Stir-Fried Bacon in Sichuan Bean Sauces (Chao Larou, 炒腊肉)
Chengdu Challenge #20: Once-Cooked Pork
Stir-fried bacon in Sichuan bean sauces is a cousin to 回锅肉 (huíguōròu), or twice-cooked pork, and in many ways, the more appealing cousin, because A) you only have to cook it once; and B) it’s bacon! It may be the less popular cousin in Sichuan, but it’s definitely a Sichuan native, and I’ve had it there several times, made with the highly smoked, supremely rich local bacon (larou).
For authentic twice-cooked pork, you have to boil a pork belly, chill it, slice it and stir-fry it. For this bacon version, you let someone else do the first cook/cure—unless you are the type of impressive person who makes her own Sichuan bacon (腊肉, làròu).
I was spurred to try bacon after a comment from a reader, who said he often makes huiguorou with bacon in South America. Reader and I don’t use Sichuan bacon, which traditionally would be cured in spices such as Sichuan pepper and star anise before being smoked over cypress. I do actually plan to be that person who makes her own Sichuan bacon someday, but until then, top-notch American bacon will have to to do. And in fact, it does quite nicely.
You may prefer the traditional, unsmoked version. Fongchong does, because she never ate smoked meats as a child in China and is still hell-bent on adding no new flavors to her will-eat list. But no one has to talk an American kid (or adult) into liking bacon, so this could turn out to be a family favorite for you.
This is definitely a quick weeknight meal, a one-wok wonder. Though as I was preparing to make this, tragedy struck my wok, and the wooden handle, which had been jiggly loose for a while, finally dislodged itself from the metal arm. My husband sacrilegiously suggested we get a new one.
“No!” I screeched. “You find a way to fix that one.”
I don’t want any other wok. I bought my Guangdong-made, hand-hammered, carbon-steel beauty from San Francisco’s Wok Shop in 2007, and I’ve cooked from it several nights a week ever since. It has the perfect wok patina, nothing ever sticks, I love it, it’s beautiful, and I cannot let it go and start anew.
He found a way to fix that one.
So along with your best wok, you’ll want to use a high-quality, lean, thick-cut bacon. I used an applewood-smoked variety from Nueske’s. I’ve added a lot of crisp celery and its leaves to the dish, either Western or Chinese, to offset the fatty bacon, but feel free to leave that out, as it probably wouldn’t be there in Sichuan. (If you leave out the celery, add an equivalent amount of another vegetable or extra bacon, or reduce the amount of sauce.)
You may notice that the sauce is practically the same as that I use for twice-cooked pork. But why mess with perfection? The three types of fermented products utilized—doubanjiang (Pixian chili bean paste), tianmianjiang (sweet wheat or sweet bean sauce), and douchi (preserved black beans)—just play so well together.
There are many things in this faddish, bacon-crazed world that shouldn’t happen, but stir-fried bacon is definitely not one of them. Bacon and bean pastes are made for each other.
If you’re the from-scratch type, see Kathy’s mom’s recipe for her family’s homemade, wind-cured traditional Sichuan larou as well as Part 2 on how to cook with it! Mala Mama’s Chao Larou Cured Pork Belly Stir-fry is similar to this stir-fried bacon, but features the from-scratch version.
Stir-Fried Bacon in Sichuan Bean Sauces (Chao Larou)
- ⅔ pounds bacon, thick cut (about ⅛ inch), cut in 2-inch lengths 300 grams
- 5 stalks celery with leaves, cut on the diagonal ⅓-inch thick (optional; if omitting use extra bacon)
- 2 medium leeks, cut into ½-inch sections
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
- 1 tablespoon tianmianjiang (sweet wheat paste)
- 1 tablespoon douchi (fermented black soybeans)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4 scallions, cut into ½-inch sections
- Heat wok over a high flame until starting to smoke and add 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil. When oil is hot, add the bacon and stir-fry until it is almost done, but not browned. Remove bacon from wok and set aside.
- Remove all but 3-4 tablespoons bacon fat from the wok. Reheat wok, add celery (if using) and leeks and stir-fry until they are starting to soften and browning on the edges. Push vegetables to the sides of the wok, leaving a well in the middle and add the stock. Add the chili bean paste, sweet wheat paste, fermented black beans and sugar to the stock and cook briefly.
- Add back the pork and the scallions and stir-fry together until scallions are starting to soften and pork is completely done but not browned.
