Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jiangxi's stir-fried bamboo shoots and cured pork

As I was perusing a Jiangxi cookbook, I came across a recipe that struck me for many reasons. 

First, it really shows how much Hunan cuisine has helped shape the cooking of Jiangxi. Second, it has fresh bamboo in it, and I will pretty much try anything if it has fresh bamboo shoots. 

And third, it calls for cured pork, and since I had a hunk of it whiling away in the fridge, this looked like the perfect recipe for dinner.

It's also a good recipe to show that -- as with Sichuan and Hunan cuisines -- the foods of Jiangxi are not always spicy. Rather, this one reveals the same gentle side that Hunan shows to people who grow to love her, one that soothes rather than startles. As with some of Hunan's great dishes, this one from Jiangxi features fermented black beans, or douchi.

Fermented black beans
If you've never tried fermented black beans before, you're in for a treat. They have a savoriness that is reminiscent of a really good soy sauce, an almost latent smokiness too, but since they're in compact little forms, they sparkle throughout a dish rather than make their presence known absolutely everywhere. 

So, when you take a bite of something that has been judiciously seasoned with douchi, like this one here for example, what happens is that another strong flavor will probably hit your palate first -- in this case the cured pork -- and then you'll most likely start paying attention to the shredded leaks with their herby, oniony flavor, and only when you bite down into a piece of fermented bean will you really notice them. 

They are slightly chopped, of course, so that some of their pungency gets a chance to be acquainted with the other ingredients, but by and large the rest of the flavor will sit there quietly in the rest of the bean and wait for the change to pounce on your taste buds.

Sliced cured pork
The other ingredient here is the cured pork, or larou. The character la refers to the last month of the lunar year, which stretches out over the last weeks of winter, and this is when meats like this would be at their prime in the good old days before refrigeration. 

As in the West, pigs were butchered in autumn when they were at their fattest, and the vast majority of the meat was preserved for use throughout the cold months.

Cured pork -- also known as gammon -- is pretty simple to make, and my late father-in-law was known to take a nice piece of fresh pork with the skin still on it, rub salt and saltpeter and seasonings into it to marinate and cure it, and then let it hang in a cool, dark place for about three days until it had dried out a bit, much like salt-cured ham. At that point it could be smoked or just refrigerated. Sometimes when you slice and fry it, the cured pork will take on a beautiful sheen and look like a beautiful fire opal in your pan!

Rainbow opalescence in frying gammon
Cured pork is popular in many areas of China, and each place has its own special way of doing it. However, unless you eat a lot of larou or just want to try your hand at it, it's easier just to buy a good piece at a Chinese grocery, especially around the Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year). 

They come in pound or so pieces vacuum packed, and you can keep the unopened package in a cool place. Once opened, keep the meat dry or else it will mold; just cut off what you want and pack the rest in an air-tight bag or container.

Jiangxi style bamboo shoots stir-fried with leeks and cured pork 
Ganshi dongsun chao larou  贛式冬筍炒臘肉  
Fresh sliced bamboo shoots
Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multicourse meal, or 2 to 3 as a main dish

2 large (winter) fresh bamboo shoots, or 4 frozen ones
1 inch ginger, peeled
8 ounces (or so) cured pork (see note above)
1 large leek
2 tablespoons fermented black beans (douchi, see note above)
6 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
6 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
6 tablespoons stock, or filtered water plus a bit of sea salt
Roasted sesame oil
1. Peel and trim the bamboo shoots. Slice each one in half, and then slice them lengthwise into thin dominoes. Place them in a small saucepan, cover with salted water, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until tender, and then drain.

2. Slice the ginger into very thin julienne. Rinse the pork and pat it dry; trim off and discard any skin, and then slice it against the grain into thin pieces about the same size as the bamboo. 

Clean the leak with the end attached
3. Cut the leek in half and trim off the dark green leaves as well as most of the roots, but leave on the hard end that holds the leaves together. Silt gets caught inside the leaves, so rinse the split leek carefully under running cool water; shake it dry, trim off the hard end, and then slice the leek into pieces about 2 inches long before cutting each section with the grain into thin julienne. Rinse the fermented black beans in a small strainer, shake dry, and coarsely chop.

4. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the ginger and quickly stir-fry it for a few seconds to release its fragrance before adding the pork. Stir-fry the pork until it begins to brown all over, and then toss in the bamboo shoots. 

5. Cook these together for about a minute, and then toss in the rest of the ingredients. Quickly stir-fry them (you don't want the leeks much more than barely done), taste to adjust the seasonings if needed, and then serve with a little drizzle of roasted sesame oil.


  1. Ah! I've never really liked the way my stirfried leeks turn out, but hadn't thought to cut them with the grain! I will do so next time.

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