Thursday, February 6, 2014

Recipes from Anhui Province, China (Huangshan Mountains)

“Anhui” is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of China, with roots in the Huangshan Mountains region. This is the home of Peking Duck, but many of the other traditional Anhui recipes, like braised turtle with ham, may not be familiar to you. That’s because Anhui cuisine is dependent on ingredients native to the mountain regions of China. Which of course, means challenges for American cooks.

I was not at all unhappy to be doing another meal from China this week, until I went to research it. Dang.

There is a reason why you don’t see a lot of Anhui-inspired meals on American Chinese menus. It’s because Anhui cuisine is exotic. Li Hongzhang Hodge-Podge—one of the most popular dishes from the region—contains sea cucumber. What the what? I’ve never seen that at Safeway. Sanhe shrimp is made from a small white variety of shrimp found locally, and I don’t think you can get away with substituting, you know, salad shrimp. Wushan Imperial Goose apparently has a secret recipe because I couldn’t find it even when searching in Chinese, and Stinky Tofu just doesn’t, um, sound that good.

The Huangshan Mountains, Anhui Province. Photo by Flickr user bfxu.

So in the midst of all the frustration I did actually manage to learn something about the Anhui Provence, particularly the Huangshan Mountains. This is the part of China depicted in all those Chinese paintings. You know, the ones that feature amazing scenery. Because that’s what this region is known for—pine trees, aerial views, and granite peaks that formed in an ancient sea, were uplifted during the Mesozoic era and carved by glaciers during the Quaternary.

The culinary traditions of the Huangshan Mountains are really very simple, if you live in the Anhui Provence and have access to all those local ingredients. The food tends to be salty and braising/stewing is far more popular than frying or stir frying. Though funnily enough, two of my three recipes were fried/stir fried, but there you go. Still, my almost-never-fails method of looking for recipes in the local language didn’t help me much, and I was only able to find a few things to choose from. For my main course, I had to rely on English sources instead. Fortunately I found a good one: Carolyn J. Phillips, a Chinese food enthusiast who blogs at Madame Huang's Kitchen. I got my main course from her site, and here it is:

Spicy Walnut Pork
  • About 20 fresh walnut halves
  • Boiling water to cover
  • Peanut oil
  • 4 oz pork loin, sliced into thin 2”x1” strips
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 oz water chestnuts, sliced*
  • 3 red jalapeno peppers, or 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 4 green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp good dark vinegar
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
The other two recipes came from sites I found through Google Translate. Here they are:

Fried Shrimp
  • 1 1/2 lbs shrimp 
  • 1 tsp peanut oil
  • 1/4  tsp ginger
  • 4 tsp finely-chopped onion
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1/2  tsp soy sauce
  • Dash Accent*
  • 1/4 tsp white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
Farm Egg Dumplings
  • 4 oz ground pork
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 spring onion, minced
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
I made the dumplings first, since they can be prepared ahead of time and then steamed just before serving. Here’s how:

Mix the ground pork with the ginger, green onion, salt, chicken, and 1 tbsp of the soy sauce. Let marinate for at least 5 minutes.

Now heat a pan and pour a very thin layer of the egg onto the pan. Traditionally, this is done by heating up a ladle and then pouring the egg into the ladle to cook, giving it a nice round shape. This sounded way too complicated for me so I decided I could live with the odd shape.

Let the egg cook on one side, then drop a tablespoon or so of the pork filling onto one half.

Fold the other half over the top of the filling. The egg should still be runny when you do this—if you let it set, the two halves of the dumpling won’t stick together.

Now remove from the pan and set aside until the rest of the dumplings are finished.
Refrigerate or transfer to a steamer. Steam for 10 minutes or until the pork is cooked all the way through.

I used an electric steamer lined with wax paper to prevent
sticking, though I don't think they would have.

Serve with soy sauce for dipping.


Peel and devien the shrimp (I left the tails on mine). Saute quickly in peanut oil just until they turn pink, then drain and set aside. In the same pot add a little more peanut oil, the onion, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, wine and Accent. Cook until the onions are translucent, then return the shrimp to the pan and heat through. Pour a little sesame oil on top and serve.

Now for the pork, which is the most difficult of the three recipes:

Heat some water to boiling, then remove from heat. Add the walnut halves and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse and pat dry.

Now heat about a cup of oil in a wok, if you have one. I don’t, so I just used a small pot. The oil is ready when bubbles rise around the end of a wooden spoon. Now add the walnuts and let fry for a few minutes. When they are a golden brown color, they’re finished. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Reserve the cooking oil in the pot.

 Deep fried walnuts. Who woulda thunk?

Sprinkle a little bit of salt on the pork strips. Now place a walnut half on one end, roll up and secure with a toothpick. Repeat with all the strips and walnuts.

Mix the beaten egg with the cornstarch. Now heat the oil again until it passes the wooden spoon test. Coat the pork and walnut pieces in the batter (shaking off the excess) and drop into the hot oil.

Let fry until the batter is golden. Discard the toothpicks and keep warm.

Using about 2 tbsp of the frying oil, cook the water chestnuts, peppers and green onions for a few minutes until tender-crisp. Add the pork and the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and rice wine. Let the sauce reduce down, then remove from the heat. Toss with the sesame oil and serve.

Here’s what we thought: delicious. I loved those little walnut-stuffed bits of pork. The fried walnuts gave it a nice crunch and the sauce was sour with a little bit of sweet. I served mine over rice with the shrimp on the side. The shrimp was also good, although not very unusual. At least not sea cucumber or stinky tofu unusual. The egg dumplings were very good, too. They made me think of a fried rice only without, you know, the rice. My favorite fried rice is always really heavy on egg and I tend to over-soy it, so I got along really well with this dish. My kids liked it, too. Natalie even ate some shrimp. Hailey of course moaned about most of it but she did eat the pork. If there’s something in the meal for each of the Robins kids, I consider that a winner.

Next week: Hungary

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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