For the past few months my friend Jannes has been talking about his love of Chinese food and his new passion for Chinese cooking. Now, for the vast majority of us who have never been to China, our idea of Chinese cooking is limited to chicken balls, cherry sauces, and spring rolls. Consequently, it was a pleasure when Jannes invited me down to learn how to cook some more traditional Sichuan dishes. During our cooking  
clinic, I was put in charge of a dish called Fish-Fragrant Pork Slivers (yu xiang rou si) – a mind-blowingly delicious dish that I can hardly wait to make again.

The recipe is from a book called Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, an authority on Chinese cooking in the West. I can honestly say that the result is fabulous – as is the cultural and culinary explanations that precede every recipe in her excellent book – however I found her writing to be imprecise and the instructions sloppy. The key to cooking this recipe (and most Chinese dishes, I imagine) is mise-en-place; you need to have your little bowls of seasoning and ingredients waiting to be tossed into the wok. Dunlop’s book, however, does not break down its instructions into the contents of each bowl. Rather, it is a mishmash of sometimes confusing directives.

In my humble opinion, my instructions on the dish are clearer, though I cannot claim to improve upon what is an incredible recipe.

Here’s what you need for this recipe (serves 3):

75ml of cooking oil (groundnut or peanut oil, or corn oil)

300g of lean pork, cut into thin 3mm x 3mm x 3cm slivers (“julienne” them)

Marinade
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 tablespoon of potato flour (potato starch is a decent substitute)
1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine (if you don’t have any, use sherry)

Sauce
1½ teaspoons of white sugar
1½ teaspoons of Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do)
¾ teaspoons of light soy sauce
½ teaspoons of salt
¾ teaspoon of potato flour (again, potato starch will do in a pinch)
3 tablespoons of stock (chicken) or water

Bowl 1
2 tablespoons of chilli paste

Bowl 2
2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger

Bowl 3
75g of bamboo shoots
1 handful of cloud-ear mushrooms

Bowl 4
1 spring onion, chopped

Ok…get to work. First, chop up your meat, make the marinade, and then combine the two. Make sure to thoroughly coat your meat and let your it marinade for at least 30 minutes. If you have a rice cooker (if you don’t, buy one!) you can start making the rice.

Next, take your cloud-ear mushrooms (which will likely be dehydrated) and soak them in very hot water for 30 minutes. While the mushroom are hydrating, boil some more salted water and blanch the bamboo shoots for about a minute or so. Rinse them in cold water and then julienne them in slices similar in size to the pork.

Now, get to work preparing the contents of the other bowls, which should be self explanatory. Once the mushroom are ready, chop off any hard, nubby bits, and then slice them into strips the size of the pork and bamboo shots.

You should now be locked and loaded – which is good because the next step will be fast and furious. Season your wok (if you don’t your meat will stick) and heat up the 75ml of oil over high heat.

Once the oil is nice and hot, throw in your marinating meat and cook until the pieces are white on all sides (about 1-2 minutes). Then, keeping your wok over the heat, push your meat to one side of the wok and tilt the wok at about 30° so that the oil pools opposite the meat. Put your chilli paste into the oil (but not the meat). Mix up your paste/oil mix until well incorporated in the oil (about 30 seconds) and try not to let any meat drop into it.

Next, add the garlic and ginger in the chilli-oil mix until you can smell them.

This is the home stretch. Level your wok and rest it on the heating element. Throw in the bamboo shoots and cloud-ear mushrooms, and fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the sauce and mix quickly, then toss in the spring onions. Mix for about 10-20 seconds and serve immediately.

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