If we can cook it, you can cook it!

Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine

Sichuan Province, Land of Plenty
         In one of their masterpieces of science and cooking combined, Cook’s Illustrated chose to take on one of my favorite Chinese Restaurant dishes: Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce.  Sichuan cooking is immediately associated with hot and spicy flavors. The odd thing is that these flavors are relatively new. And initially at least, they were only popular among the poorer segments of Sichuan society.  There was so much else available. Sichuan Province is known as a land of plenty. While landlocked and therefore without seafood, it has an abundance of pigs, poultry, beef cattle, freshwater fish and crayfish.  And it’s been known for its masterful cuisine for hundreds of years.  The first Sichuan restaurant opened in what is now called Hangzhou, its capital city, over 800 years ago. 
Chili Peppers
are relatively new to China
         It may be quite a surprise to Americans to know that the hot pepper, so associated with Sichuan Restaurants in this country, was introduced into China from South America around the end of the 17th century. Once it came to Sichuan, it became a favored food flavoring. Because they are such good companions to rice, every family in the province eats dishes like today’s Stir-Fried Pork with Garlic Sauce. 
Kung Pao Chicken…stay away from it
if you don’t want to put on the pounds
This recipe is ideal for a time-pressured weeknight dinner.  It takes about 25 minutes to prep and 18 to cook. Aside from its speed and sensational tastes, there are all kinds of good reasons for making Chinese food at home. There are also an equal number of reasons to stay away from Chinese restaurants and their takeout menus. Chinese restaurant food is notoriously high in sodium and fat.  To give you one example, a dish like Kung Pao Chicken, a Sichuan standard, for example, is loaded with about 40 percent more sodium and more than half the calories an average adult needs for an entire day. The dish with vegetables has 1,300 calories, 3,200 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of saturated fat. And that’s before the rice. The Cook’s Illustrated version of Stir-Fried Pork with its big bold, silky sauce comes in at 564 calories, 1200 mg. of sodium, 4.1 grams of saturated fat. You’ll still have to add 200 calories for the rice but you get the picture.
         The Cook’s Illustrated Science that I spoke of earlier, involved finding the right cut of pork that would stand up to the wok without drying out or getting stringy.  As per usual, the test kitchen went to town tasting various cuts of pork before landing on boneless, country-style ribs which last time I looked were about as inexpensive as any meat ever gets.  And to keep them tender, the rest of the scientific equation was all dependent on their pH. The higher the pH the more tender the meat.  I am no chemist nor do I have any real desire to do Cook’s Illustrated’s research but I can tell you that the pork gets put into a baking soda and water solution which met their standard for juicy, supple tenderness.  I will take the science no further.  All I will say is the resultant dish is a winner.  It has the sweet, the sour, the salty taste of true Sichuan Cooking.  The one thing I would have to add is that it is not nearly as hot.  Now we love heat and there is some in the dish. But true heat lovers should up the Sriracha or chili garlic paste.  People with young children probably should not.   The original recipe called for Chinese Black Vinegar and Asian Broad Bean Chili Paste. Now I live in an area where you can find virtually anything Asian you want –except I couldn’t find either to save my life. Fortunately, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe came with this advice:   “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 tablespoons of Asian chili-garlic paste or Sriracha sauce. Serve with steamed white rice.” Here it is:

6 thoughts on “Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine”

  • We made this last night and loved it. I think I would use only 1 tablespoon of Sriacha next time because it was a little too spicy for me. I also threw in some vegetables in the last few minutes of cooking the mushrooms and celery. A great way to use country style pork. Served with black rice which was new to us. We liked the firmness of the rice.

  • This is wonderful, just wonderful. I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter, using the substitutions suggested: balsamic and rice vinegar instead of black vinegar, garlic chili paste instead of broad bean chili paste, the sherry instead of rice wine. I also added (for color, mainly) 2 small carrots, sliced thinly on the bias into ovals. The flavors are fantastic. Not sure I agree that this feeds 4 people, though–even with rice, I'd say 2 people generously, 3 moderately (and we're not big portion people in our house)!

    Thanks for another great recipe, Monte. LOVE your site!

  • Dear Mary in Syracuse, Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I really appreciated hearing from you and knowing that you enjoy Chewing the Fat. As to portion size, that is kind of subjective! I am almost always cooking just for 2 so there always to be enough. But I try to think of families and so many of the recipes are ostensibly for 4. Since I don't make them that size, I am a bit handicapped! I hope Syracuse is spared the brunt of this massive storm I am looking out the window at. How well I remember snow in Syracuse! I went to Grad School at Newhouse at S.U. Small world! I am awfully pleased to tell you that we've been named on of the Best Bloggers of 2013 by Disney's Babble! https://www.babble.com/babble-100/babble-100-readers-choice/monte-mathews/"
    Again, thank you so much for taking the time to write. And if you like Pork, you must try the Spicy Pork Meatballs with Parmesan Cheese Sauce that's the most recent post! All best, Monte.

  • Monte,

    I also went to grad school at S.U. (though not Newhouse)! Perhaps we passed each other on Marshall Street one day long ago. Syracuse is actually going to dodge the snowstorm this time, but as you can well imagine, we'll make up for it later (it is only January after all and we've 3 months to go in the season…).

    I'm delighted you were named one of the Best Bloggers of 2013. Your site is truly deserving.

    And re the Spicy Pork Meatballs with Parm. Cheese Sauce–it was already on my "must make" list. It looks divine.

    Cheers, and bundle up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.