Fish fragrant eggplant, one of my go-to orders at Sichuan restaurants, was simple and delicious (p. 285). You can see the classic extra slick of oil on the dish, which added even more richness. I didn't want to fry the eggplant, so I cut them up and threw them in a 375 degree oven with some oil and salt for 20 minutes. They had lost their deep purple color in the oven, so I may just fry them straight next time. In any event, I ended up browning them in oil anyway.
That one piece up front looks disgusting right? I probably should have made it look better for the camera, but I'm usually too eager to eat by the time I start taking pictures. Next time I'll be sure to make the eggplant look more palatable.
This was my lunch earlier in the day. I had a block of firm tofu left, so I cut it into strips and fried it crisp, then mixed it with some bok choy in the sauce for ma la chicken slices (p. 141). There's so much oil used in some of these recipes that once I ate the crispy tofu, I used the sauce again for spicy cucumber salad:
The full dinner spread, including leftover stir fried mushrooms, fried peanuts and more dan dan noodles:
Those damn fried peanuts are as addictive as Dunlop claims. I've made them three times already. She only uses salt and Sichuan pepper, but I add red chile powder and sugar to make them even better. I made the dan dan noodles with wheat noodles this time, and while tasty, they weren't as good as the Twin Marquis noodles I used the first time.
The next day I made another trip to Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester and Elizabeth. I was craving something different, so I picked up a thick piece of pork belly. While browsing the aisles, trying to familiarize myself with the market, I stumbled on the chile-bean paste Holy Grail.
Both of these are chile-bean pastes from the city of Pixian in Sichuan, which Dunlop says are the best. I bought both pouches (there was a third brand I didn't buy) and brought them home for an impromptu taste test with The Quaker. While each were made with the recommended fava beans over soy, the red pouch was the clear favorite, thick and bean-y, while the other was thin and salty.
I used the people's choice chile-bean paste to make bowl-steamed pork belly with pickled vegetables (p. 206). It involved a couple of steps to prep the belly, but on the whole was extremely easy to make. I blanched the belly for a few minutes in boiling water, then covered it in soy sauce and browned the skin. Then you throw it into a bowl of hot water for a few minutes before letting it cool and slicing it thin. Finally you overlap the pieces of belly in a bowl "like the pages of a book" before topping it with soy sauce, chile-bean paste, pickled chiles and preserved vegetables.
Since I was using my large pot with a steamer to make stock, I rigged up a smaller steamer for the two hours of cooking. Once it is finished, you flip the dish out onto a plate for a cool presentation.
I had a better picture, but it was blurry.
The texture of the cooked belly was extremely tender, and the fat practically melted in my mouth. However, I may have added too much soy sauce, and with the addition of preserved vegetables this dish is very strongly flavored and salty. I could only eat a few pieces. According to Dunlop this dish is supposed to be served as part of a larger meal. I ate it for lunch the next day over rice, which mellowed out the saltiness.
I really like this technique and what it does to the pork belly. I might try and make it with sauerkraut subbing in for preserved vegetables and mustard instead of chile-bean paste.
Next: I want to make some of the fish dishes and I still have a chunk of pork belly to play with.