Well Dressed Pork, Tofu and Gai Lan

Remember that naked post I made a few days ago about the recipe for gai lan stir fried with pork and pressed tofu, and how bummed I was that the batteries for the camera were dead so I had no pictures?

Well, I made it again today, and this time the camera was working! And, even more exciting, I refined the recipe a little, so you get a second look at the recipe itself.

Which is cool–because I actually like this second version even better.

I added some bean sauce and oyster sauce to the recipe, and took out the Sichuan peppercorns. I also added about a half a teaspoon more of sugar, which I mixed in with the two thick sauces that were added at the end, in addition to the sugar that was put into the pork marinade.

And finally, I used dark soy sauce instead of thin soy sauce to marinate the pork and to cook with.

This results in a dish with a darker, thicker, heavier sauce; in hindsight, (or is that hindtaste–no, that sounds awful) I should have also added a splash of chianking vinegar to offset the extra sugar.

In any case, both versions of the recipe are quite good, but in different ways. The first one is zingier, with lots of dancing heat from the chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, while the second version is much darker and sweeter, full of mysterious flavors that resist identification.

That is one of the things I have discovered I like about the bean sauce–it defies the palate. It teases the diner. It gives a definate, savory, sort of meaty flavor, and yet it is nothing that is easily identifiable, unless the person is very familiar with bean sauce. But even so, if used judiciously, a teaspoon or so at a time, it really punches up the flavor of a Chinese sauce and is very, very hard to single out. Paired with oyster sauce–a classic pairing with gai lan, by the way–and it is a one-two punch that can really push a dish over the top.

I do like having two different ways to cook the same basic main ingredients; versatility in the kitchen keeps boredom away from the dining room.

Well-Dressed Pork, Tofu and Gai Lan


2 small, but thickly cut pork loin chops, sliced into thin shreds–about 1 1/2″x 1/2″
1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, or sherry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon brown or raw sugar
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 heaping tablespoon fermented black beans, mashed
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red jalapeno chiles, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 teaspoon fresh coarsely cracked black peppercorns (optional)

1 8 ounce package thick cut dry spiced tofu, cut on the diagonal into thin shreds
1-2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 pound gai lan, washed and trimmed
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons bean sauce
1/2 teaspoon brown or raw sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chiangking vinegar (mix the last four ingredients in a small bowl and have ready by the wok)


Mix together pork slices, wine, cornstarch, sugar and first amount of dark soy sauce, and set aside to marinate for at least twenty minutes. (You can do this while you prepare all the other ingredients for cooking.)

To prepare the gai lan–trim the bottom bit of the stalks where it was cut from the roots, and discard. After washing, dry thoroughly in a salad spinner. Cut off large leaves, and then cut them into 3-4″ lengths. Cut off any thick stems–thicker than 1/2″ or so–and if the peel is very tough, peel them. Then cut these thick stems diagonally into slices.

Heat up your wok, when it releases its breath in a wisp of white smoke, then add peanut oil and allow it to heat for a minute, until it shimmers from the convection currents. Add onion, and stir and fry until they wilt and turn distinctly golden.

Add the ginger, garlic, chile and black beans all at once (with the black peppercorns if you are using them), and stir and fry until the whole is very fragrant. (At this point is usually when the stomach starts to growl–I swear that nothing is better than the smell of garlic, onions and fermented black beans cooking.) This should take about one minute.

Add the meat, reserving any liquid marinade that isn’t clinging to the meat. Spread the meat into a single layer on the bottom of the wok, and let it sit, undisturbed until you can smell it browning–because of the sugar in the marinade this is faster than usual. At that point, start stirring and frying. Add tofu, and keep stirring and frying until most of the pink is gone from the meat. Add the extra marinade, if there is any, the soy sauce and the Shaoxing, and if there is any browned bits in the bottom of the wok, scrape them up.

Add the gai lan stem slices, and stir and fry for about a minute or two. Spread the gai lan leaves over all, and add the chicken broth, then stir vigorously but carefully. The idea is to get the already cooked stuff up on top of the gai lan and get it down into the wok where the leaves will wilt into a velvety-sweet texture and be coated by the sauce. After the leaves begin to show signs of wilting add the contents of the little bowl of bean sauce, sugar and oyster sauce, and stir to combine well.

The dish is done when the leaves have wilted and gone from a dull dark green to a vibrant, glossy dark green. The sauce should be thick and cling to the ingredients very tightly.

Remove from heat and slide into a warmed serving platter.

Note to Vegetarians and Others Who Do Not Consume Pork:

This would be really good with just the tofu and gai lan, or if you want, you can have tofu, gai lan and either fresh mushrooms or reconstituted dried black Chinese mushrooms. If you use the dried mushrooms, you can use 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid in place of the chicken broth, or you could use vegetable broth.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Wow, you read my mind with that last comment. Whenever you post a pork recipe – which happens quite often – it seems quite tasty, but I won’t be able to make it. To what extent can tofu-eaters substitute tofu, or other non-animal products, for pork in pork recipes?

    Comment by Hadar — November 9, 2005 #

  2. Hadar–you can use tofu for the meat in most of my Chinese recipes–it will still taste good. What is important in this, though, is to choose a compatible tofu and cooking it well.

