For a good chunk of my life, I’ve harbored a secret. It’s something my wife is pretty disgusted by, something that few friends here in Singapore sympathize with or even understand. But I know there are others out there like me, others that share my hidden shame. Some are even more passionate about it than I am. Those people indulge this vice regularly while for me, it was always an occasional tryst… something that always satisfied me yet also made me feel just a tad ashamed of myself.
But enough is enough. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life is that there’s absolutely no point pretending to be something that you’re not. And so, I’ve decided to simply come clean and say to the world a few simple but pretty shocking words.
I actually like American-Chinese food.
Well, not all of it mind you. I’ll never understand or appreciate what Americans call “Singapore Noodles” and I find beef and broccoli pretty bland and boring. But I do enjoy my fair share of a cuisine that my darling food-writer wife, who grew up in Singapore, refuses to acknowledge as real Chinese food. I like and have eaten over the years a substantial amount of General Tso’s chicken, cold sesame noodles, eggplant in hot garlic sauce, lemon chicken, sesame chicken, kung pao chicken, and shrimp lo mein. (Note that I’m saying “like”, not “love”. While I do enjoy and even occasionally crave these MSG-rich dishes, I would never go so far as to actually say that I love them.)
Another dish that I enjoy is moo shoo pork, served with pancakes of course. The first time I told this to S, she actually burst out laughing. Not only had she never eaten the dish, she didn’t think that anyone with any taste would ever voluntarily seek it out. I think for quite a while she was pretty freaked out that she had actually married someone who would. Fortunately (for me), she got over it. That didn’t stop her, however, from making fun of my moo shoo madness for the longest time.
A couple years ago, S picked up a book by American-Chinese food-writer Grace Young called The Breath of a Wok. As I’ve written before, we have a ludicrous number of cookbooks. And while we try our best to look through and use as many of our books as possible, there are a few that S might look at but that I’ll forget about and vice-versa. Young’s The Breath of a Wok is one such work. While S has poured over several of the recipes in it, I only opened it for the first time last week. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I flipped the book open and found a recipe for “Virginia Yee’s Moo Shoo Pork with Mandarin Pancakes”. If you can do that, now try and imagine S’s groans of sheer fright and horror when I announced that I was whipping up a batch for dinner!
To her credit, she was a complete trooper. After several hours of pleading, she agreed to help out, taking on the difficult task of making the dough for the pancakes. And at the end of our meal, I was pleased as punch that she actually admitted that she enjoyed her very first moo shoo pork platter. Of course, I should say that Young’s recipe yields a substantially healthier and more flavourful version than anything I’ve ever had before.
Moo Shoo Pork
Adapted from Grace Young’s The Breath of a Wok
1/3 cup cloud ears
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
45g dried cellophane noodles
230g pork butt/shoulder
3.5 teaspoons soy sauce
1.5 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2.5 teaspoons Shao Hsing rice wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 slices ginger
2 scallions, diced
1.5 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup cup canned shredded bamboo shoots
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Soak the cloud ears in cold water for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain, trim away the hard parts and cut the rest into shreds. Set aside. In a separate bowl, soak the shiitake mushrooms in 1/2 cup of cold water for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid. Squeeze the mushrooms dry, discard the stems and cut the caps into fine shreds. Set aside. In another bowl, submerge the cellophane noodles in cold water and soak for 15 minutes. Drain and cut into 3 inch pieces.
Cut the pork into small “matchstick” pieces. Put the pork into a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the Shao Hsing, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, 1/2 tablespoon of the Hoisin, 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar, and a pinch of pepper. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, combine the salt, and the remaining 2.5 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons Shao Hsing, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon Hoisin, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and the reserved mushroom liquid. Set aside.
Heat a well-seasoned flat-bottomed wok or large fry pan over high heat. Swirl in the vegetable oil, add the ginger and cook it for 10 seconds. Then remove the ginger and throw it away. Add the scallions and shiitake mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Push the scallion mixture to the side and add the pork, spreading it evenly. Cook for 20 seconds undisturbed. Then stir-fry for 1-2 minutes.
Add the cloud ears, cabbage and bamboo shoots. Stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Add the cellophane noodles and stir-fry just to combine. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the pork until the sauce has thickened and the noodles are cooked through, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil.
These are to be eaten with Mandarin pancakes. The Breath of a Wok has a fantastic recipe for making exceptional pancakes. For the recipe, please buy the book.