Back when I reviewed Fuchsia Dunlop’s new cookbook on Hunan cuisine, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, I promised to present several recipes from the book as an example of the fine riches that await the avid cook and reader.
However, two recipes are not several recipes, they are two. So, today, I am going to present another gem which I gleaned from the cookbook and intend to cook at least every now and then. (No more often than that, for the recipe is rich in fat, and thus, not proper for every day consumption.)
When I read in Dunlop’s book that not only were the people of Hunan fond of chiles and copious amounts of fermented black beans, but they also loved a good smoky bacon and liked to cook with lard, I felt my heart go pitter-pat with the unmistakable feeling of long-distance kinship. Any folks who not only love chilies, but adore bacon and cook with lard are friends of mine, and I could barely keep my hillbilly tastebuds from drooling all over the book as I read her description of this recipe, which originally called for smoked tofu to go with the smoked bacon.
Well, sadly, I could not put my hand to smoked tofu, and since I wasn’t about to build a smoker just to make some tofu for one dinner, I decided to go with her suggested substitute, my ever-ready kitchen staple: pressed spiced tofu, which is also known as spiced dry tofu.
In order to make up for the lack of smoked tofu, I decided to use a locally produced double-smoked, thick sliced bacon from Bluescreek Farms.
That was the correct choice. The resulting flavor was amazing: the smoky meat was perfect with the spiced tofu, and the textures were both similar and distinctively different enough to give a great deal of pleasure while eating them. The chiles added both fruitiness and fire and the scallion greens added color, sweetness and a sharp onion aroma. The resulting dish was somewhat dry, but when paired with the moist and fragrant steamed mustard greens with fermented black beans, the two dishes balanced each other perfectly.
Both the bacon and the tofu turn out chewy, but in different ways. The bacon comes out chewy-crisp in large part because it is steamed for ten minutes before stir frying. Do not be tempted to skip this step as I was at first, because it results in a superior end product. Excessive salt seems to be leached away by steaming it, and cooking it in this way seems to give the bacon a succulence of texture once it is stir fried that just plain stir fried bacon seems to lack. It is chewy without being underdone, with the sort of toothsome mouthfeel of beef jerky without the dry, dusty aftertaste and the aggressive saltiness.
The tofu, because it is cooked in bacon and lard (yes, I took the option of cooking this dish with lard instead of peanut oil. And yes, this is part of why I will only cook it a couple of times a year…), became crisp on the edges and took on some of the flavor of the pork while still keeping its own general taste and texture.
All in all, this is not only a pleasant dish to eat, but it is simple to cook, requiring very few ingredients, most of them readily available in local Asian markets and your grocery store. I highly recommend, however, that you go out of your way to pick up some really good, thick sliced bacon, not the thin stuff from Oscar Mayer. If you are going to eat this much pork fat, let it be the best pork fat you can find.
Stir-Fried Smoky Bacon with Bean Curd
7 ounces thick sliced smoked bacon
7 ounces smoked or pressed spiced tofu
10 dried or 3 fresh red chiles (use your own discretion here–I used the three fresh red serrano chiles to great effect here)
5 scallions, green tops only, well washed and drained
light soy sauce
2 tablespoons lard or peanut oil
Place the bacon into a heat proof bowl and put into a bamboo steamer over boiling water and steam for ten minutes, until well cooked through. Drain any accumulated water, and cut the bacon into bite sized pieces–about 1 1/2″ long by 1/2″ wide.
Cut the tofu on the bias into pieces nearly the same size as the bacon.
Cut the fresh chiles if you are using them, on the bias into thin slices, and cut the scallion tops into 1″ long pieces.
Heat your wok until it smokes; add lard and melt or add oil, and allow it to heat for about thirty seconds. Add bacon and stir fry for a few minutes until it has rendered its fat–about two or three minutes. Add the tofu and cook both together until the bacon has turned deep reddish brown and the tofu is golden.
Slide the tofu and bacon up the sides of the wok and add the chiles and stir fry in the fat until they are very fragrant. Add the scallion greens and a dash or two of soy sauce (do not add too much as both the tofu and the bacon will have salt in them!) and scrape the tofu and bacon down into the fat and cook just until the scallion tops have wilted slightly.
Serve immediately with steamed rice and a moist braised or steamed vegetable dish.
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