Moo shu Pork originates from the north eastern province of Shandong in China. A n old traditional stir fried dish consisting of sliced pork, black mushrooms, ginger, cucumber, scallions, and day lilly buds. Seasoned with a dash of Chinese rice wine and soy sauce,then tossed with scrambled eggs (Moo Shu), and served with rice. No Mandarin pancakes nor Hoisin sauce. That was to come later. Moo Shu Pork as most of the modern world knows it today is the American version that came along in the late 60’s.
But the story of Chinese food in America really began with the arrival of Chinese immigrants in California seeking their fortune during the California gold rush of 1848. The novelty of Chinese food quickly gained popularity with the locals in the Bay area and eventually caught on throughout the rest of the country. But it wasn’t until several enterprising Chinese women restaurateurs gave Chinese Cuisine a certain cache. Ruby Foo opened Ruby Foo’s Den in Boston in 1929. Cecilia Chiang opened The Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco in 1960. Pearl Wong opened Pearl’s Chinese restaurant in midtown Manhattan in 1973, and Joyce Chen popularized northern Chinese cuisine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rest is history. Chinese cuisine had arrived and went on to become America’s favorite ethnic cuisine.
The American version of Moo Shu Pork evolved in the late 60’s. Green cabbage replaced the unfamiliar day lilly buds. Shiitake mushrooms replaced the dried black fungus mushrooms, but most importantly Mandarin pancakes were introduced that were seasoned with Hoisin sauce, and used as wrappers stuffed with the stir fried Moo Shu Pork. A brilliant innovation that made Moo Shu Pork a favorite Chinese dish worldwide.
The recipe that follows diverges from the American stir fried version. I’ve opted for a slow cooked method that renders a soft tender“pulled” pork that has absorbed the flavors of the seasoned cabbage mixture. Rather than making Mandarin pancakes, which can be a tedious affair, I’ve opted for using store bought flour tortillas and the Hoisin sauce, both of which can be found in most grocery stores these days.
Overall this is an easy dish to prepare and perfect for a family meal or larger gatherings as it can be prepared ahead and rewarmed for serving.
Moo Shu Pork serves 6
- 1 ½ lbs / 700 g pork tenderloin (or loin)
- 1 large head green cabbage, trimmed and thinly sliced
- bunch of kale leaves, center rib removed, and chopped (optional)
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 2 inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled, and sliced into thin batons
- 1 tablespoon 5 spice powder (see note below)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 quart stock + more as needed
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 6 oz/ 225 g fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- ½ cup white part of scallions, sliced
- 1 cup thinly slice green scallion leaves, divided
- 3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing cooking wine (or medium dry sherry)
- light soy sauce to taste
- 12 flour tortillas, warmed
- Hoisin sauce
Needed, a large Dutch oven or deep roasting pan with lid.
Preheat oven to 350 f /180 c
Combine the sliced cabbage, kale (if using), onions, ginger, 5 spice powder, salt, and pepper in the Dutch oven or roasting pan and toss to combine.
Divide the pork tenderloins in half (or quarter if using loin) and push the meat down into the tossed cabbage mixture until nearly covered. Add stock to the pot until just visible around the edges.
Place the pot, uncovered, in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 220 f / 104 c
Cover the pot and roast for about 2 1/2 hours. Check after 1 ½ hours and add a little more stock if needed to keep the cabbage moist and avoid scorching on the bottom of the pot and test the pork for tenderness. It should pull apart very easily. If not, return the pot to the oven and continue roasting until the pork is very tender. Three hours cooking time is usually sufficient.
Once the pork is tender remove from the oven, uncover, and set aside to cool until you can remove the pork and pull it apart into bite size pieces. Place the pulled pork in a bowl and set aside.
To finish the Moo Shu Pork place a very large skillet over medium heat on the stove top and add the oil. When hot add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to color. Then add the garlic and the white part of the scallions and saute until softened. Then add the Chinese cooking wine (or sherry) and saute until the wine has nearly evaporated.
Add the pulled pork to the skillet and toss to combine. Then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the cabbage mixture to the pan and add half of the sliced green scallions and toss to combine. Add just enough of the remaining broth in the roasting pot to keep the pork and cabbage mixture moist. Taste and stir in soy sauce sparingly to round out the flavor.
Warm the tortillas individually in a dry skillet just briefly to soften them and make them very pliable. If you find the tortillas to be quite dry a quick misting with water before heating them works wonders. Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Once the tortillas are warmed, working with one tortilla at a time, spread a thin layer of Hoisin sauce over the inner surface the tortilla and then fill with the pork and cabbage mixture as you would filling a soft taco. Scatter some green scallions over the pork filling and wrap the tortilla around the filling, closing one end as you roll as you would a taco. Place the rolled Moo Shu Pork wraps aside on a baking tray covered with a kitchen towel. You can place the tray of wraps in a very low heat oven to keep them warm until you are ready to serve.
Alternately, you can let everyone at the table assemble their own the Moo Shu Pork wraps which is part of the real fun of this dish.
In either case serve with additional Hoisin sauce on the table.
Note: If 5 spice powder is not available you can make your own.
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted whole Sichuan peeper, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
Stir to combine and store in an airtight jar.