Monday, April 30, 2007

Noodles with Bean-Paste Meat Sauce

From "The Key to Chinese Cooking" by Irene Kuo

As with most Asian recipes, the ingredients list can be intimidatingly long but this does not mean the recipe is complicated. It is simply a matter of preparing a meat sauce, cooking noodles and cutting vegetables, all of which can be done ahead of time.

"The Key to Chinese Cooking" is the cookbook I used to learn Chinese cooking. Despite the plethora of Chinese cookbooks that followed this one remains my favorite both for technique and recipes. If you are at all interested in Chinese cooking I strongly urge you to seek it out at used bookstores.

1 pound noodles, boiled

Garnish:
1 large firm, slender cucumber
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
2 cups shredded* romaine lettuce
1-1/2 cups shredded* celery
4 large cloves garlic, minced or mashed
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 pound ground pork (I often use ground beef instead)
4 tablespoons oil (I often omit this and just cook the meat alone)
1 large scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dry sherry

Sauce:
5 tablespoons bean paste (I use black bean sauce which is widely available and add a pinch of sugar as Kuo suggests for a substitution)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup water

To Make Noodles:
Cook fresh noodles or spaghetti or linguine according to the instructions. Rinse, drain, and set aside. Toss with a little sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. When ready to serve, either reheat in microwave or plunge them into a pot of boiling water to boil briefly till hot and drain well.

To Prepare Garnishes:
Cut off the ends and peel the cucumber; halve and deseed it. Cut the halves diagonally into 1-1/2-inch-long slices, then shred* them. Rinse and drain the bean sprouts. Parboil them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain into a colander and spray with cold water. Drain well.

Separate lettuce leaves; rinse and shake dry. Cut the larger leaves in half lengthwise; then shred them crosswise thin. Cut the tender core diagonally into thin slices and then shred* these.

Wash, scrape, then cut the celery stalks diagonally into thin slices, shred the slices thin. rinse in cold water and drain well.

Crush and peel the garlic; then either mince it or mash it in a garlic press. Mix with the sesame oil in a small dish.

Put each vegetable in a separate serving dish. If doing this step in advance, cover the dishes and refrigerate. Bring out just before serving.

To Make Meat Sauce:
March-chop** the pork a few times to loosen its formation. Place it with the finely chopped scallions on a platter. Combine the sauce ingredients and stir well.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add the 4 tablespoons oil, swirl and heat for 30 seconds. Turn heat to medium and add the meat, stirring briskly in poking and pressing motions until the meat separates. Scatter in the scallions and stir a few times; then add the sherry and stir rapidly to mingle. Give the sauce ingredients a big stir, pour over the meat and stir to even out the contents.

Turn heat to low to maintain a gentle simmering, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened, stirring now and then. At this point, add a little sugar if the sauce needs it -- it should be on the salty side with a subtle sweet aftertaste.

Turn the heat high, add the sesame oil, and give a few fast folds before pouring into a serving dish. The sauce may be made ahead of time, covered and chilled. Reheat over very low heat just before serving.

To Serve:
Place the vegetable garnishes in a circle in the center of the table with the hot meat sauce in the middle. Pile the hot noodles on a platter or in a deep bowl. Serve the noodles to each person and let him or her spoon on a little sauce and a sprinkling of vegetable garnishes. The mixture should be tossed well before being eaten. Serves 6-8 generously.

*"Shredding" is cutting ingredients into uniform strips about the size of wooden matchsticks.

** "March-chop" is a polishing finish for refining hand-minced meats or loosening the tight formation of machine-ground meats. Gather minced or ground meat into a flat pile; chop with a cleaver or big knife, straight up and down from one end of the pile to the other a few times. Then flip the pile over with the side of the cleaver and chop now at 90 degrees to the first row a few times.

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