Chengdu Challenge #20: Stir-Fried Bacon in Sichuan Bean Sauces (Chao Larou)
Stir-fried bacon in Sichuan bean sauces is a cousin to hui guo rou, or twice-cooked pork, and in many ways, the more appealing cousin, because A) You only have to cook it once; and B) it’s bacon! It may be the less popular cousin in Sichuan, but it’s definitely a Sichuan native, and I’ve had it there several times, made with the highly smoked, supremely rich local bacon (larou).
For authentic twice-cooked pork, you have to boil a pork belly, chill it, slice it and stir-fry it. For this bacon version, you let someone else do the first cook/cure—unless you are the type of impressive person who makes her own Sichuan bacon.
I was spurred to try bacon after a comment from a reader, who said he often makes hui guo rou with bacon in South America. Reader and I don’t use Sichuan bacon, which traditionally would be cured in spices such as Sichuan pepper and star anise before being smoked over cypress. I do actually plan to be that person who makes her own Sichuan bacon someday, but until then, top-notch American bacon will have to to do. And in fact, it does quite nicely.
You may prefer the traditional, unsmoked version. Fong Chong does, because she never ate smoked meats as a child in China and is still hell-bent on adding no new flavors to her will-eat list. But no one has to talk an American kid (or adult) into liking bacon, so this could turn out to be a family favorite for you.
This is definitely a quick weeknight meal, a one-wok wonder. Though as I was preparing to make this, tragedy struck my wok, and the wooden handle, which had been jiggly loose for a while, finally dislodged itself from the metal arm. My husband sacrilegiously suggested we get a new one.
“No!” I screeched. “You find a way to fix that one.”
I don’t want any other wok. I bought my Guangdong-made, hand-hammered, carbon-steel beauty from San Francisco’s Wok Shop in 2007, and I’ve cooked from it several nights a week ever since. It has the perfect wok patina, nothing ever sticks, I love it, it’s beautiful, and I cannot let it go and start anew.
He found a way to fix that one.
So along with your best wok, you’ll want to use a high-quality, lean, thick-cut bacon. I used an appledwood-smoked variety from Nueske’s. I’ve added a lot of crisp celery and its leaves to the dish, either Western or Chinese, to offset the fatty bacon, but feel free to leave that out, as it probably wouldn’t be there in Sichuan. (If you leave out the celery, add an equivalent amount of another vegetable or extra bacon, or reduce the amount of sauce.)
You may notice that the sauce is practically the same as that I use for twice-cooked pork. But why mess with perfection? The three types of fermented products utilized—douban jiang (Pixian chili bean paste), tian mian jiang (sweet wheat or sweet bean sauce), and douchi (preserved black beans)—just play so well together.
There are many things in this faddish, bacon-crazed world that shouldn’t happen, but this is definitely not one of them. Bacon and bean pastes are made for each other.
- ⅔ pounds (300 grams) bacon, thick cut (about ⅛ inch), cut in 2-inch lengths
- 5 stalks celery with leaves, cut on the diagonal ⅓-inch thick (optional; if omitting use extra bacon)
- 2 medium leeks, cut into ½-inch sections
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Pixian chili bean paste (douban jiang)
- 1 tablespoon sweet wheat paste (tian mian jiang)
- 1 tablespoon preserved black beans (douchi), rinsed
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4 scallions, cut into ½-inch sections
- Heat wok over a high flame until starting to smoke and add 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil. When oil is hot, add the bacon and stir-fry until it is almost done, but not browned. Remove bacon from wok and set aside.
- Add celery (if using) and leeks to bacon grease and stir-fry until they are starting to soften and browning on the edges. Push vegetables to the sides of the wok, leaving a well in the middle and add the stock. Add the chili bean paste, sweet wheat paste, preserved black beans and sugar to the stock and cook briefly.
- Add back the pork and the scallions and stir-fry together until scallions are starting to soften and pork is completely done but not browned.