Food: Vietnamese pork stir fry a la Cousin Ly

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Cousin Ly

My cousin Ly has been staying with me for the last month and we’ve had a great time cooking together, teaching each other recipes and sharing some of our childhood favorites. Turns out we both have an inordinate fondness for oyster sauced dishes, particularly this pork and vegetable stir fry.

Ly’s a talented and speedy cook, so forgive me if some of the photos are a wee blurry. It was a little like trying to photograph Yan Can Cook in perpetual motion.

The other thing Ly and I have in common is that we both learned to cook from our mothers, who learned to cook from their mothers, who learned to cook from their mothers. This all seems pretty cool unless you’re trying to document their recipes or techniques for posterity. All of these women follow the flip-of-the-wrist “a little of this, a little of that” style of cooking. Growing up I remember my mom saying to me, “Saute the onions until you smell them.” Eh? What exactly does that mean? What if I have no sense of smell? I’m screwed!

It’s a creative way to cook, but hardly precise or helpful when trying to teach other people.

So, Ly and I have had fun trying to break down our recipes into something recordable for each other. Now the good thing about stir fry is that its very, very forgiving as far as precise measurements go … you really can throw a little of this, and a little of that together and come up with something fantastic.

But here’s precisely how Ly did it. Well, sorta.

PORK & VEGETABLE STIR FRY

Ingredients:
1/2 lb pork (better with a little fat on it)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 Chinese eggplant
2 bell peppers
1 cucumber
4 tbsp oyster sauce
1 pkg dried sweet and sour sauce
1 tspn red pepper flakes
fresh ground black pepper
2-3 tbsp sweetened sushi vinegar
1 tspn sugar

Pork stir fry

Slice pork into matchbox sized pieces.

Pork stir fry

Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat and fry pork.

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While the meat is cooking, chop your vegetables: bell peppers, eggplant and cucumber.

Pork stir fry

Chinese eggplant is longer and thinner than Italian eggplant and holds its firmness better.

Pork stir fry

Make sure to keep an eye on the browning pork. When it’s about half way cooked through, add the red pepper flakes, fresh ground black pepper and sugar. Stir.

Pork stir fry

When 90% cooked through, remove from the heat and set aside in a separate bowl. Reserve some of the oil/fat in the pan in order to stir fry the vegetables.

Pork stir fry

Add veggies into the same pan you cooked the meat in.

Pork stir fry

Next comes the two most important ingredients: first, the oyster sauce …

Pork stir fry

Secret tip #1: When stir frying it’s important to toss the ingredients, not just stir them around, which is actually a misnomer if you think about it. Yes, there is “stirring” involved, but really the secret is in the “tossing”. You want to make sure you keep the veggies crisp and aerated. I don’t know if that’s official; I just know that when you toss, you get way better results than just stirring. Ly agrees. We discussed this at length.

Pork stir fry

Then mix up the second most important ingredient: the sweet and sour sauce. Totally key! Professional chefs are keeling over in mortification at the use of packaged sauce, but HEY, we’re home cooks … back off, man!

Pork stir fry

I don’t want to think about the amount of sodium in this little packet. I prefer to think of it as a magic packet of flavor. That’s really all I need to know. Anyway, follow the directions on the back of the package.

Pork stir fry

Basically it says, “Dump packet in a bowl.”

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And add water. Here’s secret tip #2 from Ly, add a little sweetened sushi vinegar to the mix as well. Stir until mixture is mostly dissolved. Cool. Easy.

Pork stir fry

Dump the sweet and sour sauce in with the veggies and stir (aka “toss”) for a couple of minutes.

Pork stir fry

Add the pork back in with the veggies.

Pork stir fry

And toss for a couple more minutes, making sure everything is cooked through, but the veggies are still crispy-ish. I’m very scientific about this, aren’t I? I blame my mom and her loosey-goosey style of cooking instruction.

I love you, Mom!

Pork stir fry

There you have it: Vietnamese pork stir fry. Add a scoop of jasmine white rice, pour yourself a glass of Merryvale pinot noir and you’re in business.

Bon apetit from me and cousin Ly!

P.S. We also debated about whether this recipe is actually Chinese stir fry or Vietnamese stir fry. Finally we settled on the fact that stir fries are a basic part of Asian cuisine and since we’re both Vietnamese we could rightfully claim it as a part of our own heritage. You say po-tay-toe, I say poh-taah-toh.

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