Tuesday, 14 August 2012

100% Authentic Chinese Pork and Vegetables in Broth with Egg Noodles

Chinese food in the U.K. is not like Chinese food in China.

Don't get me wrong, I love English-Chinese food like they serve in Wong Kei in Soho, but for the real McCoy, you've got to either go to China for a meal, or for the next best thing, go round to my mate Ying's place for dinner. There's no nuclear-orange chicken dishes or crispy duck. There's proper rich-tasting authentic grub from a recipe originating from his village somewhere in the People's Republic. I absolutely loved it, and couldn't wait to interrogate him for the exact formula.

To my surprise, the formula is dead simple: Apart from the usual onion/garlic/ginger flavour base as in most Chinese dishes, the only specialist ingredients were Xiaoxing rice wine and Szechuan peppercorns. There was a bit of soy sauce thrown in here and there, but soy is hardly a specialist ingredient these days, is it?

Xiaoxing rice wine is a bit like dry sherry in taste and body, but a world away from dry sherry in terms of Chinese authenticity. My mum, Mrs Ribeye Sr, bought me a Ken Hom Chinese cookbook for an anniversary present (3 years married - eek!) recently, and Xiaoxing rice wine features in about 75% of the recipes. Luckily I happened to have bought a bottle in London's Chinatown recently.

As for Szechuan peppercorns, they are not really pepper - they are a berry of a citrus plant, and ludicrously sour they are too. Nothing else will do. I accidentally crunched down onto one at Ying's place and my mouth went numb for about half an hour - no joke. Trying to be cool, I sat there quietly, hoping the effect would wear off quickly, but to no avail. It's not an unpleasant feeling actually, just a bit weird.

One of the dishes Ying made, was a simple stir-fry of bacon and cucumber. With the addition of the rice wine and peppercorns, it turned a couple of work-a-day ingredients into an exotic feast. If you want to try making it, just add bacon strips and thinly sliced cucumber to a wok with some oil, Xiaoxing rice wine and Szechuan peppercorns, and stir-fry very briefly without colouring the bacon at all. It's utterly delicious.

Anyway, back to today's recipe. You have got to try this authentic soup, it makes any other Chinese soup seem a bit... English.

I added pork belly and a few spare ribs to my broth, but you could add chicken, beef, or just vegetables. Noodle-wise, I added egg noodles because I happened to have some to hand, but you could use rice noodles or even vermicelli. Once you have the stock recipe sorted, it doesn't really matter what you put in, as long as it doesn't mess with the flavours too much.

Cost-wise, it's so reasonable. £2 per serving is all.

Serves 4


For the soup stock:

2 litres vegetable or chicken stock
1 thumb of ginger, whole
3 garlic cloves, whole
1 onion, halved
1 star anise
3 Szechuan peppercorns
75ml Xiaoxing rice wine
25ml soy sauce

The rest of the ingredients:

6-7 short pork spare ribs (300g approx)
3 small pieces of pork belly (300g approx)
400g egg noodles
400g mixed vegetables (I used baby corn, mange tout, tenderstem broccoli, fine beans)
Handful of spring (salad) onions, finely chopped, to serve

Boil the stock ingredients together, with the spare ribs and pork belly, on a simmer for 2 hours. In a separate saucepan, cook the vegetables and noodles until just tender. Remove the pork belly pieces from the stock and cut into bite-sized pieces. Strain the stock to remove the flavouring ingredients. Place some of the spare ribs, pork belly pieces, cooked vegetables and noodles into serving bowls and pour over the stock. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve immediately.

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