Welcome to Part 2 in my series of as yet undetermined length on cooking Chinese food in Canada! Part 1 is here.
We’re still on safe, neutral territory here- no bear paw, no jellyfish, no shark fin soup in my drafts folder, thank you very much. I’m sticking with the things I eat regularly in Shanghai (aside from those guanxi-heavy banquets for work) and I have, by nature, really simple tastes. Veggies will predominate, as they ought to.
This dish is one Doug and I first discovered several years ago in a lovely Hunan place down the street from us. The restaurant is still our too-tired-to-cook dinner option, and the garlic shoots are one of the dishes we have on rotation, along with smoked beef with fresh chillies, spicy tofu hotpot (with bamboo, whole garlic cloves, ginger, tofu skin noodles and other lovely finds below the surface), lightly vinegared lotus root slices and the awesome garlicky cucumber that I wrote about here the other day.
Like most dishes we eat regularly, it’s almost absurdly simple. You know those stir fries that you see in western magazine recipes, that have about twenty different things in it? Yeah, no. There’s not actually a lot of that actually going on in Chinese cooking. I love the simplicity of their veggie dishes- frequently they are sauteed with just a little garlic and ginger and just a hint of meat. Sometimes there are chilies. Sometimes there are scallions. The good ones are very fresh, very crisp. No thick sauce; no breading; no batter. We dip ours delicately in a little black vinegar to cut the oil.
What we have here is a recipe for garlic shoots with Hunan bacon. Garlic shoots go by many names (including garlic stems) but basically they are the crunchy green bit that pops out of the subterranean garlic plant, often growing quite long, with a little pig-tail curled bulb at the end. When we have bought them from the veggie sellers on our street in Shanghai, I had to bend the bundle of shoots in half to fit them in the fridge. Here in Canada, the ones I bought in Chinatown weren’t quite so long. We had a few in the garden that I wanted to use but there weren’t enough. Alas.
The bacon they use in Shanghai is more like smoked pork belly, with a huge layer of fat and a thinner layer of meat. This is sliced rather thinly and isn’t cooked until crisp (which I would prefer). I used regular bacon (regular being the standard bacon found at the supermarket here) because, quite frankly, I really like this kind more.
Here is how you make them.
Bundle of garlic shoots/stems (蒜苗) about the diameter of a diving OK symbol (thumb and index finger circle)
About 100g smoked streaky bacon (or pancetta if you can get it)
2 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed because it has a neutral taste and is good with heat)
salt, to taste (I used just a little, from a grinder)
1 tsp sesame oil (I used black sesame because black sesame oil is AWESOME)
These ones had the heads trimmed off. If your garlic shoots have heads, get out the guillotine.
Chop the garlic shoots into 1.5 inch lengths (3cm, more or less).
Cut the bacon up into little bits. I like smaller, crisper bacon pieces; if you prefer bigger flat squares, go for it. The important thing is we have bacon. Period.
I hauled out my parents’ wok again. It’s much, much lighter than my Shanghai one and since it isn’t used often, it isn’t as well seasoned. I had some issues with things sticking. Also, using an electric stove was maddeningly unpredictable- everything took ages to heat up and cool down. If you have a gas stove this works much, much better.
Anyway, sauté your bacon bits until they are as crispy as they ought to be. Your call.
Add the garlic shoots and give them a stir. They take about 3 minutes to soften on medium on an electric stove. You want them to still have some crunch. I’m giving you permission to reach in after a minute or two to eat one, just to see how it’s doing. Also, you might as well grab some bacon while you’re at it.
This is the finished product, below. It’s a lovely side dish which goes with everything.
Oh, and I just wanted to add this- skies we would never see in Shanghai. A fine accompaniment to a great big bowl of bacon. And garlic shoots. Yes.