, which they made with cabbage instead of green beans:
“I spent 20 years cooking at four different Sichuan restaurants in Santa Cruz and have served my fair share of Pao Cai Pork over the years. We made a brine of kosher salt and water in a soy sauce bucket and added several handfuls of Japanese chilies and a couple handfuls of Sichuan peppercorns and a bunch of ginger slices. The cabbage and carrots are pickled in pieces about 2″ square for the cabbage and diagonally sliced for the carrots. We minced it up before stir frying with ground pork, a little garlic and a splash of soy-sugar-rice wine brew we used called regular sauce. A 3:1:1 mix we used at all of the restaurants that I ever worked at. The pao cai had to ferment naturally for about a week, after which we stored the bucket in the walk-in. We used the chilies and peppercorns in the dish as well.”
So there’s lots of interesting things here, and they are all in line with my recipes for both pao cai and pork stir-fried with pao cai. Later he added this enticing tidbit:
“We pickled cabbage and carrots for pao cai that were also served with the bo bing (made by pressing two pieces of dough together with sesame oil in between so they can separate easily after being rolled out very thin and grilled. They puff into a balloon and you pop it between your hands and then separate them).”
Unfortunately, I cannot provide a recipe for this bread, which sounds divine. But it’s interesting to know that they served pao cai pork with bread. There’s yet another use for this all-purpose pork-and-pickle dish!
To make pickled peppers, or pao jiao, Sichuanease normally use fresh er jin tiao chilies. But since we don’t have any chilies resembling those in the U.S., I pickle dried er jin tiao and use those. They reconstitute and plump up nicely in the pickle jar, making them more than acceptable for cooking, if not quite as soft-skinned as a fresh one would be. I also use the smaller Sichuan dried chilies in the pickle jar, all of which we sell at The Mala Market.
Rou mo jiang dou also really benefits from a few pickled Sichuan peppercorns, direct from the pickle jar. The pickling mellows them out just enough to where you can eat them whole, so you get the flavor without the numbing knock-out.
- 3 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon Chinese dark soy sauce
- 1 pound ground pork (or chicken)
- 1 head of garlic, separated, peeled and large cloves halved lengthwise
- ½ pound pickled green beans, cut in ¼-inch lengths
- 3 pickled chilies, minced
- 1 to 2 teaspoons pickled red or green Sichuan peppercorns
- Mix sauce in a small bowl, including the light soy sauce, wine, sugar and dark soy sauce. Cut the ground pork into fine mince by running a knife through it vertically and horizontally a few times.
- Heat wok over a medium flame until hot and add about 4 tablespoons of canola or peanut oil, or enough to cover the garlic cloves. When oil is moderately hot, add garlic and fry, stirring frequently, until light golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towel.
- Remove all but 1 tablespoon oil from the wok, and reheat over a high flame. Add the minced meat and stir-fry, vigorously breaking the meat into small crumbles. Cook until the pork is cooked through and most of the liquid from the meat has cooked off.
- Add the green beans, chilies, Sichuan peppercorns and the fried garlic cloves to the pork and mix well. Add the sauce and stir-fry until all is blended and hot. If you are using chicken and the meat seems dry, splash in some chicken stock to moisten it. Serve with rice and/or lettuce cups.