Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce

From America's Test Kitchen Season 13: Asian Takeout Favorites

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Why this recipe works:

To re-create the succulent pork found in the best restaurant stir-fries (usually achieved by low-temperature deep frying), we soaked the pork in a baking soda solution, which tenderizes and moisturizes the meat, and then coated it in a velvetizing cornstarch slurry, which helps it retain… read more

To re-create the succulent pork found in the best restaurant stir-fries (usually achieved by low-temperature deep frying), we soaked the pork in a baking soda solution, which tenderizes and moisturizes the meat, and then coated it in a velvetizing cornstarch slurry, which helps it retain moisture as it cooks. And the secret to the sauce's silken texture and rich flavor? Ketchup and fish sauce, both high in glutamates.

 

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Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce

When it comes to replicating this classic Chinese stir-fry at home, the biggest issue is vexingly familiar: how to cook tender, juicy pork.

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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 or Sriracha sauce. Serve with steamed white rice.

Ingredients

  • Sauce
  • 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
  • 2 teaspoons ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Pork
  • 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
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Stir-Fry
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 scallions, white parts minced, green parts 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-inch slices

Instructions

  1. 1. FOR THE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. FOR THE STIR-FRY: Combine garlic, scallion whites, and chili paste in bowl.

    5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Add celery and continue to cook until celery is crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to separate bowl.

    6. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to now-empty skillet and place over medium-low heat. Add garlic-scallion mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer 1 tablespoon garlic-scallion oil to small bowl and set aside. 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 is thickened and pork is cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Return vegetables to skillet and toss to combine. Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with scallion greens and reserved garlic-scallion oil, and serve.

Technique

Pick the Right Pork

Pork loin, the usual stir-fry choice, is lean and dry. Instead, we use boneless country-style spareribs, which are fattier (they're cut from the blade end of the loin) and more tender.

COUNTRY-STYLE RIBS

These well-marbled slabs contain flavorful dark meat.

Technique

The Other Meat Tenderizer

Meat soaked in a solution of baking soda and water? We admit it sounds pretty unappetizing, but there’s a good reason we worked this step into our recipe for Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce: Simply put, alkaline baking soda makes the meat more tender by raising its pH. As this ­happens, enzymes in the meat called calpains become more active and cut the meat’s muscle fibers. The tenderizing effect is twofold: First, as the meat’s fibers break down, its texture softens. Second, since the meat’s looser consistency retains water better, it’s less likely to contract and expel moisture when heated, ensuring that the meat stays juicy throughout. The succulent results are well worth it. And don’t worry; the baking soda solution gets washed off before cooking.

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