This is a recipe from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook that I've mentioned several times before. Like most of those thousand recipes, it's pretty simple but open to elaboration. And as usual for me, my elaboration got a bit out of control. Still, things turned out fine. Or should I have left some suspense?
The recipe calls for a full pound of Chinese lettuce but my half share didn't include nearly that much. When I added my leftover bok choy I got about half a pound so the recipe was workable.
4-5 dried shrimp
2 dried black mushrooms (Both my shrimp and mushrooms were pretty small so I doubled these numbers back up to the original 8-10 and 4. You can judge from the pictures of the end result whether I had too much.)
1/4 cup ham (I used some leftover country ham I had lying around)
1/2 pound Chinese lettuce and/or bok choy
1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots
1 Tablespoon oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mushroom soaking liquid
1/4 cup picked crab (It doesn't store well so I'm adding it to everything this week until I run out.)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
0. Separately soak shrimp and mushrooms in hot water. Reserve mushroom soaking liquid. The shrimp soaking liquid is kind of nasty. Toss that.
1. Coarsely chop lettuce. Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil and add lettuce. Blanch lettuce for 1 to 2 minutes then drain.
2. Dump out water and reheat pot over medium high heat until it's dry. Add oil. Heat until it's shimmery. Add shrimp and ham and stir fry 2 minutes. Add lettuce, stir fry to coat with oil then sprinkle with salt. Add bamboo shoots and stir fry one minute more.
3. Add mushroom liquid. Bring to boil, turn heat down to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes.
4. Add mushrooms, soy sauce, sugar and crab. Turn the heat up a little compensate for heat lost while you were doing that, re-cover, and simmer 10 minutes more.
5. Add cornstarch (mixed into a Tablespoon of cold water). Stir and heat until the sauce thickens up a little.
6. Serve topped with a drizzle of sesame oil or chili oil might be nice too.
Surprisingly, the lettuce hasn't fallen apart after all that cooking. It's soft to the bite, certain, but not mush, and the leaves trap the sauce quite nicely. There's some textural interest from the mushrooms, ham and bamboo shoots so soft lettuce is fine. The sauce has picked up a lot of flavor mainly from the shrimp and soy sauce, but you can taste the lettuce in it too which I didn't expect. I think I overdid the salt a little since it came in from so many sources, but otherwise I'm happy with the results. Next time I'll serve it over noodles which, texturally, would be a better match than rice. As for the lettuce, I think the likes of Romaine would stand up to braising well. I'm not sure how much the different flavor would change the dish though. I'll have to try it and see.