Monday, September 29, 2014

Pure yum from Shanghai

Leaves are turning yellow, clouds threaten rain, and the garden looks like it is about ready to take a long nap. It must be autumn. As the weather starts to take on a distinctly chilly edge, my thoughts turn to my favorite warming foods, dishes that welcome the shorter days and make me want to have dinner earlier than scheduled. Today's recipe is just that sort of a meal.

One of the true delights of homestyle cooking along the Yangtze is its ability to comfort the soul as well as the stomach. In this dish, for example, is a luscious combination of super-tender cabbage threads seasoned with a bit of pork, and while that might not sound like much, the results are incomparable.
Its Chinese name calls to mind the English dish “mushy peas,” for lanhu rousi literally means “soft mush pork threads.” But just as the British love their peas, the people near Shanghai adore this. It is simplicity itself: finely shredded napa cabbage is slowly cooked in chicken stock until it turns soft and silky, with shreds of pork and ginger offering a touch of texture and flavor.

I have changed up the recipe a bit, since I have tossed the raw pork with pink salt. This lends the pork a bit more personality, turning it a pretty rosy hue that contrasts with the glossy gold of the cabbage. It also creates more of a hammy flavor, and I love how these little bits then shimmer against the soft cosset of vegetables, rather than simply float in the background.
Boring gets a makeover
This serves four as part of a larger dinner, but to be honest, I could easily devour this all by myself. So, if you are offering only one more dish, I’d count on this serving two people at the most, but it is easily multiplied. The amount of cabbage will probably terrify you as you slice it up, but I promise that it will cook down quickly into a sweet, porridge-like puddle with savory notes from the chicken and pork. It’s heavenly.

Creamy cabbage with shredded pork
Lànhú ròusī   爛糊肉絲
Serves 4

2 (or so) ounces lean boneless pork
½ teaspoon sea salt
A pinch of pink (curing) salt, optional

1 head of napa cabbage, between 1 and 1½ pounds
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely shredded ginger
2 cups unsalted chicken stock 
¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cool water

Shanghai comfort food
1. Rinse the pork and pat it dry. Cut it across the grain into thin pieces, and then slice these into thin strips. Place the pork in a small work bowl and toss with the two salts. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the pork for a couple of hours to allow the pink salt time to work its magic and give the meat a hammy flavor and rosy hue.

2. Clean and core the cabbage, shake it dry, and cut it against the grain into a thin julienne. Just before you start to cook, rinse the pork thoroughly in a colander to wash off all of the pink salt. Shake the pork dry and empty it onto a paper towel to wick up any remaining moisture.

3. Place a wok over high heat and swirl in the oil once it gets hot. Add the ginger and toast it quickly in the oil to release its fragrance. Sprinkle in the pork shreds and then toss the pork over the heat until it has turned white. Scrape the pork and ginger out into a clean work bowl, leaving as much of the oil in the wok as possible.

4. Return the wok to high heat and add the cabbage. Toss the cabbage until it has wilted. Stir in the pork, stock, salt as needed, and sugar, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook this uncovered for around 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender. Dribble the cornstarch mixture around the edge of the cabbage and then mix it in thoroughly by swirling the wok around. When the sauce has thickened and turns glossy, taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour the cabbage onto a rimmed plate or into a bowl. Serve hot.


  1. I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to say that my mom makes something very similar.

    She adds plenty of bean threads or glass noodles, which helps thicken the sauce -- no need for the starch -- and it becomes a one pot meal.

    1. That is brilliant. Thank you (and your mom)! Now I can't wait to make it with the noodles...