The beauty of a real home cooked Sichuan style meal is in its simplicity. That’s what I’m learning. Most of the times dishes are extremely vibrant looking. They swim in red broths. The meat is lying under round slices of green pepper. Branches of Sichuan flower peppers adorn a whole black chicken. Thin black fungus slices intermingle with bright green zucchini slices. But you probably won’t have a dish with carrots, tomatoes, corn and potatoes.
So far, my most consistent ‘home cooked’ meal experience, by which, I quite simply mean not restaurant cooking, is our school cafeteria. The teachers have a separate meal from the children. The menu is delicious, even though you can count on the same dishes every Monday because it is a rotating, seasonal menu.
I would imagine that much like a family, the cafeteria is on a budget, although as I said, they do a good job at varying our tastes from salty, bitter, spicy, and sweet. Sometimes the dishes are seasoned with pickled red chilies and other times my tongue tingles numb as I bite into cracked Sichuan pepper. Most of the dishes I have been served will usually have bits of meat in it (no cat, although I’m told that in the countryside eating rat used to be quite common and that it was quite expensive at the market, so FYI, no rats either). So you might have pork smothered in onions. Or celery and pork tidbits with pickled chili.
Keep it simple.
There is one dish I love (all right two or three sounds more accurate) and I wanted to know how to make it. I’m not sure what it is called, but basically it’s the Chinese version of roast beef and potatoes. Chunks of beef are red fried in oil and chili bean paste, which is a wok frying technique that I have yet to master in all likelihood, and then a sauce and some water are added to everything and left to simmer with a few potatoes for an hour or two. Easy peasy.
When my colleague told me this I couldn’t believe how easy it sounded. The sauce always looks a bit oily, so I imagined that it would be outrageously fattening. I didn’t know if I’d even want to know how to make it, but she corrected me there, too. Apparently, it’s mostly the water and the meat juices that end up spiraling together to create little beefy juice bubbles (yum).
Oh and the Chinese use cinnamon bark to flavor meat dishes. So, what I’ve made for you today is a slightly salty, cinnamon-y reddish-hued broth with large chunks of juicy tender pork and boiled potatoes. Doesn’t that warm your belly in whatever cold area you happen to be sitting in (or rather, looking out at since I imagine you aren’t actually sitting outside)?
- 2 pounds of pork, cut into chunks of roughly the same size
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks of roughly the size
- 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons or dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons chili bean paste, pureed
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 4 star anise
- 1 tablespoon sliced ginger root (pieces roughly the size of your thumbnail)
- 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
- 4-6 scallions, the sliced white part
- 6 tablespoons of oil (corn, vegetable, or olive)
- +5 cups of water for reducing into a broth.
- Rice for serving
- Short on time? Cube your pork and potatoes into smaller chunks. They will cook faster, which means you will eat faster. The bean paste is pureed if there are large pieces of beans in it. But in a pinch you really don’t have to do this. If you really like cooking with chili bean paste, you can puree 1 cup and store it in a Tupperware container in your refrigerator.
- Stir together all of the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl big enough to hold your meat and potatoes. Then, add the meat and potatoes. Cover and set aside while you prepare the aromatics.
- Then, heat either a wok or a pot and add the oil until it is hot. Add your garlic, ginger, and scallions and stir (1 minute on a wok, probably 3-5 for a pot). Do not let your garlic burn! If it starts to brown, pour the meat, potatoes and marinade into your cookware and add the water at once.
- You can let this simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes-2 hours. When the meat is fully cooked and the potatoes are tender, you can make the rice and serve the two together.