We try to eat out in a “nicer” restaurant once a week as a family since we only have one day off together as a family per week. ‘Nicer’ probably doesn’t have the same health code standards as one would expect in the Western world, but it is a way to taste the local food. At the ‘nicer’ restaurants, sometimes we get pinyin AND picture menus, which usually make it easier to order. Even if by now I can ask for things like corn cakes, eggplant (and understand the word ‘grilled’), and make sure we know if we are eating pork, chicken, or beef.
And we have our favorite places and dishes. I’m starting to recognize variants of the same dish and have started deducing that certain things must be common, everyday dishes. After a fairly disappointing Saturday night meal at a restaurant we were returning to for the second time-we were served two different kinds of soups even though we never would have guessed we had ordered a second soupy entrée and our green beans were too salty, I decided it was time I try my hands at making another Chinese dish at home.
Now, I’ve seen these green beans at a few places. The best one we’ve had were in Hong Kong the same night we had fried shrimp and garlic on sticks. So to see them hundreds of kilometers away from each other intrigued me.
Dry Frying is a technique where the main ingredient is fried in a wok with a decent amount of oil until it gets, well, dry on the outsides. When you dry fry meat, it gets dry (as you might expect) and chewy, with little crispy edges here and there. It’s surprisingly good-even if I happen to be a so-bloody-it’s-still-mooing kind of person if I sit down and order a steak or something. That’s one of my weird quirks since I don’t really like steak in the first place. But you can do this with vegetables, too. Back to dry frying: once your main ingredient is cooked, you set it aside and very skilfully toss around your aromatics and any accompanying ingredients. You can add tiny bits of meat at this stage if you are making veggies. But they have to be bits because you aren’t supposed to let your dry fried ingredient get steamed and soggy as it sits off to the side. That’s why I said skilled, although perhaps organized would be even more important. I suppose that last part might make it an extreme exercise in patience, of which I have none, although for this dish, I’m definitely willing to work at it.
On the green beans, the outer skin will start to blister and become varying shades of puffed-up brown. The first time I ever saw this dish sitting out at a corner restaurant, I actually did not order it because dry frying beans actually makes the beans look wilted. At first, I imagined them being overcooked and semi-burnt. Not very appetizing, but luckily for me, so not true.
I got my inspiration from An Appetite for China’s blog. Hers were vegetarian, using mushrooms instead of pork, and I happened to have both on hand and a husband whose favorite vegetable is mushroom. Is that considered a vegetable? I did increase the quantity of chili bean paste, cooking oil, and just about everything in no particular order. My alterations were strictly based on what looked good and what I know I like from experience.
I was quite happy with the end results. A word of warning though to people cooking with Sichuan Peppercorn for the first time: if you use the powdered stuff you don’t have to use as much as I’ve written in the recipe. If you are using whole ones, the red peppercorns are more ‘fragrant’ and less pungent than their green relatives, or so I’ve been told anyway. If you are using the whole ones, you should probably pick around them while you are eating. If you bite down on one, you probably won’t like it very much. You probably won’t like it at all. I generally follow an accidental bite with lots of rice and a little water or beer. But, these are an integral part of Sichuan cooking and the locals can be seen using their chopsticks like little wooden tweezers playing a grown-up, culinary version of Operation.
I have the green ones on hand at this point and time, and in today’s recipe I could barely taste the numbing effect when it was fresh off the stove top. However, in the evening when we ate these for leftovers, every so often, even without accidentally chewing on the dreaded peppercorn, I was getting its famous electric flavor-which is the whole point of using these suckers in the first place. Yay!
If you don’t know what a Sichuan peppercorn is and this dish looks puuuuuuurty enough to try right now, you won’t get the same effect, but any red chili pepper will be a happy runner up in this Sichuan dish my family can now enjoy from the comforts of our own home.
And with that…off you go.
- ¾ pound green beans
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup dried red chilli peppers, seeds removed and cut in half
- 1 Tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorn
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 scallions, white parts only+stems for garnish
- 1 cup ground pork
- 6 shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine (I used a basic cooking wine)
- 1 tablespoon chili bean paste
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- Snap your beans into thirds or fourths. Set them in a bowl. Let them dry completely before dry frying.
- Prepare the dried chilies, peppercorn, minced garlic, scallions, and minced ginger. Set aside in a bowl together.
- Set aside the mushrooms and the sausage
- Mix your sauce until the sugar dissolves. .
- Then heat the oil in the wok. When the sides of the walk have started smoking slightly swirl the oil in the wok and add your green beans. Let them fry, stirring every now and again with a spatula to keep them from burning. It should take about 5 minutes for the green beans to look slightly wilted and start to have golden brown blisters. Drain all but 1-2 tablespoons of oil and remove the green beans from the wok. You may turn off the heat while you do this. I know I'm not a pro yet.
- Then, set the wok back on a medium flame. Work quickly to add your aromatics (the bowl with the garlic and ginger, etc.). Stir for about 30 seconds and add the pork and mushrooms. Let everything stir fry until the pork is cooked through and add the green beans back in to the wok. Pour the sauce over everything and cook for another minute more.
- Serve with your favorite Chinese dishes, family style. Garnish with the rest of the scallions.
This week I can be found partying at these sites: