Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans (Ganbian Sijidou, 干煸四季豆)
Chengdu Challenge #16: Frying, Old-School vs. New
Yes, I know it seems wrong to deep-fry green vegetables, but oh, it tastes so right. 干煸四季豆 (gānbiān sìjìdòu) actually means dry-fried green beans, but almost everyone nowadays quickly deep-fries them. That’s how the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine teaches the dish, and that’s how I’ve always done it.
But when I was researching the dish, I found that the recipe for ganbian sijidou in Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook calls for dry-frying the green beans the old-school way, for more than two hours, until they are “quite shriveled, limp and dry.” Two hours! The authors promise that despite their “unattractive condition”…”they are one of the more unusual and delicious specialties of Szechwan.”
Mrs. Chiang grew up in Sichuan in the years before the Communist revolution, and this is how dry-fried green beans was made in her home. In the ensuing decades, Mao dictated that food be purely utilitarian, so, while Mrs. Chiang had fled to Taiwan, the average mainland Chinese would not have been inclined—or even allowed—to cook a two-hour green bean dish. One can assume that by the time eating for pleasure was allowed again, most people didn’t have the luxury of time and deep-frying became the norm.
But I was intrigued. Dry-fried green beans is one of my two or three absolute favorite Sichuan dishes. Could it be even better made the traditional way? On further thought, it didn’t sound that strange. I live in the American South, where our tasty green beans are always cooked to death and always include pork—just like ganbian sijidou. So I decided to do a head-to-head green bean challenge. Old-school vs. new. Long and slow dry-fry vs. quick and easy deep-fry.
Mrs. Chiang’s recipe: Dry-fried green beans
Though I’m intrigued by Mrs. Chiang’s cooking method, I’m less enamored of some of her ingredients. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup dried shrimp as part of the seasoning. I left these out because a) I’ve never seen dried shrimp in ganbian sijidou in Sichuan, and b) I personally dislike the taste of dried shrimp. I substituted ground pork, because that’s how the dish is made nowadays. If you want to use the dried shrimp instead, soak them in hot water for two hours, then clean them thoroughly (including deveining) and chop very finely, to “the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.”
I also substituted yacai for the Sichuan preserved vegetable, or zhacai, that she calls for. I am guessing that she called for zhacai because yacai wasn’t available in the U.S. in the 1970s, when she wrote this book. Contemporary cooks use yacai, and there’s no way to improve on the perfect combo of yacai and crispy pork, in my opinion.
The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine’s recipe: Deep-fried green beans
The Institute’s recipe is more representative of what is served in Chengdu’s restaurants today. I tweaked this one quite a bit too, adding soy sauce and Shaoxing wine to flavor the pork as well as ginger, scallions and dried chili peppers for color. (Leave the chilies whole, as this dish is not meant to be hot.) The dish traditionally includes pork, but it is almost as good without pork as it is with, since it features yacai, which is the true flavor bomb. Leave out the pork if you like, but do not leave out the yacai. I usually increase the amount of yacai and aromatics if I’m not using pork.
I used basically the same ingredients for both versions, so the difference was all about the cooking method. (I did omit the chili peppers from the dry-fried version.)
Deep-frying leaves the green beans crisper, greener and more visually appealing than dry-frying. If you take the green beans out of the deep-frying oil when their skins are about half-puckered they will still have a good bite to them; if you leave them in until almost all of them have puckered skin, they will have just a slight bite and be like they are in Chengdu.
I had my doubts as I was dry-frying, stirring the wok every 10 to 15 minutes as the beans got darker and darker, making sure the pork didn’t burn. When making dry-fried beef, one of Chengdu’s most delicious cold dishes/appetizers, you definitely can’t rush the cooking process, which produces an almost-beef-jerkyish, chewy treat. But with green beans, I wasn’t sure the trade-off in my time and energy (not to mention gas energy) was worth it. Call me a modern gal, but I like my green beans to resemble green beans.
But in the end, I realized that these are no longer really green beans. Dry-frying green beans produces a whole different beast, with no bite, but with its own interesting texture and, indeed, a deeper taste, a true mingling of the bean, pork and yacai. The green beans begin to caramelize, like a long-cooked onion, and are undeniably delicious. Interestingly, Mrs. Chiang recommended eating them wrapped in a thin Mandarin pancake, like a mooshu pork wrapper. Too bad I didn’t have any. Though one could use those two hours to whip up a batch, I suppose.
In any case, once you try them I think you’ll make the deep-fried version often. But I also urge you to add the dry-fried version to your repertoire; nothing else tastes quite like a pre-revolutionary green bean.
Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans (Ganbian Sijidou, 干煸四季豆)
- 1 pound green beans, trimmed 450 grams
- 3 ounces ground pork (traditional but optional)
- 10 whole dried red Sichuan chili peppers; omit from dry-fried version
- 3 tablespoons Yibin yacai preserved vegetable
- 2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- Heat wok over a high flame until wisps of heat start to rise and add enough canola or peanut oil to deep-fry. Bring oil temperature to about 350°F (175°C) and deep-fry green beans until most of them have puckered skin. Do not brown them. Remove and drain on paper towel.
- Remove all but 2 tablespoons oil from the wok. Reheat until hot and add pork, breaking it up into crumbles and cooking until it starts to brown. Add dried chili peppers, yacai, scallions, ginger and garlic and continue stir-frying. Add Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sugar and cook until the pork bits are crispy.
- Add back the green beans and stir-fry until well-mixed and hot. Add the sesame oil, give a stir, and plate.
- Heat wok over a high flame until wisps of heat start to rise, then add 2 tablespoons oil. When hot, add green beans, stir-frying vigorously for about 2 minutes. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel.