    The pressed or spiced dry beancurd in this recipe is beautiful to stir fry–it is firmer than extra firm tofu, and it slices into little shreds or rectangular slices for stir fry beautifully. It is my single most favorite form of tofu.

    To make your extra firm tofu taste the best, you can press some of the water out of it ahead of time by putting it in cheesecloth and then in a colander and then setting something heavy on it–a plate with a book on top perhaps. Leaving it this way for a couple of hours will remove some of the excess moisture and will make it more firm to work with.

    However, if you don’t have that kind of time, then the other thing you can do is cut your extra firm tofu and just before putting it in the wok or saute pan, dredge it in cornmeal. Lay it in the wok in a single layer, and allow it to crisp on the bottom, and then carefully flip it over and allow it to brown on the opposite side, then gently stir fry it with your ingredients.

    You can also deep fry extra firm tofu into puffs, and then drain it and use it in stir fries–that is not calorically a great bet, but it is a nice texture change.

    Another alternative is to use wheat gluten. You can buy it already made, as I am sure you know, frozen or canned or jarred. Or, you can make it from vital wheat gluten or even flour, at home. But in either case, it makes a great meat substitute–the Buddhist monks and nuns who invented it for thier cuisine were quite clever folks–it has the texture and chew of meat products–much more so than tofu, and it has a very neutral flavor.

    But to use it already made, cut into pieces as you desire and stir fry or deep fry it, like tofu. You can also braise it, just like red-cooking meats.

    I like to add dried black mushroom to all of my meatless dishes (or a lot of them, anyway) because I like to add the umami flavor they have to the dish–that is the savory flavor that meat has a lot of, because it comes from chains of amino acids. The mushrooms have it, and soy sauce has it, and most fermented soy products, like fermented black beans, bean sauce and bean paste have it in spades.

    So–I think that this sauce in this dish–and the bean sauce chicken recipe I posted earlier, and the sauce for ja jiang mein that I posted in August–and of course the recipe for Ma Po Tofu–all of these would translate beautifully into vegetarian dishes with tofu or wheat gluten.

    If you do make any of them–let me know how they turn out.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — November 9, 2005 #

  3. Barbara,

    I want to know where you can get this type of tofu. Is it a specialty item?

    I looked in the Tofu section in the markets in my little town, but while there is marinated tofu (teriyaki, herb etc.) none of it looks like the stuff in your pictures.

    The oriental stores in Jacksonville, FL also do not have anything like the todu you are using.

    Perhaps the brand would be helpful, if I can get one of the stores to order some for me.


    Comment by Harry — March 27, 2006 #

  4. Harry, the brand name is in Chinese, so I cannot help you there–it is imported from Taiwan by Water Lilies Foods, Inc. in New York. I have a photograph of the package in an old post here at http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/2005/02/22/spiced-dry-tofu/

    Comment by Barbara — March 27, 2006 #

  5. Thanks for the picture. I have another question. Is this exclusively a chinese item?

    I ask because I have been to three oriental food stores here in Jacksonville and none of them have heard of it. I showed them the printout of the picture and they just shook their heads.

    The stores I frequent seem to be oriented towards a particular cuisine, though they carry some stuff used in others. Eg: a store that seems to be “Korean” but has some thai and some chinese items.

    I wish I could find one that was exclusively Chinese…

    Comment by Harry — April 2, 2006 #

  6. It is Chinese, Harry.

    I wish I could help you find it–it is one of my favorite versions of tofu. I doubt that anyone mail orders it because it has to be refrigerated.

    Otherwise, I would mail you some myself–but I wouldn’t want it to go bad on its way to you.

    Comment by Barbara — April 2, 2006 #

  7. Hi Barbara,

    I found the tofu but it was not in the whole blocks as you have it. It came in little rounds sort of like thick pepperoni.

    I’m going to try your recipe tonite!!

    Comment by Harry — April 5, 2006 #

  8. I have never seen it round–how cool!

    Good luck–let me know how the recipe turns out!

    FWIW–for those who read my comment above about how to stir fry extra firm tofu–when I say dredge it in cornmeal, what I mean is cornstarch! A totally different product. Cornmeal would make your stirfry gritty–not at all tasty.

    Comment by Barbara — April 5, 2006 #

  9. Well it turned out pretty good, texture-wise and it tasted pretty good except for a bitterness that I couldn’t figure out. I forgot to add the vinegar…could that have been it? I didn’t have the Chiangking vinegar but had some Rice Vinegar. I had planned to use it instead.

    I ended up using boneless chicken thighs, chopped up into 1/2″ cubes. I was too lazy to go get some pork. Everything else was as per your recipe.

    One thing is that I really need to work on my timings. When you have a really really hot wok, I think many newbies make the mistake of rushing the adding of ingredients before they are called for.

    Still the chicken and onions and the gai lan was beautiful… The texture was just like at the restaurants.

    Thanks for the recipe. I’m going to try it again in a couple of days.

    One question I have for you concerning the oyster sauce and bean sauce combo… Is less more? Meaning does more of both lead to the bitter taste I experienced?

    Comment by Harry — April 5, 2006 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress. Graphics by Zak Kramer.
Design update by Daniel Trout.
Entries and comments feeds.