Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stir-Fried Pork, Sichuan style

The minute Cook's Illustrated magazine arrived in our mailbox this week, we bookmarked 2 recipes to try.  I find this a wonderful magazine.  The testers have gone to all the trouble to take a recipe, try it several ways, and then present you with the perfect completed dish.

Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce was such a recipe.  One very strange step to me, was taking the slices of raw pork and soaking them in baking soda water to tenderize.  It really was beautifully tender and reminded me of Chinese restaurant style dishes.  But my curiosity has gotten the better of me, and I do think the next time I try this, I will forego the baking soda soaking just to see if there is a difference.

Though I did make a couple of substitutions in the sauce ingredients, I think it turned out very good.  I have never been a fan of adding sugar to sauces or salad dressings, so I will eliminate the sugar addition to the sauce next time.  I just don't care for it.

Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce (yu xiang pork)
  by Cook's Illustrated
  serves 4 to 6

If Chinese black vinegar is unavailable, substitute 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar.  If Asian broad-bean chili paste is unavailable, substitute 2 teaspoons of Asian chili-garlic paste of Sriracha sauce (use carefully).  Serve with steamed rice.


1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (I used Vermouth)
2 teaspoons ketchup
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch


12 ounces boneless country-style pork ribs, trimmed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cold water
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (I used Vermouth)
2 teaspoons cornstarch


4 garlic cloves, minced
2 scallions, white part minced, green part sliced thin
2 tablespoons Asian broad-bean chili paste
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
2 celery ribs, cut on bias into 1/4 inches slices

For the sauce:  Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

For the pork:   Cut pork into 2 inch lengths, then cut each length into 1/4 inch matchsticks.  Combine pork with baking soda and water in bowl.  Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Rinse pork in cold water.  Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.  Whisk rice wine and cornstarch in bowl.  Add pork and toss to coat.

For the stir-fry:  Combine garlic, scallion whites, and chili paste in bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12 inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking.  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 2-4 minutes.  Add celery and continue to cook until celery is tender-crisp, 2-4 minutes. ( At this point, I added the garlic, scallion whites and chili paste to the pan and stir fried for about 1 minutes.  I felt adding it to the meat would burn the garlic.)Transfer vegetables to separate

Add remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to now empty skillet and place over medium-high heat.  Add pork to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes.  Whisk sauce mixture to recombine and add to skillet.  Increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly until sauce has thickened and pork is cooked thoroughly.  Return vegetables to skillet and toss to combine.  Transfer to serving platter and sprinkle with scallion greens.

I was very fortunate in the 70's, as a young wife and mother, to live in a town in Michigan, where I was able to learn Chinese cooking in a class taught by an American woman married to a man from China.  I also lived next door to a woman from Korea who taught me several dishes including fantastic egg rolls and kim-chee.  After all these years, I still go back to these recipes.  I think most important of all, they taught me the technique of Oriental cooking.  I treasure those days of learning to cook in this delicious style.  Thank you Lynda and Lee.  I remember you both well.


  1. Wow this sounds just our sort of dish. I think the changes you have suggested sound perfect to me. Have a good weekend. Diane

  2. I have the new Cook's under the computer on my lap as I type this and hope to get into it later today. Glad to know you've already tried this one and enjoyed - it looks very good. I agree with you on the sugar and almost never use it.

  3. This dish sounds so good! I'm curious about the baking soda soak too. Wonder what it is supposed to do. Tenderize? Would have loved to have learned from Chinese cooks. I learned from some ladies from India. I will look for the ingredients for this dish. Love Cooks Illustrated.

  4. I make a variation of this a lot.

    I have never done the baking soda soak, very interesting.

    am going to try it

    Your dish looks delicious!

  5. I wonder if soaking in the baking soda and water is a little like brining? I hope you'll report if there seemed to be a difference or not. Lots of variables to consider though (as my warped little brain begins to whirl. LOL). Sure sounds delicious and I love the story about the two ladies who shared their cooking secrets with you. Those experiences are the jewels in the memory boxes. Thank you. blessings ~ Tanna

  6. Wow that sounds so good. I am copying it to use in the future. I have seen Cooks Illustrated in the store but have never bought it but it looks like such a good magazine. Maybe I need to buy it and try some of the recipes for myself.

  7. Funny, I usually skip the salt in stir-fries too. We enjoy stir-fries and use a wok we've had for ages. Your dish is not only lovely, but sounds delicious.

    I wonder if the baking soda water soak is one of the secrets to restaurant Chinese food?

  8. We do love Stir Fry Pork; this one looks and sounds amazing; a must try.

  9. Very interesting about the baking soda tenderizing method. This sounds like such a flavorful stir fry and I'm with you on the sugar!

  10. This looks really good, Susan. I'd never heard about the baking soda tip before.
    I remember the Air Force years in the 50's...we were friends with a Chinese couple and she gave me several recipes I treasure.

  11. We enjoy the recipes from Cook's Illustrated too, this pork stir fry looks like a good one. I like to follow the recipe as written the first time I make it and then make changes to it if I like it enough for a re-make!

  12. Susan,

    I love the magazine too. I have never heard of the baking soda soak. The dish sounds delicious.

    Happy Valentine's Day!


  13. Susan,
    How delicious this looks and sounds - I love Cook's Illustrated too and even though they have unusual steps in their recipes, they are almost always winners!

  14. Nice recipe. You might like my take on sichuan chicken.

  15. Susan, did you try this without the baking soda soak? I don't think I'd bother with the soak, probably just slice the meat thinner.