This riff from Better Homes and Gardens on the popular Chinese Sichuan recipe features a spicy sauce, fresh vegetables, and ground pork. Black vinegar has a hint of fruitiness and gives this street food favorite a touch of umami richness.
As is typical, we did make some changes. The first included using broccoli rabe instead of Chinese broccoli. In doing so, we tossed it in the pot with the carrots and shallots due to a longer cooking time. The amounts of ground pork and lo mien noodles were about 25% more than called for, and an extra carrot was added. For even more depth of flavor, we used our home made chicken stock.
*Shopping Notes: Buy Szechuan peppercorns at Asian markets or spice stores. An Asian market is best for salty, garlicky black bean paste and leafy Chinese broccoli (aka gai lan). Black vinegar is occasionally at large supermarkets. A good sub for it is 1 Tbsp. each rice vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.
2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns* or 4 dried Thai chile peppers
1 lb. ground pork
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1 medium carrot, cut into thin, bite-size strips
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
8 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 Tbsp. black bean paste*
6 oz. dried lo mein noodles
2 cups trimmed and thinly sliced Chinese broccoli*, broccolini or broccoli rabe
1 cup fresh snow pea pods, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 Tbsp. black vinegar*
½ cup chopped, lightly salted cocktail peanuts
lime wedges for garnish (optional)
In a 5- to 6-qt. Dutch oven heat oil and peppercorns over medium 1 to 2 minutes or until peppercorns are fragrant, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Let stand 2 minutes. Remove and discard peppercorns, reserving oil.
Add ground pork, garlic, and five-spice powder to oil in Dutch oven. Cook over medium-high heat until meat is browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove meat.
Add carrot and shallots to drippings. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add broth and bean paste to Dutch oven. Bring to boiling. Add noodles; return to boiling. Cook according to noodle package directions until tender, stirring occasionally and adding broccoli the last 2 minutes.
Stir in cooked meat and pea pods; cook 2 minutes more. Stir in vinegar. Top servings with peanuts.
For those of you who favor bold Asian dishes, you’re going to want to put this recipe on your short list. It used to be that the only place to experience Szechuan cooking was China’s Sichuan province—a region located in the southwestern part of the country. But it is quite common just about everywhere now.
Though it is particularly unique in that Szechuan cooking is known for its dishes loaded with beef, rice, vegetables and, of course, Szechuan (or Sichuan) pepper. Although the main protein in this dish is pork.
Szechuan pepper is the trademark ingredient in Szechuan cuisine, however it doesn’t carry a lot of heat because it’s not even a pepper! Instead the regional spice is made from tiny peppercorns made from the dried husk of an ash shrub. These tiny pink peppercorns provide a kick of citrusy flavor that marries well with ingredients like ginger, soy and steamed veggies.
I didn’t notice until after I made and ate this fabulous dish, that I had completely forgotten to include the 1 tablespoon of sugar in the pork marinade. But we didn’t miss it at all, so if you have scaled back on sugar in your diet, then I would say it is OK to eliminate it here.
At the very end of the cooking process, we weren’t satisfied with how thin the liquid in the stew appeared. Russ made a last minute decision to make a slurry from corn starch and water to thicken the sauce. It only took another couple of minutes, and not only coated the meat nicely, it gave a more substantial appearance overall.
1 Tbsp. cornstarch with 1 Tbsp. water for slurry (optional)
4 scallions (both white and green parts), thinly sliced
Make the Marinade:
Toss the pork cubes with the soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, sugar, and five-spice powder. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, or, cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. (We marinaded for 8 hours.)
Make the Stew:
Sprinkle the pork with the cornstarch and toss to coat.
Heat a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and when it’s shimmering, add half of the pork in an even layer, Cook, undisturbed, until browned around the edges, and pork lifts easily with tongs, about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium. Flip, and cook the other side until browned, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.
Repeat the process with the remaining half of the pork.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, the ginger, garlic, szechuan peppers and chiles. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 minutes.
Add the broth, soy sauce and oyster sauce, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
Add the pork and any accumulated juices. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender, about 1 hour.
To make a thicker sauce, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 tablespoon of cold water and mix until smooth. Heat the pot until a simmering boil and add the slurry a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir together for 30 seconds.
Chinese broccoli, also known as Chinese kale, is a leafy green vegetable closely related to thick-stemmed broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. It has flat leaves, thick stems, and tiny florets. It’s not easy to find Chinese broccoli in regular grocery stores, so check your local Asian market, which is more likely to carry it.