My love affair with America’s Test Kitchen only grows stronger and stronger… I’ve been making a lot of their recipes without a single disappointment (insert discreet knock on wood).  Pork stir-fry can be pretty tricky to prepare. More often than not the meat either turns out too dry or too greasy, and the flavors fail to mingle well.  Cook’s Illustrated to the rescue.  They tackle the many issues with this preparation by using boneless country-style pork ribs, and soaking the pieces of meat in a solution of baking soda. Baking soda acts by raising the pH (decreasing acidity), therefore affecting the charges present in protein molecules, which in turn changes the way the molecules interact with each other. With a raise in pH, the protein strands unfold and relax, in other words, the meat becomes considerably more tender. If you take the process too far, either by using a huge amount of baking soda or by allowing the meat to sit for too long in its presence, you’ll end up with mushy meat.  But when performed correctly it results in meat with fantastic texture. ATK also incorporated a coating with cornstarch before stir-frying, which helps retain moisture as the meat cooks. Genius, right? As to the sauce that finalizes the dish, they use ketchup and fish sauce to up the level of glutamates, giving it a boost in flavor.

Seems simple and straightforward enough. In fact, the dish comes together quite quickly once you do the initial prep of the meat, so have all your ingredients ready, and get busy… Dinner will be served in no time!

Pork Stir Fry ATK


(reprinted with permission from America’s Test Kitchen via Cook’s Illustrated)

for the 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

for the meat:
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

for the 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

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

For the pork: Cut pork into 2-inch lengths, then cut each length into 1/4-inch match sticks. 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 to 4 minutes. Add celery and continue to cook until celery is crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to separate bowl.

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.

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: In the past, I’ve attempted a few recipes using boneless country-style pork ribs and was quite disappointed by how they turned out, particularly in texture. I had pretty much given up on them. When I noticed they used this cut for the stir-fry, I was intrigued. Could they possibly make it work? Never doubt ATK, my friends. They do their home work, or… should I say their kitchen work, testing every variable imaginable.

When Phil and I sat down to enjoy this stir-fry, we both had the same thought: this feels like a meal served at an upscale Chinese restaurant. Let’s be frank, Chinese restaurants can be a gastronomic disaster, every dish presented with the exact same gloppy, overly sweet soy-based sauce.  But when you find a place that offers truly authentic recipes, it’s an amazing experience! I had fantastic Chinese meals in São Paulo’s huge Chinatown during my college years. I can picture this recipe served in such a setting, or better yet,  in the comfort of our bewitching kitchen.

Sichuan Pork Stir Fry
I hope you give this recipe a try, don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients or steps in preparing it.  As I mentioned, once the meat is out of its baking soda spa, the whole meal will be ready in lightning speed.  Nothing better to crown a busy working day…

 Popeye-Pleasing Salad
SIX YEARS AGO: Summer’s Finale


We flew back home this week to spend a few days in our own town.  I’m in a state of shock, all of a sudden realizing how much space we have. Here we could cook together while dancing, whereas in L.A. we are in a territorial-mode: I even growled at my beloved the other day because he insisted on opening the fridge while I did the dishes. The nerve!

I looked forward to cooking in our home, on a stove with four burners and real flames above an oven that can roast a couple of chubby turkeys side by side. Of course, deciding what to cook for our first dinner was excruciating. After an extensive consultation  with 9 cookbooks, I chose a recipe from Barbara Tropp: Chinese cooking at its best…

(adapted from Barbara Tropp Modern Art of Chinese Cooking)

1 pound boneless pork loin

to marinate the meat:
2 T soy sauce
2 T Chinese rice wine
1 T water
4 t cornstarch
½ tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
6 scallions

Sauce ingredients
3 T hoisin sauce
2 T Chinese rice wine
1.5 T soy sauce
5 t sugar
½ t sesame oil

2 T peanut oil

For the noodles:
½ pound long Chinese thin egg noodles
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
6 T peanut oil

Cut the pork into thin slices 1/8 inch thick (against the grain). Cut each slice into ribbons, flattening them slightly with a meat mallet.

In a large bowl, mix the soy sauce, rice wine, water, cornstarch, sugar and sesame oil until thoroughly blended, then add the pork slices and allow to marinade for 1-3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Drain well before stir-frying.

Cut the scallions into 2-inch pieces, trimming off the root ends. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, rice wine, soy, sugar, and sesame oil , stir well to dissolve everything.

Add 2 T of peanut oil to a very hot wok, swirl to coat the pan, add the pork slices and stir fry until opaque. Add the sauce ingredients and continue cooking until the pork is cooked through, then add the scallions and reserve until the noodles are ready.

Preparing the noodles:
Boil the noodles until cooked, but not mushy. Drain, then run through cold water until fully cooled. Shake off excess water and lay the cooked noodles over a dish cloth, blotting it out of excessive moisture. Transfer to a bowl, adding the sesame oil to coat the strands (the noodles can be kept cold at this stage for up to 2 days).

Heat a 12 inch skillet over high heat, add 5 T oil, and heat until a strand of noodle sizzles if gently dropped on the pan. Coil the noodles evenly on the hot pan, starting at the edges, and working your way through the center. Press them with a spatula, cover the pan, then cook until the bottom is browned (5-7 minutes).

Loosen the browned noodles, slip them out of the pan, transfer to a serving platter. Mound the pork on top of the noodles, and serve immediately.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Barbara’s original recipe calls for deep frying the pork before the final stir-fry. I have done this “oil velveting” in the past, but this time I simplified it and cooked the pork all the way through in the wok. The main reason: we are home for just a few days, I didn’t want to deal with the leftover oil.   Is there a loss of quality in the final dish? In all honesty, yes. Velveting does wonders to improve the texture of stir-fries (as I mentioned before here), so if you can do it, follow her advice and deep fry the pork for a minute, remove it from the oil, drain it well, and add it to the wok AFTER you add the sauce and heat it up.

This is not a light recipe – obviously, any time you brown noodles on a frying pan, their calories will be multiplied by a factor of 2. However, sometimes it is good to indulge, so enjoy it without guilt, and cut back on excesses for a couple of days. 😉

Note to self:  try the “water-velveting method” in this recipe.

ONE YEAR AGO: Chocolate Chip Cookies

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