Fish Fragrance Pork shreds Yu Xiang Rou Si
Yu Xiang Rou Si is one of the most famous of all Sichuan dishes; however, it requires the use of an ingredient unfamiliar to most Western cooks: Dried Cloud Ear, also known as Wood Ear fungus. There seems to be general disagreement over the difference between these two mushrooms. Some, for example, Yan-Kit So, (Yan Kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook) claim a distinction between the two; others, notably Bruce Cost, (Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients) suggest they are the same. To make matters more confusing, I've even seen translations such as mao mu er, (lit. "hairy wood ear"), and hei mu er (lit. "black wood ear") but such questions are only interesting to die-hard food geeks. Suffice it to say these are all jelly fungi which grow on wood and fallen trees, have almost no taste, and are valued for their texture. You can use any of these in the recipe.
The name of this dish is generally understood to mean pork shreds prepared in the manner of fish; yet, even Mandarin speakers can't really explain why the Chinese name literally translates as "fish fragrant pork shreds." It definitely does not mean "this dish will smell like a fish!" In "Land of Plenty," Fuchia Dunlop's superb book on Sichuan cooking, she suggests that this preparation is associated with a certain carp well known in Sichuan that is sometimes added to the brine of the pickled chilies used in the Yu Xiang preparations. Whether or not the origins of the name are ever known, it is one of those time-honored, traditional dishes that escaped the mainland, and in some form, spread from Sichuan to greater Asia, then on to the United States in the 70's. The unique quality of Yu Xiang Rou Si can be attributed to the shredded fungus and bamboo shoots, which contribute a flexible yet strikingly crunchy texture, while bathed in a typically pungent Sichuan combination of vinegar, sugar, garlic and pickled red chili paste. In China, pork Shreds and eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi) are the most common Yu Xiang menu listings, but its popularity has spawned dozens of main ingredient variations here and abroad.
Stir fry ingredients:
12 oz pork loin
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces, drained weight) Bamboo Shoots, sliced and slivered 2" long
1/4+ oz dried Cloud Ear fungus (2 oz wet, after trimming)
1-1/2 Tab Red Chili Paste or Sambal Oelek Chili paste
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
3/4" x 1" pc peeled Ginger, slivered
3 med scallions (see below)
1 Tab Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry
2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tab Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 Tab cornstarch
1 Tab oil
2-1/2 tsp Sugar
2 tsp vinegar, preferably Chinkiang Vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tab Chicken Stock
Sesame oil garnish
Sometime before you begin making Yu Xiang Rou Si, it is a good idea to put the pork in the freezer if possible, as this will make it easier to slice thinly later on.
The Cloud Ears expand many times their original size when soaked in boiling water; do not be tempted to use more than a small handful, or just over a quarter oz. of dried product. Pour boiling water over the fungus in a heat proof bowl, and set aside for 30 minutes.
When the pork is partially frozen, slice the loin across the grain 1/8" thick. After you've cut 3 or 4, slice these pieces 1/8" wide to produce shreds, or "matchsticks." Continue slicing and shredding until all the pork is cut, then put it in a bowl for marinating. Add the marinade ingredients, except the oil, and mix thoroughly. Add the oil, mix again, and set aside. (see photo, right)
Drain the Cloud Ears, cool, and trim out any hard, knotty or fibrous sections--you should have approximately 2 oz. of trimmed mushroom to work with. Slice into 1/8" shreds, about 1-1/2 to 2" long.
If using canned bamboo shoots, blanch them in boiling water for a minute at full boil, drain, rinse, and cut the same as the Wood Ear fungus. Set aside. Mince the garlic cloves; sliver the ginger into small matchsticks. Mince the white portion of the scallion; cut the green portion into 1-1/2" sections, then sliver similar to the ginger. (see photo, right)
In a bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside. Prepare cornstarch slurry (1 part starch to 1 part water or stock, in a lidded container which you can shake and pour) Stir the sauce and shake the slurry occasionally as you prepare to cook, to ensure the ingredients are combined and dissolved.
Wipe wok with a small amount of oil and begin to pre-heat. When wok begins to smoke, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of peanut oil and carefully swirl around to coat the sides of the wok. When oil is smoking, slide in the shreds of pork, and after it begins to brown after about half a minute or so, begin to break up shreds, and stir fry, pausing occasionally to allow some browning. After two or three minutes, when the pork is cooked through and partially browned, remove the meat or push it to the side of the wok. There should be 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil remaining in the bottom of the pan, and to this add the red chili paste. Stir this in the bottom for 30 seconds or so, until the oil is reddened and the pungent fragrance is released. Add in the garlic, ginger and minced scallion, still keeping the meat to the side. When the seasonings just begin to brown, move the meat shreds into the mixture and stir fry for 30 seconds or so, then splash in the wine. Add the shredded fungus and bamboo shoots, stir fry a minute or so, then add sauce mixture. When the liquid begins to bubble, add green onion shreds, and the slurry, a little at a time, until the sauce thickens slightly more than desired--the moisture in the other ingredients will thin it slightly. Plate the Yu Xiang Rou Si and garnish with sesame oil and a few scallion shreds.