Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stir-Fried Pork with Any Old Beans

So I finally got around to making the stir-fried pork with long beans I mentioned the other day. But before I tell you how it went, I have to mention one ingredient that, to my utter astonishment, totally rocked my world: The shrimp paste, which sounds awful, smells worse, and doesn't even look like food. Mixed into a paste with a bunch of other extremely assertive ingredients (garlic, cilantro stems, and chiles among them), though, it was subtle, aromatic and--most shockingly--not fishy at all. In fact, I suddenly understood why so many of my efforts to make authentic Thai food at home have been unsuccessful--I lacked this one (to me) obscure and relatively tough-to-find ingredient. I think this combination of flavors--salty, sweet, pungent, mild, and rotten-fishy--would work with any number of base ingredients, including tofu, chicken, shrimp, or even plain old green beans. In any case, I'm really looking forward to experimenting with these ingredients (and probably variations on this exact same recipe) again.

Stir-fried Pork with Any Old Beans (adapted from Gourmet)


For seasoning paste:

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, root end trimmed and 1 or 2 outer layers discarded
3 (2- to 3-inch) dried hot Thai chiles or other small dried chiles, including seeds
3 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons shrimp powder or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried peeled shrimp (I found this in the Hispanic foods section at Safeway)
1 teaspoon minced cilantro root or stem
1 teaspoon minced Kaffir lime zest or regular lime zest
1 teaspoon minced peeled galangal (fresh or thawed frozen)*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Thai shrimp paste

For beans and pork:

1/2 pound long beans or regular green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces; or snow peas (which is what I had on hand), trimmed
3/4 pound boneless pork shoulder (boneless pork "ribs" are perfect)--toss it in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon packed grated palm sugar (available at Asian markets) or light brown sugar
3 medium Kaffir lime leaves (fresh or thawed frozen; 2 sections each), ribs discarded and leaves minced


Make paste:
Mince 1 tablespoon lemongrass from root end. Put minced lemongrass and remaining paste ingredients in mortar and vigorously pound to a smooth paste using pestle (most chile seeds should be crushed), 6 to 8 minutes. (I didn't do it quite this long and it came out slightly chunky, but fine; one of the reviewers at Epicurious claims it took them more than an hour to get it smooth, but that seems like perfectionistic overkill).

Cook beans and pork:
Cook beans in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water (1 teaspoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop cooking. Drain again.

Pat pork dry, then cut across the grain into one-eighth-inch-thick slices (about 2 by 1 inch).

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then cook seasoning paste, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add pork, tossing to coat, then spread out in skillet and brown, turning occasionally (to keep paste from burning), about 2 minutes. Add fish sauce, palm sugar, and beans and cook, tossing, until pork is just cooked through and beans are hot, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and toss with lime leaves.

* The one ingredient I still have yet to find!

Cooks' notes: &149; If using dried shrimp, grind to a powder in an electric coffee/spice grinder or use mortar and pestle. &149; Seasoning paste can be made ahead and chilled, covered, up to 1 week or frozen 1 month.

Photo by Flickr user Paul Goyette

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