Dry Frying Illustrated

I really like my new stove.

It allows me to properly dry fry string beans without taking for bloody ever about it.

That is so terribly cool.

Dry-frying (gan bian) is one of six uniquely Sichuanese cooking techniques that Fuscia Dunlop covers in her cookbook, Land of Plenty. It involves food cut into slivers or thin strips stirred continually in a wok with a very small amount of oil over a medium high flame until the food is dried out slightly, browned in places and is quite fragrant. This technique imparts an interesting texture to foods, and contributes a great amount of “wok hay” or “breath of the wok” to the dish. Seasonings are added late in the cooking process, often with a bit extra oil, and are cooked for a relatively shorter period of time.

“Four Seasons String Beans” is a classic dry fried dish that is often seen on menus in many American Chinese restaurants. They are also called Sichuan String Bean or Spicy String Beans with Minced Pork. They are one of my very favorite “cai” dish to go with “fan.” Fan is rice–and cai are what you eat with rice to flavor it a bit.

Since the seasonings for the string beans are quite strong, you need only a little bit of it to flavor a lot of rice. I season my beans with minced pork, ginger, garlic, fresh chile, Sichuan preserved vegetable and soaked dried shrimp.

To make it, I grind or mince up the seasonings all together–and I will cheat and use my small food processor to accomplish this if my carpal tunnel syndrome is acting up–and leave them in a bowl together. I have my beans strung and with just the ends snapped off, and I put the pork into a bowl by itself. I like to use 3/4 of a pound of beans to 1/4 pound of pork.

Then, I heat up the wok and wait until it smokes, then add barely a tablespoon or two of peanut oil. When the peanut oil smokes, in go the beans. It is very important after rinsing beans to dry them thoroughly before putting them into the wok with smoking hot oil. That is, unless you want your forearms and possibly your face speckled with little freckle-sized burn marks.

Yes, I am speaking from direct, painful and irksome experience.

At this point, you stir and toss and stir and toss the beans until they begin to shrivel up, dry out and get some browned spots developing on their skins. What happens is the water cooks out slowly and the flavor of the beans is enhanced as the water is shed as steam. It changes the texture greatly as well–instead of being crisp like properly stir-fried beans, these are chewy and tender without being mushy and boring.

Many restaurants attain the same texture in a much shorter period of time by dunking the beans into a deep fryer for a couple of minutes. I do not recommend doing this at home, however, as deep frying is a messy, smelly business and if all you want is a few beans to eat with your rice–why take the trouble to heat that much oil, cook it and then strain and rebottle the oil for future use? Or, worse, just throw it away? Not only is it a waste of time and energy to deep fry these beans at home–it is unnecessary and adds a lot of extra calories to the dish. So–do like me and dry fry.

Once the beans are fully fried, I drain them on paper towels and let them rest while I dump my bowl of seasonings into the wok, and turn the heat up full blast and start stir frying like mad. After only about thirty seconds, in goes the minced pork, and with a lot of noisy chopping motions with the wok shovel, I brown the meat until nearly all of the pink is gone, and then back into the wok go the beans, along with a drizzle of thin soy sauce. With a few more tosses and stirs, the dish is finished, and I give it a tiny drop or two of sesame oil.

That is all there is to it. It is a simple technique that can be used on beef, bitter melon, eggplant or string beans to great effect.I did it on my other stoves, and it worked fine, but it took sometimes ten to nearly fifteen minutes to accomplish because of the low amount of heat that the stoves generated. With my new stove, the dish is very fast to cook–about eight minutes from beginning to end–not counting prep time of course.



Sichuan Dry Fried Green Beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut oil
3/4 pound green beans, stringed, with ends snapped off, rinsed and dried
1/2 tablespoon tiny dried shrimp, soaked and minced
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 or 2 fresh Thai bird chiles, minced
3 tablespoons Sichuan preserved vegetable (radish), rinsed and minced
1/4 pound minced pork
1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
2-3 drops sesame oil

Method:

Heat wok on medium high heat until it smokes. Add peanut oil, and heat until it is nearly smoking.

Drop in green beans–make sure they are dry! Stir and fry until the beans dry out, shrivel slightly and begin to char to a dark brown in spots. Remove when they are quite wrinkled and somewhat charred, and drain on paper towels.

Crank heat up to high and add all minced seasonings except pork. Stir and fry thirty seconds until very fragrant. Add minced pork, and stir with a chopping motion with the wok shovel to break it apart. Cook this way until almost all of the pink is gone–put beans back into wok. Stir and fry for ten seconds to blend, then add soy sauce and continue stir frying until all pink is gone.

Remove from heat, stir in sesame oil.

17 Comments

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  1. Lord, I love this dish. It is the first Asian thing I ever cooked and even that attempt was good. I think it is a can’t go wrong recipe. That is after one learns to reduce the amount of oil and make sure the beans are dry. Those little freckle mark burns have marked this person also. Some were not so little either. I do not always have all the ingredients but it tastes fine without all of them. It is just mpre rounded with all the ones listed here.

    Comment by Laurel — December 20, 2005 #

  2. Hi Barbara – Another wonderful dish, where control of heat is the key – it sometimes takes a few tries to get it done, right – when the oil is too cool it becomes greasy, when the oil is too hot, the beans will burn – we do have a deep fryer BTW, but we plan several days of meals around it(i.e. start with vegetables, end with seafood). We enjoy ours with shredded dry shrimp(instead of ground pork) and Zhacai.

