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.
A couple of busy days recently left me with very little time for cooking, but a good hearty meal was none the less still very much on my mind. I wanted to put together an easy flavorsome one pot meal that would come to the table with minimum effort but not lacking in attitude. With chicken in the freezer, a pantry stocked with every Asian ingredient imaginable, and many years worth of the tastes of Asia embedded in my memory, I surrendered to the idea of letting the melding of flavors from across the region rule. In this case a base of Thai flavors along with notes from Indonesia, the fragrance of Szechuan pepper, and a splash of a smoky aged tamari soy sauce from Japan to flavor the accompanying rice, brought all the flavors together seamlessly as if it was meant to be. Serendipitous cookery has a kind of kitchen magic that is the very essence of the joys of being a cook!
Pan-Asian Fragrant Roasted Chicken serves 4
- 1 whole chicken, divided; or 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts halved
- 2 inch knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 1 large red shallot, peeled and finely diced
- 4 green onions, minced
- 4 coriander roots, smashed and finely chopped
- juice from 1 large lime
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 or 2 teaspoons minced hot red chiles
- 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon Szechuan pepper oil (or chile oil)
- ¼ cup shao Hsing Chinese cooking wine (or rice wine)
- ½ cup water + more as needed
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt + more to taste
- 1 large head cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- fresh coriander leaves as garnish
Prepare the chicken pieces and place in a non-reactive bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Prepare the marinade at least four hours before you plan to roast the chicken.
In a stone mortar, or large non-reactive bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, shallots, green onions, coriander roots, lime juice, turmeric, and minced red chiles. Pound the ingredients with a pestle, or the back of a wooden spoon, until the combined ingredients resemble a coarse paste.
Then add the sweet soy sauce, light soy sauce, vegetable oil, Szechuan pepper oil (or chile oil) and continue to work the ingredients together until incorporated. Stir in the Chinese cooking wine, ½ cup water, sea salt and stir until well combined. Taste the marinade and add more salt if needed.
Spoon the marinade mixture over the chicken pieces and massage to be sure all the chicken is well coated with the marinade, Press the chicken into the marinade so that it is completely immersed. Add a little water if needed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for four hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 f/ 190 c
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to roast the chicken.
Select a large Dutch oven or deep baking dish.
Combine the sliced cabbage and onions in the Dutch oven, or roasting pan, and toss until well combine.
Place the pieces of marinated chicken over the cabbage and pour the marinade over all. Spread the marinade evenly over the surface. Cover with the lid, or foil, and transfer to the oven and roast for 45 minutes.
Turn up the heat to 400 f/ 200 c
Open the oven, remove the lid, or foil, from the Dutch oven and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Roast for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is nicely browned.
Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 5 minutes
Spoon the cabbage onto individual serving plates and top with chicken. Spoon pan juices over all and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
Suggested (as pictured), serve the chicken with Thai jasmine brown rice (or brown rice) topped with dark Thai riceberry rice (or wild rice). Place the tamari soy sauce on the table. Just a splash of tamari over the rice adds a complimentary deep smoky flavor to the rice which compliments the chicken perfectly!
When the hot season, April- June, arrives in Thailand the last thing you want to do is spend much time in the kitchen. With temperatures tipping 40 c/ 104 f daily it is really HOT!
Being a hot country year round Thai cuisine has a unique hot weather appropriateness. Flash cooking fresh ingredients tossed together with assertive flavors and fiery spicy heat is what makes Thai cuisine so universally popular. The capsacin from fiery hot chiles stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that instantly produces a sense of euphoria, while breaking into a sweat from the heat of chiles has a pleasant cooling effect as well. No wonder everyone loves Thai food!
The recipe that follows is a reinterpretation of a popular Thai stir fry dish; Kra Pao Moo (click here for recipe) . I have upped the ante in this recipe using a Thai rum marinated pork loin and included chayote to the stir fry that adds a fresh crisp element to the final dish.
Chayote originates from Central Mexico and widely used throughout Central and south America. Chayote was introduced to the old world during the Columbian exchange. From there it was transported through trade routes throughout Asia. Chayote is a member of the gourd family, and favored for its crisp texture and plentiful nutrients. The entire plant is eatable and often included in stir fried dishes throughout Asia. Seek it out! Widely available in Latin and Asian markets in North America as well.
Thai Stir Fry with Rum Marinated Pork Loin and Chayote serves 4
To avoid the heat of the day during the hot season I like to marinate the pork in the morning and refrigerate it for the rest of the day. Prep all the other ingredients in the morning as well and refrigerate. That way the stir frying can be done very quickly in the evening without breaking a sweat!
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced and diced
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 3 kaffir/ makrut lime leaves
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1/3 cup Thai Sang Som rum (or other dark rum)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound pork loin, silvery membrane removed and cut into 3 pieces
- cold water to cover
Select a non reactive bowl just large enough to hold the pork loin and other ingredients. Place all the ingredients except the pork and water into the bowl and stir to combine. Then add the pork loin and, using your hands, massage the pork with the mixture until covered. Then add just enough water to cover all. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 8 hours.
