Let me start by saying I love this dish, with a passion. There is something about the unctuous golden fat and the carmelised, melting pork which create a taste sensation – umami at its best. I didn’t think it would be possible to create such aromatic magic in a relatively short time with a cut of meat – belly of pork – that often requires long slow cooking.
It was Joanne (@dudara) who first alerted me to the cuisine of the southern Chinese province of Hunan and suggested we seek it out when we were in Beijing last June. Hunan is the region Mao Zedong came from. It is a region of bold, spicy flavours, fond of its chillies, and the fiery food seems to shape the spirit of its inhabitants. We didn’t manage to track down a Hunan restaurant in Beijing but, when I got back, Joanne encouraged me to get hold of of Fucshia Dunlop‘s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, a seminal book on the food of that region.
When I was in London recently, she pointed me in the direction of Ba Shan Restaurant at 24 Romilly Street, London W1. Sometimes referred to as Bashan, it has a menu of Hunan dishes and is a sister restaurant to the nearby Sichuan Bar Shu. Fuchsia Dunlop advised both restaurants on their menus and Ba Shan features a number of dishes based on those in her book. See Jay Rayner’s review here. Laoise (@cuisinegenie) joined me for dinner and we tried Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork which is one of the signature dishes of the region. The recipe below, which features in a Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, came from Mao Anping, a nephew of Chairman Mao. Mao Zedong loved this dish and allegedly ate 2 bowls of it a day to keep his intellect in shape, insisting on it being prepared for him in Beijing.
The Chinese like to attribute medicinal properties to every dish but, to me, this is just aromatic, sticky, treacly and delicious. I was determined to try it out myself and the result was sublime. I actually prefer the recipe below to the version I tasted in Ba Shan which may have been adapted for restaurant use.
Now three months into the blog, most of the recipes I post are Shan’s or my own but, when I started out, I asked Fuchsia Dunlop’s permission to re-print a few recipes from her books. I hope that sharing with you this particular recipe, which is just too perfect to mess with, will encourage you to buy the book which is packed full of Hunan delights.
To make the dish I used a beautiful piece of Irish belly of pork, chosen for me by Fintan at Dunne’s of Donnybrook, Dublin 4 which was recently awarded the Star Shop of the Year by the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland. Chairman Mao’s Red-braised Pork – mao shi hong shao rou – 毛氏红烧肉
Since I started this blog I’ve been fascinated by the flavours of Sichuan cooking. It would be a mistake to think these are all about hot and spicy dishes, even if numbing Sichuan pepper is currently my favourite ingredient.
In her memoir Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop talks of learning the 23 ‘official’ complex flavours of Sichuan cooking. One of those is yu xiang wei or ‘fish fragrant flavour’ which came about as a result of the desire of chefs in that land-locked province to make more use of the flavourings used in traditional Sichuanese fish cookery. It is a unique combination of salty and spicy, sweet and sour which doesn’t drift over into the more familiar, and sometimes cloying, sweet and sour flavours of Cantonese cooking. It is heavy on garlic, ginger, spring onions and uses soy sauce and sometimes chilli bean paste for seasoning. The gorgeous dark Chinkiang vinegar and Shaoxing rice wine also make a regular appearance.
This is what the Chinese call fu he wei – engaging the palate simultaneously on several levels and is what I most LOVE about Chinese food.
When I cooked Fish Fragrant Aubergines the other night from Every Grain of Rice, I remembered that I hadn’t yet tried Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds – Yu Xiang Rou – one of the dishes Ricky the head chef made for me in the China Sichuan when I visited their kitchen. See Inside the Kitchen of the China Sichuan.
The owner Kevin Hui gave me their recipe for this dish and I tried it out my own version of it tonight along with Shane & Shan’s recipe for Bashed Cucumber – Pai Huang Gua. The quantity below serves 4 to 6 people. Make the bashed cucumber first and leave it in the fridge to allow the flavours to mingle.while you are preparing the pork.
I suspect if I had a Sichuan Master Chef standing over me tasting my dishes he would have things to say about the balance of flavours but to my developing palate this tasted just like I remember it in China Sichuan. I love the way the cornflour sauce adds sheen to the dish and the chilli bean paste, dark soy and Chinkiang vinegar give it a rich dark red colour – a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, especially when set against the contrasting bright green cucumber. Continue reading Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds with Shan's Bashed Cucumber
I had a special kind of Monday evening tonight. For many years a group of us women friends, mostly busy mothers, met in Marlay Park, Rathfarnham on a Sunday morning for a run and an aerobic workout on the steps of the old house. And every Monday night we would go to an aerobic class in nearby Lamb Doyles with Gladys our wonderful teacher. Well 10 years or more have passed, kids grew up, a lot of us drifted apart. I haven’t seen most of those women in years.
Until tonight that is when Gladys got us all together for one night only as a charity fund-raiser for Crumlin Children’s Hospital – her daughter is running the New York Marathon for them. Even the pressure to get home from town in rush hour traffic and make a quick change into workout gear brought back old familiar feelings, When we walked into that room, shrieking with delight at recognising old faces that hadn’t changed nearly as much as we feared, all we were short of was the leg warmers.
The music came on – “I will survive” inevitably – and with a tear in my eye, muscle memory kicked into action and we were off. Apart from a few moans and groans, and nobody pregnant, it was as if we had never skipped a beat. Gladys didn’t spare us, well she cut back on the leaping about a bit, so we will have some aches and pains tomorrow. It was a bit of magic, a chance to catch up with old friends who are wearing rather well and to marvel at the daughters who turned up, the same age as the ones we used to fret about on our Sunday morning walks, now grown up into gorgeous young adults.
Having undertaken to cook dinner for “the lodger” aka my lovely niece Jodie, I didn’t hang about for coffee afterwards but it was still 9.30 by the time I got home and I was on a high and ravenous. The meal that follows was on the table by 10. Maybe it was the mood but this was one of the tastiest Chinese meals we have had yet. Inspired by the taste, I went onto the internet and my rambling bought me to Bay vs Kitchen, where I found many a great recipe.
I was prompted to try Ching-He Huang’s version of Twice Cooked Pork after seeing her prepare it on Saturday Kitchen Live on BBC1 last Saturday morning and it is included in Exploring China – a Culinary Adventure. It uses pork belly – wu hua rou – 5 layers of heaven – skin, fat, meat, fat, meat. Chin-He was great fun on the programme by the way and you can follow her on twitter @chinghehuang. I rang ahead on the way to Duncannon last Saturday evening and got the last piece of pork belly in Wallace’s SuperValu Wellington Bridge just as they were closing at 7 pm. It’s best to boil the pork the day before you use it – see below.
The green beans are a vegetarian variation of Shan’s recipe for fried green beans which was the very first dish I cooked for the blog. I like this version as you don’t need to have small amounts of minced pork in your fridge to make it. I found it in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. Fuchsia is also on twitter @fuchsiadunlop. The excellent Irish green beans came from P.Ryan in Rush Co. Dublin.
I’ve got to the stage that I find myself rushing home from the city centre with that “can’t wait” feeling whenever I have a new recipe from Shan to try out. Of course I inevitably have questions for her when it it 3.30 in the morning in Beijing so I’m usually on my own interpreting her instructions when it comes to my first attempt at a dish.
This is Shan’s latest recipe and it is a common dish in the Northeast of China. What struck me immediately about it is what good use it makes of fresh Irish ingredients – pork, carrots, leeks and potatoes. It is easy to make and took about 45 minutes from the time I got in the door to get it on the table. Shan says its best served with rice.
When I’m cooking Chinese food I usually only need a wok and one saucepan and on a weeknight I serve straight from the wok to individual bowls which also cuts down on the washing up. Pork Rib & Potato Stew (tu dou dun pai gu 土豆炖排骨)
Pork rib chops (500g, ask your butcher to chop them to 3cm long pieces)
I’ve been feeling very chuffed and excited today to see Shananigansblog.com in print in Food File in the Irish Times magazine. A big thank you to Marie Claire Digby for her review and to Aoife of Babaduck (@babaduck71) fame for having the thought to send me the screen grab below.
I’ve started reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper – a fantastic insight into her discovery of China and its cuisine. Fuchsia was the first westerner to train as a chef at China’s Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. She writes beautifully and she describes vividly her first encounter with Thousand Year Old Eggs – preserved duck eggs in her case. “They leered up at me like the eyeballs of some nightmarish monster, dark and threatening.” She made me giggle because I had a very similar reaction to them and like her I had resolved to dive into the China experience this time and to eat whatever was put in front of me without question. And so I did. I swallowed every single preserved egg I encountered on my trip and felt they deserved their Chinglish title of “perservered eggs” See post on Upper East Beijing and Yuxiang Kitchen.
Fuchsia’s memoir is a testament to how much has changed since the early 1990s, not just in China but in world-wide communications. Imagine if Fuchsia had a blog and Twitter at her disposal on that first visit to Chengdu where, in reality, she was almost completely cut off from the outside world. My own 21st century China odyssey seems very tame by comparison. And yet the superficial modernisation of China can be deceptive. The “otherness” of the culture can jump out and catch you unawares.
It took me a while to figure out that “Fish-Fragrant Flavour” dishes in Sichuan cuisine have no fish in them. These You Xiang Wei Xing dishes are based on the seasonings traditionally used in fish cookery – what Fuchsia describes as salty, sweet, spicy and sour notes, heavy on garlic, ginger and spring onions and using soy sauce and sometimes chilli bean paste for seasoning.
Yu Xiang Rou – Fish Flavoured Pork Shreds is one of the dishes Ricky the head chef made for me in the China Sichuan when I visited their kitchen recently. See Inside the Kitchen of the China Sichuan. Kevin Hui kindly gave me their recipe for this dish which is one of their favourites. It’s pretty straightforward and I look forward to trying it at home (which I subsequently did and you can see my results here.) Ingredients:Continue reading China Sichuan's Fish Flavoured Pork Shreds