I started cooking Chinese food back in the day – back before the day, really, when exploratory cooking was not quite a thing yet in North America. I lived in a small college town with a lot of international students, so there were a couple of tiny shops where one could get ingredients like soy sauce (real, actual soy sauce), tofu, chili paste, all these products that today are an ordinary part of our pantries, but back then were… odd. Whatever. I loved trying to figure it out.
The owners of my favorite shop were always puzzled by my adventures. When I would step up to the counter, with my arms full of jars of hoisin sauce and chili paste, and tall bottles of black vinegar, and bags of dried mysteries (shrimp? mushrooms? lily buds?), and bundles of little wiry white noodles and skinny brown noodles and opaque flat noodles and yellow noodles twirled into nests, the owners would smile at me and, every time, ask the same question. “You have a Chinese husband, yes?” “No,” I would say, and they would look at me skeptically. I think they never believed me, or thought I perhaps didn’t understand what they were asking.
What I did have was a powerful hankering for more of this delicious cuisine. I just love Asian food. It’s like a palace with thousands of rooms, and I never can explore it enough. There are plenty of elaborate, exquisite dishes that demand days and ornate processes and rare ingredients. But there are also lots of dishes and techniques that are fast and simple, that use little energy and modest ingredients and can appear on the table in just a little while.
This is one of those dishes: a simple marinade of an animal protein (here, the favorite Chinese meat – pork), then fast frying with one vegetable. You can use this same marinade for beef, chicken or lamb – you can use it for ground meats – you can vary the marinade ingredients. You can cook it in a wok, you can cook it in a skillet. Start marinating the meat in the morning and then when you get home from work, the rest will take just a few minutes – even less time than cooking the rice. A few ingredients, a few minutes, a lot of flavor.
Pork and Green Bean Stir Fry
1/2 pound boneless pork (see Kitchen Notes)
1 big clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (or dry white wine) [editor's note: may substitute cooking wine]
2 tablespoons Korean red pepper paste (or to taste – see Kitchen Notes)
1/2-inch piece of ginger, crushed
1 tablespoon water
1/2 pound green beans
cooked white rice
1. Slice the pork into thin 2-inch-long slivers. Mix together the crushed garlic, soy sauce, mirin, red pepper paste, water, and ginger in a small bowl. Put in the pork, stir everything together, cover, and refrigerate. You can do this in the morning before you leave for work. Marinate for at least half an hour and up to all day.
2. When you get home from work, wash and trim the green beans. If you like, you can slice into 2-inch pieces. Take the bowl out of the fridge.
3. Start the rice before you start cooking the stir fry – white rice takes a few minutes more to cook than does this dish.
3. Heat canola oil in a skillet or wok until it is shimmering hot. First, sauté the green beans on high heat for about 90 seconds, or until they are crunchy-blistery ready. Scoop them out of the pan and reserve.
4. Add a little more oil to the pan, heat. Drain most of the marinade from the meat (you want just enough left to lightly cloak everything in the cooking pan, not to make a liquid sauce); discard whatever you are not using as well as the garlic and ginger chunks. Then, all at once, toss the pork into the pan, shake it, and cook rapidly. When the pork is generally browned but not quite done, return the green beans to the pan. Stir everything for another 45 seconds or so. When everything is heated through, turn off the heat. You are done. Serve over fresh hot rice.
Pork meat. Boneless pork chops thinly sliced work fine for this dish. Some stores also carry pork meat pre-cut for stir-frying.
Hot hot heat. I thought this was modestly hot. If you really don’t care for spicy food, omit the red pepper paste. If you love spice, amp it up with more red pepper paste or a dash of hot oil or chili paste or Sriracha. The next time I make this, I will be tossing in one of these spicy extras.
Veganomics. Yes, you can also use tofu rather than animal protein. I recommend using extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-1/2” cubes. Marinate it for maybe 15 or 20 minutes (not all day), then sauté so it lightly browns on all sides. When you add the green beans back to the dish, toss everything together gently, please.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Pork Chestnut Kale Stir Fry with Fried Soba Noodles