- marinated pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions across the grain
- 2-4 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced and halved
- 2 chayote, peeled, halved, pit removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, cut into thin strips and diced
- 1-3 Thai red chiles, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced and then diced
- reserved marinade
- ½ cup fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
- 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce or to taste
- stock or water
- additional fish sauce to taste
- fresh lime wedges
A steel Chinese wok is ideal for stir frying food very quickly over intense heat. For more information on cooking with a wok (click here)
Heat your wok over a gas burner or charcoal fire and add the oil. Swirl the pan to coat the surface and promptly add the pork medallions and stack them all the way up the sides of the wok. Sear briefly and then turn the pork and continue searing. Once lightly browned promptly remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Total cooking time 2 to 3 minutes max. Reserve the marinade to use later.
Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. Toss and stir fry until softened and lightly colored. Then add the chayote and toss to combine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the jalapenos and Thai red chiles and toss until combined. Then add the reserved marinade and cook for a couple minutes. Taste the chayote. Ideally you want the chayote to retain a refreshing crispness that will compliment the otherwise deeply flavorful stir fry.
Add the basil leaves and toss to combine. Taste the broth and add additional oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste. If the broth has reduced quite a bit you can add a little stock or water.
Finally add the reserved pork and toss until just heated.
Just before serving squeeze some lime juice into the stir fry, toss, and you are ready to serve.
Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or, my favorite, Thai Jasmine brown rice. Have a bowl of lime wedges set out on the table as well.
Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crispy, sticky, tender succulent, and aromatic….
These Thai baby back ribs explode with all the elements that make Thai food so popular the world over.
Tamarind? The tamarind tree originates from Africa, but now found across the tropics including South and Southeast Asia. India is now the largest producer of tamarind. Tamarind is used in many Thai dishes and available fresh or in paste form. Here in Thailand tamarind is available in fresh clusters of pods or in blocks of the sticky contents of the pods that include the seeds. The flesh and seeds from the pods are boiled until vary soft. The seeds are then removed and sticky flesh is passed through a fine mesh strainer. The resulting tamarind paste has a unique tart, sweet, and slightly fruity flavor.
The methods used for this recipe are adapted for the home kitchen. Some of the ingredients may be somewhat unfamiliar, but most can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of you local supermarket.
Keep in mind that cooking is always an adventure! Discovering new and unfamiliar ingredients and flavors are all part of the fun and open up new windows of possibilities. Tamarind is a subtle flavor enhancer you will find yourself using again and again when cooking Thai or other Asian dishes.
Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs Serves 4 to 6
- 1 kilo/ 2.2 pounds baby back pork ribs
Separate the ribs and remove the silver skin membrane from the underside of each rib using a very sharp knife. Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels, and transfer the ribs to a bowl.
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon back peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
Place all the rub ingredients in a spice mill and pulse until finely ground.
Then sprinkle the seasoning rub over the ribs. Using your hands, rub the seasonings evenly over all the ribs. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Basting sauce: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 2 inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 medium size shallot, finely minced
- 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and roots chopped
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons tamarind paste (available at Asian markets)
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons rum or brandy
- ½ teaspoon red Thai chile powder, or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
Using a mini processor or mortar and pestle, combine the grated garlic, grated ginger, minced shallot, and coriander leaves and roots and pulse or grind into a coarse paste.
Transfer the paste to a non reactive bowl. Add the soy sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, palm sugar (or light brown sugar), rum or brandy, Thai chile powder, and the peanut oil and mix until well combined.
Select a rectangular baking pan and fit the pan with a shallow baking rack. Lightly oil the bottom of the pan as well as the rack.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/170 c
Place the seasoned ribs on the rack, bone side down and flesh side upward in a single layer, tucking the kaffir lime leaves here and there between ribs. Pour about an inch of water into the baking pan, generously brush the ribs with the basting sauce, seal the pan tightly with foil, and transfer to the preheated oven.
Total cooking time will be about 1 ½ to 2 hours. At 20 minute intervals brush the ribs with more basting sauce. Add water to the bottom of the pan if needed, re-seal the pan, and return the pan to the oven front to back to insure even cooking.
After 1 hour check the meat for tenderness. The finished meat should be very soft, but just short of falling off the bone. So continue checking and roasting the meat until tender as described.
Once the meat is sufficiently tender you want to raise the heat to 400 F/ 200 c.
Remove the foil and brush the ribs generously with more basting sauce. Pour the remaining basting sauce into the bottom of the pan and add more water as needed. Move the oven rack to the upper position, return the ribs to the oven uncovered and cook until the tops of the ribs are deeply colored, sizzling, and crisp on the top surface.
Promptly remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and cover lightly with foil. Remove the roasting rack and skim the fat off the surface of the pan juices and pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan.
Place the saucepan over medium flame, bring to a boil, and if the juices are looking very thin boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce.
Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons of corn starch mixed with an equal part of cold water, and stir it into the simmering pan juices while stirring until the sauce thickens to a thin sauce.
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red hot chile flakes
Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Chill until ready to serve.
Serve the ribs on individual plates or on a large platter. Drizzle some pan juices over the ribs and, if serving on individual plates, add a small pool of pan sauce to each plate, or place a bowl of pan juices on the table.
Serve with a bowl of the tamarind dipping sauce and Thai jasmine rice as pictured.