- Reheat wok until hot and add 2 tablespoons more oil. Add pork, breaking it up into crumbles and cooking just until pink disappears. Add yacai, scallions, ginger and garlic and continue stir-frying. Add Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sugar and cook briefly. Do not brown.
- Add back green beans, mix well, and lower heat to very low setting. You should hear a slight sizzle as the mixture cooks over the next couple of hours. Stir every 10 to 15 minutes to make sure pork isn't burning. Cook for about two hours. Add the sesame oil, give a stir, and plate.
The Happy Medium:
- Add ⅓ cup oil to a very hot wok. Reduce heat to medium and add the green beans. Stir-fry the beans until they are mostly cooked through and have patches of brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from wok and follow deep-fried method starting with step 2.
Just heads up
I was looking for this recipe all last week and came upon the site
“Serious Eats” and Kenji has a different take on this.
He broils the green beans they are wrinkled and charred.
Interesting, I have not tried any of the methods but I will try them all.
Interesting. The Sichuanese wouldn’t broil anything, since most of them don’t have ovens. But that sounds like yet another great option. Thanks for the heads-up!
So which one did you prefer? 😀
They were pretty equal. The cooking methods are so different that they’re really like two different dishes.
I like them deep fried (same goes for the eggplant) but I’ll try the dry-Fried version next time , thanks !
One of my Chinese students told me that her dad puts green beans in the microwave first to speed up the dry frying.
I wonder what Mrs. Chiang would think of that? 🙂 Could definitely save some time, though might lose some of the depth of flavor from slow-cooking in the seasonings… Worth a try!
This was definitely one of our favourite dishes in Sichuan! Can’t wait to try this myself when we have a proper kitchen and a well-seasoned wok again… Looking forward to checking out more of your recipes. Voted for you in the Saveur awards, love the idea behind your blog!
Thank you, Gabriella! I could say the same thing back to you: Love the idea behind your blog and voted for you! http://www.funnelogychannel.com/ Your recipe today definitely makes me miss Vietnam. Any chance you’ll make it to NYC?
Thanks Taylor! We don’t know about NYC yet, but we would love to 🙂
You are welcome!
You do not list it, but would you consider trying the recipe for boiled fish with green pepper sauce (from Chengdu Taste)? By the way, in case you have not heard about it, Gu’s Bistro is providing Atlanta with first rate Sichuan fare.
Thanks for the request. I wanted to try that dish at Chengdu Taste, but didn’t get a chance to. Did it have pickled mustard greens along with the green chilies?
I love Gu’s! Here is a recipe I based on their dish of gong bao (kung pao) lotus root: https://blog.themalamarket.com/chengdu-challenge-13-kung-pao-lotus-root-potato-gong-bao-ou-pian/
Though I understand that Gu’s is closed at the moment, with only its dumpling shop open. Sure hope it reopens before my next trip to Atlanta.
Thanks for writing!
I just discovered your MaLa Project and can’t wait to try some of the recipes. I find it interesting that you reference the beloved Mrs. Chaing. I bought her cookbook in 1979 (or was it 1978?), and I still routinely go back to those stained, well-used pages. I especially like her Mapo Doufu, and her Fried noodles are great for those who don’t go the spicy route like I do.
Welcome to The Mala Project! It’s amazing how many fans Mrs. Chiang still has. She was the trailblazer.
I remembered this recipe when I was at my Asian Market and bought some of the suimiyacai in a pouch. I’ll try this recipe soon, as it looks delicious and I enjoyed this dish last time I was in China. My question is a simple one. You show a picture above of the yacai in a jar. Do you store the leftovers in the jar after you open the pouch?
Thank you, and keep up the good work!
I’m glad to hear you found some Suimiyacai, because it is becoming increasingly hard to find. I’ve always heard not to store stuff in metal or foil packaging, so I do transfer this to a jar or even a plastic baggie for keeping in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Taylor are you still in Chengdu? If you are there is a little restaurant across the river from the Shangri la hotel that has what I believe is the best gan bian si Ji dou in Chengdu!
Oooh, thanks for the tip! I am not there now, but plan to be this summer. Will check it out!
This recipe is legit AS IS. Just made the deep-fried version for the first time and it’s got flavor for days. I used the yibin yacai from the Mala Shop as directed and oh hell yeah that’s a magic ingredient for sure. It really is the soul of the dish. And the small bit of pork leaves you wanting more instead of feeling bloated like with American dishes. Taylor, you are doing the lord’s work with these recipes AND sourcing the indispensable ingredients. Those authentic ingredients get me the closest I’ve gotten to date to emulating dishes from Sichuan restaurants.
Hi, Steve. Thanks so much for both reading and shopping. I may have to frame this comment to remind me why I do it when I get tired of blogging. The lord’s work! Ha! I do really appreciate your enthusiastic feedback. And I’m glad to make another yacai convert. Enjoy!
I made it for the first time today as a side dish to Mapo Tofu and it was delicous. I didn‘t expect it to be so flavourful…. The flavours are amazing <3 So glad I found a little chinese store which carrys Yibin Yacai.
Do you know if you will be able to ship to Europe sometime? I can‘t find szechuan pepper that isn‘t heat treated 🙁
Glad to hear this! The yacai and pork do pack a lot of flavor. I wish we could sell to Europe, but haven’t found a way to get the shipping cost down to a reasonable level. Will keep trying!
I will have to try the deep-fried method…I never thought of doing that way. Mrs. Chiang’s version has been a regular in my house since I bought the book soon after it was published in 1976. It’s my most used cookbook and now MaLa Market recipes are being used a lot.