Friday, February 26, 2010

The Inaugural Post!

I was up early this morning (still jet-lagged from my recent trip to Singapore) and came across the Ants Climbing a Tree recipe on Anjelikuh's website. Her photo of the dish did it for me - I LOVE ground meat and I LOVE vermicelli - this will be my dinner tonight.

Ants Climbing a Tree (Mah Yee Shang Shu) has Sichuanese origins and its two primary ingredients are ground meat and vermicelli. The flavors are typical of Sichuan cuisine - spicy and savory. It is quite simple to prepare and its name is derived from how it looks - the bits of ground meat clinging onto the noodles, which look like little ants climbing up ... well trees don't really resemble thready noodles ... so perhaps climbing up a plant?

As it's a snow day in New York City - some areas received more than 2 feet of snow (that's 24 inches or almost 61 cm for those of you that use metric) - there was nothing better than to stay indoors and cook myself a nice meal.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Han Ah Reum, a Korean supermarket around the corner from my apartment in Herald Square, was able to provide me with all the ingredients I needed, and more.

Ingredients (serves 2 - 3 persons):

1 bunch scallions
4 dried shitake mushrooms (optional)
1 pound ground pork
3 bunches vermicelli
2 tbsp XO sauce (optional; any brand will do)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp cooking wine (Chinese rice wine is ideal but any white wine is acceptable)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 cups water

1. Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water for at least an hour.
2. Marinate the ground pork in the soy sauce, wine, dou ban jiang, tian mien jiang, sugar and cornstarch for 30 minutes.
3. Finely slice the scallions (use all the green and white parts) and reserve 1 tsp for garnishing.
4. Soak the vermicelli in warm water for 5 minutes, drain, use scissors to cut into smaller bite-sized pieces.
5. Saute the non-garnish scallions in sesame oil over high heat for 2 minutes.
6. Add the ground pork and continue to saute over high heat for 4 minutes (pay attention to separating the ground meat into little bits; avoid too many large caked-up ground meat pieces).
7. Add the vermicelli and immediate add the mushroom liquid and the remaining 1 cup of water.
8. Stir the mixture well over medium heat. Saute until all the liquid has been absorbed and the noodles begin to resemble the dry consistency of fried noodles.
9. Plate and garnish with some sliced scallions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and serve.

My Observations:
- Squeezing the water out from the mushrooms makes it easier to handle when slicing.
- Retain all the mushroom water to season the vermicelli.
- The pre-soaking of the vermicelli in warm water is simply to soften up the noodle enough to handle / cut into smaller pieces.
- The vermicelli needs to be cooked long enough to absorb all the cooking liquid.
- Vermicelli is quite resilient, its optimal doneness falls within a rather forgiving range.
- Err on the saltier side, vermicelli needs quite a bit of seasoning.
- Unless you are grinding your own cut of pork, store-bought ground pork is usually quite fatty and emits a lot of grease during cooking so go easy with the oil in your seasoning and sauteing.
- The XO sauce doesn't add much to the flavor.

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