    Comment by Kirk — December 20, 2005 #

  3. Indeed, Laurel–you can make simpler versions of this dish that are just as tasty. I have left out the pork and like it just fine with the dried shrimp, garlic, chiles, ginger and preserved vegetable. But, in the winter, the extra richness from the pork is very warming.

    Yeah, some of those burns can get big, if you have a big droplet of water that explodes on the oil just right.

    Hey, Kirk–

    I usually only deep fry for parties. Spring rolls (both Chinese style and Vietnamese), shrimp toast and the ever popular crab rangoon tend to be things that I will only make for parties. I usually use a wok to deep fry in–especially if I have one that is new and needs a boost in the seasoning process.

    I do have a deep fryer, but I use it so little that I am not sure why I keep it….

    Comment by Barbara — December 20, 2005 #

  4. We love this dish but could not figure out just how to dry fry so thanks so much for not only the steps but the pictures! We’re gonna have to try you recipe soon.

    Happy Holidays!

    Comment by Barbara (Biscuit Girl) — December 21, 2005 #

  5. Hey, Biscuit Girl (Another Barbara! That is cool–I remember growing up thinking that it was the most uncommon name ever–nice to know another one!)! I am glad to be of service–and yes, the reason I had Zak take pictures of the process was so you could see, close up, what the beans should look like.

    Depending on how hot your stove is–it can be a tedious, up to twenty-minute process, but the results taste fantastic. And–unlike the deep fried version, there is very little oil used, so it isn’t bad for you to eat.

    Let me know how the recipe comes out if you do it.

    Comment by Barbara — December 21, 2005 #

  6. I live on the west coast where we can get chinese green beans. I’ve been told they are a lot starchier than (Blue Lake?) green beans.

    I then began to wonder what kind of green beans went into this recipes. I have to presume you meant the Blue Lake-like green beans.

    Is that true? It’s a fine point but necessary since we are talking about Chinese cuisine.

    Comment by Micky — January 10, 2006 #

  7. Chinese long beans are not as sweet and yes, they are starchier than regular bush or pole beans like you get in the regular grocery store. (Blue lake is probably the type that is available at most stores, you are correct.)

    In this recipe, I used blue lakes.

    However, I have dry fried very fresh Chinese yard long or long beans, this summer when my CSA had them. They were excellent cooked this way. The young, very thin long beans did not take as long to cook dry fried, but later that month when I got older ones–they had been left on the vine longer–they took slightly longer to cook.

    You can use either.

    Comment by Barbara — January 10, 2006 #

  8. This is my favourite dish!! we alwyas order it when we go out for dinner and I have been searching every where for the recipe. I have eaten it when its cooked with ‘preserved chinese black olives’…do you know anything about this ingredient? Thanks :)

    Comment by Nessie — March 8, 2006 #

  9. Nessie–here is some information on the preserved Chinese olive–you can buy them in brine in cans at the Asian market. They would probably take the place of either the dried shrimp or the preserved vegetable in my recipe–I cannot imagine that three salty ingredients would be used.

    http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/features/blackol.html

    Comment by Barbara — March 10, 2006 #

  10. Hi Barbara, I’m so excited to try this recipe. I’m obsessed with Asian food and eat long beans at least a week or two of every month. However, I have never tried the dry frying method and am really excited to try it this week. If that goes well I’m going to try Sichuan beef (which I believe also uses the gan bian method). Thanks for the great post!

    Comment by Kady — March 12, 2006 #

  11. Welcome, Kady! I am glad you found this helpful.

    Yes, the shredded Sichuan beef uses the same technique! Let me know how it goes.

    Comment by Barbara — March 12, 2006 #

  12. Hi Barbara, I wanted to let you know that I just tried the dry fry technique and love it! I linked your post on dry frying to my post today.

    Comment by Kady — March 19, 2006 #

  13. The usual treatment of the string beans, as mentioned in many recipes, is to drop them into a wok that has several cups of oil. If the beans aren’t totally dry, then you get a lot of spatter which is a pain to clean up.

    I didn’t want to get a lot of spatter and I didn’t want to use a lot of oil so I experimented with steaming the beans first on a plate for about 5 minutes. This softens them up.

    Take out the steamed beans and allow them to dry a few minutes. They should be quite dry but not totally dry to the touch then.

    Then heat the wok with a little oil. You can heat the oil until it smokes and then turn down the heat, wait a minute or two, and then return the beans to the wok. This way you cut down on the potential for spatter.

    Stir fry them until they start to shrivel up and burn patches start to appear. This will take a few minutes. You certainly don’t need to stand around for ages. The degree of burning is up to you.

    Take out the shriveled beans when they’re ready and reserve for use later in the recipe.

    You can then proceed with the rest of the recipe which shouldn’t take too long either.

    It works just great for me! You save on the oil and you cut down on the potential for spatter. The final result is the same as you get in a restaurant, to me at least.

    Danny

    Comment by Danny — January 1, 2010 #

  14. Hello.
    I’ve been to Sichuan and these green beans are addicting. I was wondering if you use the regular or the toasted sesame oil, as I have not cooked this before and want to follow your recipe. Your recipe sounds as delicious as my experience with this lovely dish in Chengdu.
    Thank you,
    Perry

    Comment by Perry — January 9, 2010 #

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