Learning Chinese cooking from the best: Stir fried pork with celery and dried tofu

I’m doing my best to focus on the positive during these days of pandemic uncertainty. Collectively, we seem to be doing a lot of panic shopping, hysteria cooking and doomsday prepping. The upshot is many of us are cooking, experimenting and trying new things in the kitchen. Hell, I’ve found more recipes for sourdough starter than I’ve seen in my lifetime. 

I’ve been doing my bit to “fatten the curve” by creating the extra indulgent things I love. I figure we all need to nourish our collective spirit while we wait for the day we can come out of our hiding places. 

For years, I’ve been shadowing my mother-in-law in the kitchen to learn and record her Chinese family dishes. I’ve squirreled away handwritten recipes and many pictures to post here on the blog. I had the best of intentions of keeping up with writing and posting, but then work, life, travel [insert excuse here] got in the way. 

This pork, celery and dried tofu dish has always been a staple in my husband’s family. It’s one of their many “go-to” dishes. On any given visit to my mother-in-law’s house, if I poke my head into her refrigerator, I’ll likely find a Tupperware of leftovers from this dish. 

The dish is a simple stir fry preparation. Knife skills will take up more time than the actual cooking. The secret to success is ensuring all of the ingredients are cut to the proper size. It does affect the “mouth feel” and how it tastes. Size does matter! 

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My kitchen notes 

Shao xing and michu cooking wine: basis for a lot of Chinese cooking. 

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Dried tofu: this is not as the name implies, it’s not dried, but denser with less water than traditional tofu. It’s still found in the refrigerated section of Asian markets. It’s typically sold in a small pack of four square pieces.

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Chinese celery: this type of celery has a much smaller stalk than the standard stuff and has a more intense flavor. It’s sold at Asian markets in bundles with the leaves on top. Standard celery can be substituted, just make sure you thinly slice the ribs lengthwise to get the proper thickness.

Stir fried pork with celery and dried tofu

Serves 4 

Pre season:

¼ lb pork loin or shoulder, partially frozen 

1 tablespoon shao xing wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Pinch sugar

Pinch pepper

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon neutral oil (grapeseed or avocado)

Stir fry:

4 tablespoons cooking oil (divided)

2 slices ginger diced

1 green onion diced

2 cloves garlic minced

2 cups dried bean curd (2 squares)

1 tablespoon michu wine

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Pinch white pepper

Pinch sugar

2 cups thinly sliced Chinese celery (5-6 stalks) or regular celery (3-4 ribs)

1 Thai chile chopped (optional)

Directions 

Pork should be partially frozen to make it easier to cut thinly. Take frozen pork out of the freezer in the morning and put it in the refrigerator until ready to cook for dinner. Thinly cut slices of pork across the grain. Stack slices then cross cut into “sticks”. 

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Combine pork, shao xing wine, soy sauce, pepper and sugar in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes. Then add corn starch and combine. Right before cooking meat add the neutral oil.

Wash and cut leaves off celery stalks. Cut stalks lengthwise into ¼ inch strips then cross cut into 1 ½ inch pieces.

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Lay tofu flat on the cutting board, with one hand pressing on the top of the tofu and the flat of your knife parallel to the cutting board, thinly slice a square from the bottom up. Remove slice and repeat until you have a stack of square slices. Thinly cross cut stack to make tofu “sticks”.

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Heat wok on med-high heat, add 2 tablespoons cooking oil. Add ginger, green onion and garlic to pan. Cook for 1 minute.

Add pork and cook stirring constantly until meat is browned and cooked through. About 5 minutes. Return cooked pork to a small bowl.

Lower heat on wok to medium, add remaining 2 tablespoons cooking oil. 

Add tofu, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking to the wok. Cook for 3 minutes.

Add michu, soy sauce, white pepper and sugar to the tofu. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute.

Raise heat back to med-high. Add celery, pork and thai chile (optional) to tofu. Stir fry until celery softens a little, about 3-5 minutes. 

Serve with rice.

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