Wednesday, February 6, 2008

CSA week ten - Szechuan green beans with ground pork

If you look at my first attempt at Szechuan green beans with ground pork way back in CSA week three, you'll see that it didn't turn out so hot. So before taking a second shot at it, I gave the reasons a bit of thought.

The first problem was that I used the wrong recipe. Of the variations out there some use hoisin sauce, some use hot bean paste and the one I found used neither. And then I complained that the result was dull. What was I thinking? Really, all other things being equal, use the recipe that calls for hot bean paste. As it happens I don't have any on hand, but I do have not-hot bean paste and hot chili oil so I can make my own easily enough.

The second problem was that I used ground turkey. This is a recipe where the meat has equal billing with the main vegetable so it needs to have some character and ground turkey isn't going to cut it. I generally only keep it around for tacos where it's substituting for ground beef and the ground beef is substituting for ground mystery meat. It's completely drowned in chilies and spice because Mexican chefs like to retain the mystery. So using it in this dish was a lapse of judgment.

This time I went with the more appropriate pork and I ground it myself. The best cut to use for this is actually the packages the supermarkets sell as meat for stew. These are scraps of lots of different cuts of meat and since they're of such varying quality and size they're not really very good for stew. For stew you want to cut your own pieces out of pork butt or chuck eye roast. But the mix of different cuts is just what you want for ground meat. Just put the meat in the freezer for an hour to firm it up, put the pieces in your food processor and give it around ten pulses. Much better quality than pre-ground, quick and easy. Unless, of course, you forgot that your food processor crapped out last night while you were making lettuce soup and you have to run out and buy a new one. But what are the chances of that happening?

The recipe I used this time around was this one with, as usual, some modifications. Mainly, I kept the heat up on high and did a proper stir-fry instead of wimping out and doing most of the cooking on medium high as BarbryT who originally posted the recipe did. I had to adjust the cooking times on most of the steps down from a few minutes to under one minute. I did turn down the heat after adding the liquids for a bit of a steam, though. I also added red pepper as I thought it would add a bit of interesting flavor and look pretty against the green and brown. And I used rice wine instead of sherry but that's no big deal.

One thing I didn't change was the initial deep frying of the green beans to dry them out a little. I didn't take any pictures when I did this the first time but you can see it here. If you do it right (that is keeping the heat up) the beans are releasing steam the entire time they're in the oil so they can't absorb any fat. Most that sticks to the outside can be wicked away by a paper towel so the process should add very little fat to the dish.

Another difference between this recipe and the one I first used is that, after the original deep fry this recipe only adds the beans back at the very end, reducing the sauce beforehand. That works well; the extra minute or two of cooking in the original recipe make the beans a bit limp.

One final interesting point is the cider vinegar and sesame oil BarbryT adds just before serving the dish. The sesame oil is a nice touch, but the vinegar adds a sweet and sour touch that wasn't quite what I was looking for. It's not bad, mind you, but a bit more chili oil instead is better for my tastes. Yours may differ. But that's a minor quibble; it turned out quite nicely on the whole.

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