Thursday, July 9, 2009

Szechuan pork and cucumber stir fry

One of my coworkers, I don't know who, brought in some garden vegetables and left them in the break-room on Monday. There were some grape tomatoes, some very nice banana peppers and a few rather large cucumbers. It was my duty, I thought, to make sure they were used well. The cucumbers were not only large, they were dense and meaty, nicely suitable for cooking.

A pork and cucumber stir fry's been on my to do list since I passed it over in favor of stuffed cucumbers back in April. I took a new look around for recipes and found I had the choice of a generic brown sauce, oyster sauce or a super-spicy Szechuan version. That last was definitely the one for me. I did pull in shiitakes from another recipe and red onions from a third to add some more textures and boost the vegetable to meat ratio.


8 ounces pork tenderloin, sliced into thin strips
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 handful dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced

1 1/2 Tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons bean paste
1 teaspoon chiu chow chili oil
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced thin
1/2 large red onion, sliced thin

2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine
2 teaspoons white rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar


1. Combine soy sauces, rice wine, sesame oil and cornstarch in medium bowl. Add pork, toss to coat and set aside.

2. Heat a wok over high heat. Add oil, wait to see the oil shimmer and nearly but not quite start to smoke. Add bean paste, chili oil, garlic, peppercorns, chili flakes and salt. Stir fry 10 seconds.

3. Add pork (with marinade) and mushrooms. Stir fry 1 minute.

4. Add cucumber and onion. Stir fry 1 minute.

5. Add soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar and sugar. Stir fry 2 minutes more. With luck the liquid should have all evaporated, but I found I had a bit left at that point and I didn't want to overcook the pork. I wanted some sauce for the rice anyway.

Serve immediately with rice.

I'm a little disappointed with how this turned out, but just a little. The textures are all good. All of the ingredients are cooked well--the pork is tender, the cucumbers soft with just a little crunch, the mushrooms soft. But something odd happened with the flavors. Almost all of the heat is concentrated in the mushrooms. It's not just that they absorbed the sauce; they pulled that element out of the sauce and the remaining liquid doesn't have a lot of spice to it. Weird. The recipe I cribbed that ingredient from used fresh shiitakes, not dried. That probably would have avoided this issue.

That leaves the pork and cucumbers out there speaking for themselves and I'm still impressed with that unexpected (for the American cook, anyway) pairing. The cucumber is a light freshness adding high notes to the rich meatiness of the pork, tied together by the salty soy sauce and the tanginess of the bean sauce. Think of how sweet relish complements a hot dog. It's kind of like that, but not really. It's definitely worth a try--if not this recipe (minus the shiitake), one of the other versions.


Russell Hews Everett said...

Hmm made me think of the Cucumbers with Garlic at Lung Gong. Just garlic, cucumbers, bit of salt, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. But so good.

If you haven't been, Lung Gong is my absolute favorite Chinese in Miami. It's out by FIU, which was inconvenient, but seriously good, reasonably cheap, and by far the most authentic Chinese I had in Miami. Small, unpretentious, and with a very, um, thorough menu. Recommended: the full crispy duck (crunchy duck head = tasty!), Szechuan squid (in a mountain of chiles), Cold Sesame Noodles (or the spicy Szechuan pepper kind), or the Hot Pot.

Not so much: Pork Bung with Intestine. But hey, I'll try anything once... Also the sun-cured pork belly was...interesting?

kat said...

I really enjoy sautéed cucumbers but have never used them in a stir fry, time to change that

billjac said...

I had no idea authentic Chinese was available anywhere in Miami, and certainly out by FIU isn't where I'd think to look for it. If I'm going to travel for Chinese food, I want to try chifa first as that's something I'm only going to find in Miami (or Peru), but Lung Gong's definitely going on my to-do list, too.

LaDivaCucina said...

I will go out of my way for Lung Gong as well...I can't stand the "americanized" version of "chinese" food here in Miami: lemon chicken tastes like fried chicken in lemon pie filling and sweet and sour pork is like pork chunks fried in doughnut batter with sickly sweet red sauce! It's all so bland and fried and sweet. blech!

Oh yeah, Bill, the dish looks tasty!!!

billjac said...

Miami Chinese food is actually a bit worse than typical hole-in-the-wall Americanized Chinese. It's been Cubanized--bland, fried, sweet--That description really ought to sound familiar.