Lately I have been making myself very hungry by reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s beautiful Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. It features lots of interesting ingredients, some of which I bought yesterday at Talin Market and am a little daunted by (fermented bean curd, anyone?)
The ingredient I was surprised to find liberally used throughout the book, however, is bacon. Apparently, smoked meats are commonly used in Hunanese cooking. Dunlop describes them mouth-wateringly:
…preserved meats hang from a bamboo pole suspended in the slow, drowsy smoke of the fire. There is pork, obviously, the fat smoked to a honey-colored yellow, the lean meat a dark crimson on the outside, pink within. But there us also wild muntjac, chicken, wild boar, catfish, and rabbit, all of which are local specialties.
So it would seem that this recipe is fairly authentic – or at least more so than it may look. But more importantly, it is delicious. Arne and I could barely convince ourselves not to fall like starving jackals on the leftovers set aside for his lunch. It is rich, salty, hot, and smoky, with wonderful contrasts of texture – the crisp bacon against the soft yet firm tofu and velvety scallion. Totally addictive.
I have made some adjustments to the recipe based on availability and my personal taste. Dunlop calls for smoked tofu, a product I have never seen (even The Asian Grocery Store Demystified doesn’t mention it). I’ll sure pick some up if I ever do run across it, though. And I like green veggies, so I tossed in some broccolette I got from the CSA. It seems a lot like rapini (AKA broccoli rabe, raab, and any number of other names) to me, and may be the same thing. You could use almost any green vegetable, or leave the veg out.
Hunanese Smoky Bacon with Bean Curd and Broccolette
This recipe made just barely enough to serve three diners. If serving more than two, I’d strongly consider doubling the recipe. If you have leftovers to snack on another day, consider yourself very lucky.
4 slices thickly sliced, high quality smoked bacon, cut in 5 pieces
1/2 bunch broccolette or broccoli raab, cut into 2″ pieces
1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 package savory baked tofu
10 dried red chilies or 2 fresh red chilies
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice mixture, to taste, optional
5 scallions, green part only, sliced in 2″ pieces
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
Steam the bacon in a bamboo steamer for 5-10 minutes, until cooked through. (Or skip this step; I did it and the bacon’s texture was nice, but I’m not sure how much difference it made.)
Slice the tofu in slices that complement the size and shape of the bacon pieces. Cut dried chilies in half lengthwise, then crosswise; shake out the seeds. If using fresh chilies, slice thinly. Place all ingredients in easy reach.
Heat the oil in a wok over high heat or large skillet on medium-high. Turn on the fan over the stove, as the chilies you’ll add in a bit can create a toxic cloud. Add the bacon and stir-fry for a few minutes, until it releases its fat. Add the tofu and cook, turning occasionally (with care to avoid breaking up the tofu), until both are golden.
Assess how much fat is in the pan. If too much, remove the bacon and tofu to a plate and drain off the excess fat, leaving a tablespoon or so. Push the bacon and tofu to the side of the pan if necessary, and tip the chilies (and optional five spice, if using) into the oil. Stir for a few seconds until the chilies darken, then stir in the bacon and tofu. Add the broccolette, scallions, and soy sauce, and stir everything together until the scallions wilt thoroughly. Taste and add more soy sauce or salt if needed.
Serve hot, with rice.
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