Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ma Yi Shang Shu (Ants Climbing a Tree)

Ants Climbing a Tree (Ma Yi Shang Shu)

This Sichuan dish has an imaginative name, and its unique appearance, texture and delicious flavors justify the poetry:  it derives from the finely minced pork, which when combined with the noodles properly, suggests ants clinging to the branches of a tree--well, you may have to use your imagination for this one!  Ma Yi Shang Shu has survived the ages, however, by the pleasing use of wok simmered, translucent, mung bean noodles, commonly found in soups, known in Chinese as fen si.  In the west, it has been called bean thread, cellophane, and vermicelli noodles, and is produced from the same legume as the venerable bean sprout.  Its texture is smooth and slippery, and constitutes a very unique experience among the countless noodles dishes of China.
6 - 7 oz dry bean thread noodle (fen si).
5-6 oz lean pork, minced carefully 1/8” pcs.
2 green onions, white portion fine mince, greens shredded for garnish
2 med cloves garlic, finely minced
1 heaping Tab ginger, finely minced
1 tsp chili paste
Meat marinade:
1 tsp dark soy sauce
4 tsp shao xing wine or dry sherry
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 to 2 CUPS homemade or low sodium chicken stock
2 Tab shao xing wine or dry sherry
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
Soak the beanthread noodles in hot water for an hour or so, until pliable, then drain.  Cut the noodles in half or thirds with scissors, cover and set aside.

Preparing the pork is important; the appearance of the dish is enhanced by mincing the meat in fairly uniform “ant-like” pieces.  Putting the pork in the freezer until it is very firm but not frozen helps; slice the meat across the grain, 1/8” thick, then cut the slices into 1/8” diameter matchsticks; align the pieces and cut them into 1/8” dice; marinate the meat for at least 30 minutes in the marinade ingredients.

Heat the wok to med high, add peanut oil, and stir fry the minced pork, using chopsticks to thoroughly separate the meat pieces as they cook.  Fry the pork until it is completely done and begins to darken.  Push the pork up the sides of the wok and add more oil if necessary so that a couple of tablespoons is available for the rest of the frying (To enhance the “ant” appearance, 2 or 3 tablespoons of meat can be taken out at this point to use as a garnish).  Add ginger, the white part of the minced onion, and garlic; stir fry for 30 seconds or so, then add chili paste and stir fry until well blended.  Add the sauce ingredients, then the drained bean thread noodles and mix thoroughly.  At first it may seem that you've used too much sauce, but it will be absorbed in time. Simmer the noodles for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding small amounts of water if the noodles appear to be drying out.  When the mung bean noodles are soft and velvety,  turn the noodles over, making sure the minced ingredients are picked up from the bottom of the wok, and slide the mass onto a platter.  Garnish with a little sesame oil, a few green onion  shreds, and the reserved cooked pork.

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