Monday, June 23, 2008

Twice-cooked lamb and bok choy with chili paste


On my first visit to China, when I traveled across the country in 1999 with an amazing program called Where There Be Dragons, I was a vegetarian. Even though I made it out to Sichuan province, I never tried its renowned twice-cooked pork. It was left for some friends I made in Hangzhou, six years and much of a lifetime later, to introduce me to the delicacy. I was there researching a travel guide to the city, and my old friends Jason and Colette put me in touch with Si Meng, a teacher and Chongqing native, who now called the more temperate city by the lake her home. I met Si Meng and her husband, Justin, for dinner one night, and we left on what I thought would be a short walk to the restaurant. Well over an hour later, we had hiked across the hills that line the northwestern shore of the lake, and I was staring at a dingy hole-in-the-wall, known for its authentic Sichuan spices and friendly owners.

The outgoing couple ordered up a storm, but the standout dish was the crispy, glistening pork belly, sliced thin atop a mound of these cylindrical, grass-green vegetables that I'd never seen before. Si Meng explained that these were garlic scapes, the early shoots of hard-neck garlic, which farmers remove to concentrate the flow of nutrients into the developing bulbs. In the States, even as recently as 2005, those bright stalks were discarded, which is why they seemed utterly new. How wonderful for me, then, that they seem to be gaining a wide following now, at least here in New York. Jon and I have found them at the Greenmarket consistently for the past couple of weeks.

We were there last weekend with his friend, James, who was in town for the week from San Diego, and the scapes beckoned to me from their curled abundance on one of the covered stands. I bought as many as I could reasonably justify, and we continued on into the market. There, we encountered the yarn-covered stall of the Catskill Merino Sheep Farm, where we picked up just under a pound of lamb shoulder. If you can cook pork twice and eat it too, why not lamb?

That night, we were off to Homeslice West, but the lamb sat waiting in the fridge for our next dinner at home. The next evening, I adapted this recipe to use our meat of choice and items from our pantry, and Jon sautéed up some bok choy, smothered in his homemade chili paste.





TWICE-COOKED LAMB

Time: 30 minutes

3/4 lb lamb shoulder (all fat and connective tissue removed)
1 tbsp mirin or white wine
3 slices ginger
2 cloves garlic, flattened
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/4 lb garlic scapes
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp sambal olek
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce


1. Place the lamb in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then add wine and ginger
2. Cook the lamb for 20 minutes, then remove from the water and allow to cool (discard the other contents of the pan). When the lamb is cool enough to handle, slice across the grain as thinly as possible in pieces about 2 inches long, removing all fat.
3. Slice the garlic scapes in 1 inch pieces. Julienne the bell pepper and jalapeño.
4. Heat a wok or sauté pan over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, and when it is hot, add the flattened garlic cloves. Fry the garlic until it is very brown, then remove it and discard. Add the peppers to the wok, and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic scapes, and cook for another minute.
5. Push the vegetables to the side of the wok and add the sambal olek; heat briefly. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and lamb slices, mixing all well and ensuring the lamb is covered with all the spicy mixture. Cook only for another 1-2 minutes, until everything is heated through.

Yield: 2-3 servings

5 comments:

chiff0nade June 24, 2008 at 4:02 PM  

My friend and I, Jerzee Tomato - my assistant adviser at Serious Eats - simply love your website.

Unfortunately, we both would have to question your use of chili paste on lamb.

I have instructed the Serious Eats staff to duplicate your recipe.

We will report our results shortly.

Ali June 24, 2008 at 4:30 PM  

Thanks, chiff0nade. Jon and I are big fans of Serious Eats!

I would question the use of chili paste on lamb, too, but we actually sauteed the bok choy with chili paste, not the lamb.

Looking forward to seeing your results!

Annie & Nate June 24, 2008 at 6:18 PM  

Pretty nifty adaptation. I think garlic scapes are an under-utilized vegetable.

Ali June 24, 2008 at 10:58 PM  

Thanks, Annie and Nate! Lately it seems like garlic scapes are all anyone's talking about, but I'm not complaining ;).

Skylar Wolfe June 10, 2009 at 5:36 PM  

I just discovered garlic scapes today, and I plan on using them in a stir fry. This recipe really got me where I wanted to go, thanks!

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