I haven’t been reading food blogs long – only about a week longer than I’ve had my own, in fact – but I’m already playing favorites. One of the blogs that first caught my attention and held it is Jen’s use real butter. Jen’s blog has what I consider the three requisite aspects of a good food blog: beautiful pictures, entertaining writing, and recipes I actually want to make. Something else I love about Jen’s blog is that some of those recipes are authentic Chinese food. At least, I’m assuming they’re authentic. As an all-American mutt, I’m not exactly an expert on spotting traditional ethnic cuisine.
The latest such recipe is moo shu pork. I’d heard of moo shu before – the term seems to get tossed around a lot just because it sounds cute and is fun to say. Moo shu. Moooooo shu. But I actually had no idea what it was until Jen’s post about it. Turns out, it’s a bunch of stir-fried goodness all wrapped up in flatbread. Sounds delicious!
The recipe is fairly simple, but it did involve some ingredients that weren’t familiar to me. The first is hoisin sauce. Jen says that she prefers to buy hoisin sauce with more Chinese on the label that English. That sounds reasonable. My grocery store has a well-stocked ethnic section, so I was pretty confident that I’d be able to find something that fit the bill. I ended up with a bottle with about 50% English, 50% Chinese on the label. Close enough.
The moo shu shells were a bigger problem. Even Wegman’s ethnic section can only go so far. I had a bit of hope when I saw an “asian” sign in the freezer section, but there was no luck to be had there. I had two options at this point: find an asian grocery store or make my own moo shu shells. I just moved to Philadelphia a week ago and didn’t relish the idea of driving around looking for an asian grocery store, so homemade it was.
Okay, let’s be honest. I could have found an asian grocery store – I know how to use the internet, after all. The truth is, I’m just not very comfortable in them. The merchandise is unfamiliar to me, I don’t know how anything is arranged, and most of the labels are in Chinese. Last time I went to one, I wandered up and down the aisles looking for dried shrimp. When I gave up and asked the cashier for help, she yelled, “in the cooler!” The cooler encompassed an entire aisle of this store. I wandered over there and searched around, all the while with her yelling from the cash register which direction I needed to be looking. Why she didn’t just walk the 10 steps over to the cooler and grab the damn shrimp off the shelf for me is a mystery. Then, as I was checking out, she asked if I was making pad thai. Apparently little white girls have one use for dried shrimp and one use only. I said I was, and she told me I needed Thai basil. I know Thai basil is a traditional pad thai ingredient, but I’m assuming that it has the same shelf life of regular basil – so about 3 hours. My pad thai had always been damn good without it, so I declined, admitting that my pad thai must not be that authentic. So there you go – my desire to make traditional ethnic food lies somewhere between dried shrimp and Thai basil.
So, homemade moo shu shells it was. Turns out making moo shu shells is even easier than finding a recipe for them on the internet. (Hint: Don’t google “moo shu shells”, regardless of how you spell the “moo.” You need to look up “mandarin pancakes.”) The process is a little strange, but it worked out beautifully in the end. Flour is mixed with boiling water, then the dough is allowed to rest. It’s rolled into a rope, then cut into pieces. Each piece is flattened, brushed with oil, and then stacked on another piece with the oiled sides together. Each pair of dough segments is rolled out together, then cooked in an ungreased skillet. The only tricky part is tearing the two pieces apart after they cook, and the only difficulty there stems from the fact that it’s hot!
So, in the end, moo shu pork is good. Really good, in fact. I can’t wait to make it again. And hoisin sauce? Also really good. All salty and sweet and just altogether tasty.
Now, Jen insists that these shouldn’t be called Chinese burritos. I can understand this I suppose – after all, I’ve never heard of a burrito referred to as Mexican moo shu. But I’m sure you can see the resemblance. In fact, when I handed Dave his plate, guess what he said? “Oh, cool. It’s a Chinese burrito.”
Mandarin Pancakes (from Fine Cooking)
The only change I’ll probably make in the future is to add a pinch of salt to the dough.
1¾ cups (8 ounces) unbleached flour
¾ cup boiling water
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
In a bowl, mix the flour and the boiling water with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to combine. Turn the shaggy dough onto a lightly floured board, gather it into a heap, and knead it until smooth, about 3 minutes. Cover with a towel and let it rest for about 1/2 hour.
With your hands, shape the dough into an even cylinder about 12 inches long. With a sharp knife, preferably serrated, cut the roll into 1-inch pieces. If the cutting squashes any of the pieces, stand them on end and shape them back into rounds.
Lightly flour your palms and use them to flatten the pieces into 2-inch rounds. Brush the top of each round generously with sesame oil. Lay one round on top of another, oiled sides together. Flatten the pair together with the heel of your hand. Continue until you have 6 pairs.
With a floured rolling pin, roll each pair into a thin pancake about 7 inches in diameter, flipping the pancake over now and again to roll evenly on both sides. Stack the pancakes as you finish rolling them.
In an ungreased cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-high heat, cook the pancakes one at a time. Heat one side until it becomes less opaque and starts to bubble slightly, and just a few brown spots appear, about 1 min. Flip it over and cook it until a few light brown spots appear on the other side, about 30 seconds.
While the pancake is still hot, pick it up, look for a seam to grab, and separate it into two very thin pancakes. Stack them on a plate as you go and wrap them in foil to keep them warm and prevent drying. If not using right away, refrigerate until ready to use.
For Jen’s mu-shu pork filling, check out her blog.