Glad to see that my comment inspired this great post. I am now cooking in Brazil, but by way of Manhattan, where it is much easier to find proper ingredients for Chinese cooking — finding condiments and supplies is a constant battle here (I always travel with an empty suitcase on trips to the US and Asia to bring stuff back). In Brazil, where raw pork belly is actually much easier to find than in NY, I do the twice-cooked pork the standard way (although I admit to skipping the boiling step sometimes, which I find somewhat superfluous and anachronistic when good quality fresh pork is available). In NYC though, its much easier to find smoked pork belly (“bacon”) than nice raw pork belly (unless you happen to find yourself in Chinatown). I used to shop at the fabulous Florence Meat Market in the West Village, where they will slice their excellent (and not too expensive) bacon to your personal specification, and which cooks up to a great version of the dish formerly known to me as twice-cooked pork, but which I now know is properly called Chao Larou. Best regards!
Thanks again for the inspiration, Rob. I really love this dish! I thought I had it hard finding everything I need in Nashville, but cooking with authentic ingredients in Brazil sounds like a real challenge. The next step is making our own bacon. I’ve found a great recipe that I’m hoping to try and share soon.
There were many times when I was in the mood for Twice Cooked Pork, but didn’t have any pork belly in the house. Instead of driving to the Asian market for the meat, I would just go to the local supermarket and buy bacon. I never knew I was making a real dish! I just have to be careful to keep the bacon from getting crispy.
Love it! Right—you don’t want it crisp like American bacon, though you do want the fat cooked. That’s why it’s best to use a “lean” bacon. Enjoy!
I thought at first that was the Lee Kum Kee logo on the tian miang jiang jar, but after enlarging the image I see that it’s a look-alike label. Or maybe it’s the other way around. East Asia seems to be more tolerant of label mimicry than the U.S. There’s Perl Gold Bridge brand soy sauce, whose label is so close to Perl River Bridge that I have to read the label to tell them apart. And then there’s Tip fish sauce, which mimics the famous Tiparos brand. And of course the Godmother has her imitators.
I know! It’s crazy how similar the packaging and labels are for products in China. In this case I don’t know who would be imitating whom, as this tian mian jiang is made by the biggest douban jiang maker, The Sichuan Pixian Douban Company.
I made this dish yesterday and it came out wonderful. This is the first time I’ve used Pixian doban jiang; I’ve always used the Lee Kum Kee stuff in the past, and I see that they are very different. The Pixian doban jiang is less finely ground–there are rather large flakes of dried red chile in the Pixian version. The Pixian version is also a lot more aromatic.
I have a couple of questions about the recipe:
Should one slice the leeks in half lengthwise before cutting them into 1/2″ slices, or should they be left as 1/2″ rounds? I assumed they should be sliced, but the recipe doesn’t say.
How much fat should be left in the wok when stir-frying the celery and leeks? After the initial stir-fry of the bacon I had a very large amount of bacon fat left behind. I used conventional thick-cut, uncured, applewood-smoked American bacon, which was too fatty to keep all of the fat for the next stir-frying step. The amount of fat left over after the first step can vary widely depending on the type and brand of bacon, and I had to make a guess as to how much fat I was going to need for the celery and leeks.
So glad you found this dish tasty! Yes, Pixian douban jiang is very different from the imitators. As far as the texture, many cooks in Sichuan run a knife through the douban to break up the bigger pieces before they cook with it. (I don’t usually bother.)
As for the leeks, in Sichuan they would use thin ones. If you are using the fat kind we have in the U.S., you might slice them lengthwise as well (or on a deep diagonal).
The fat does indeed vary between different types of bacon. I also had this problem with the twice-cooked pork made with pork belly, with some bellies leaving a cup of oil behind. The amount of oil you need to make a nice sauce depends on the amount of other ingredients you are using. But for about a pound of ingredients, I would leave only about 3 or 4 tablespoons of the oil to mix with the bean sauces. There should just be a generous coating of sauce, not a pool on the plate.
Thanks for the feedback!
I’m so excited about discovering your website! At the moment I’m living in Sichuan and slowly learning to replicate the flavours in my own kitchen. The language barrier makes sourcing some ingredients in the tiny local shops tricky, so I’m going to have to work out how to ask for Sichuanese bacon which I don’t think I’ve tried yet. We eat quite a lot of a smoked ham, but it’s not made from a bacon cut and is fairly lean.
I’m looking forward to trying out some of your recipes here!
I’m always jealous when I hear from folks living in Sichuan. Are you in Chengdu or a smaller city? I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding Sichuan larou. It looks somewhat like Western bacon, but is usually dark brown/black from the smoke. I hope some of these recipes work for you. Keep us posted on your eating/cooking adventures there!
I made this last night with my home cured and smoked bacon. So delicious, and possessed of a subtlety I don’t normally associate with Sichuan cooking. Thank you and please keep up the wonderful work!
OMG, I wish I had home cured and smoked bacon! That would make it so much more similar to how they eat it in Sichuan. Enjoy!
Did you ever make your own bacon?
Unfortunately, no. But I swear I’m going to get that together some winter.