Waaaiiit a minute... Did that say C Mom Cook? Isn't that... here?? Yup! That's me! I got to host this month, and what a fun experience it has been! And with my sister's help, I think we found a great challenge to share with the group. The Daring Cooks' community is awesome and I am so amazed and impressed by all of the members who participated this month.
What follows is pretty much how the challenge was presented to the community. I hope everyone who participated enjoyed it as much as I did, and anyone who didn't, or non-Daring-Cook-readers - give it a try!
I kind of lucked into the position of hosting this challenge – I think I accidentally volunteered when working on a FoodTalk article late last year, but was then so excited to see my name on the hosting schedule, that I just had to go with it. Deciding on what to present, however, was another story. I considered and tested several different ideas before settling in on one.
I am extremely fortunate to have a friend and neighbor who went to culinary school, and with whom I always discuss my latest kitchen adventures. Recently she offered me an unbelievable gift – she offered to loan me her binders and notes from culinary school. I turned each page carefully, amazed by the information, tips, and recipes it contained. And then I saw it. A recipe for Moo Shu. All of the other ideas I'd been tossing around were tossed away. Moo Shu is one of the dishes that introduced me to Chinese food, and remains a favorite of mine. A simple, yet multi-component dish, my challenge was chosen.
The recipe that was included in my neighbor's binder was intended for restaurant use, with fancy ingredients, make-ahead components and scaled very large. Perfect for inspiration, but not the best recipe for a home cook with limited access to specialty ingredients and not needing to feed a restaurant full of people. After poring through cookbooks and websites, I selected the recipe for this challenge because it is both accessible and adaptable to a variety of dietary requirements, while maintaining authenticity to what Moo Shu is supposed to be.
Deh-Ta Hsiung, a renowned authority on Chinese cuisine, published a beautiful book called The Chinese Kitchen. The book is a wonderful and encyclopedic volume containing a wealth of information about all aspects of Chinese cooking, from ingredients to process to history. The recipes are accessible, flavorful, and clearly written. His recipe for Moo Shu, like the others, is straightforward and delicious, and is what I am sharing with you for our challenge.
In preparation for this challenge, I contacted Mr. Deh-Ta Hsiung, who is pleased to have his recipe as our challenge. Mr. Hsiung is widely considered an international expert on Chinese cooking, though his original work was in the arts and film-making. Chinese cooking was his passion, though, and he proceeded to take lessons from top Chinese chefs and work in professional kitchens around the world. Having written numerous books and articles, Mr. Hsiung is a respected authority in the world of Chinese cooking.
About this dish, specifically, Mr. Hsiung offered us a brief anecdote from his earliest work, regarding the origins of this dish's name. In The Home Book of CHINESE COOKERY, Mr. Hsiung discusses the dish as follows:
PORK LAUREL (MU-HSU PORK)
Some explanation is needed for the name of this dish. In China, we have a tree called kwei; according to my dictionary, kwei is called laurel in English, and it is a shrub rather than a tree; but the laurels we have in the garden of our London home never seem to flower at all, while the Chinese laurel is a large tree which produces bright yellow, fragrant flowers in the autumn. The pork in this recipe is cooked with eggs, which give a yellow colour to the dish – hence the name. But to add to the confusion, the Chinese name of this dish is mu-hsu pork, mu hsu being the classical name for laurel (are you still with me?). So you might say that calling it pork laurel is taking a poetic license.
Simply put, Moo Shu is a stir fry, containing thinly sliced or shredded vegetables, meat (traditionally) and scrambled egg. It is usually served on flat, thin, steamed pancakes, and is accompanied by a complementary sauce.
Moo Shu pork (the protein most commonly used in Moo Shu dishes) originates in Northern China (commonly attributed to the Shandong province, though sometimes attributed to Beijing), rising in popularity in Chinese restaurants in the West in the 1960's and 70's. As the dish became more popular, different restaurants adapted the recipe to meet their own styles, or to accommodate for expensive or hard-to find ingredients, so there is a lot of variation among recipes. Common among them, though, is a basis of cabbage and the inclusion of scrambled eggs.
The history and etymology of the dish are widely disputed, as indicated by Mr. Hsiung's anecdote above. There are two primary theories as to the origin of the name. Many, including the author of our challenge recipe, suggest that the Chinese characters, read as mu xi, refer to a tree that blooms with small, fragrant blossoms. They suggest that the scrambled egg in this dish is reminiscent of these blossoms, and thus a variety of egg dishes are referred to as mu xi. An alternative suggestion uses the Chinese characters reading mu xu, roughly translating to wood whiskers or wood shavings. The dish is thus named, it is said, due to the appearance of the shredded vegetables and meat, resembling wooden whiskers, or wooden shavings that were used as packing materials.
Recipe Source: The challenge recipe provided for the Moo Shu filling comes from The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung. The pancake recipe comes from the same source, though we have also provided an alternate method for preparing them, adapted from a variety of online demonstrations. The sauce recipe provided is from epicurian.com.
A few notes about the traditional main ingredients of a Moo Shu stir-fry:
The primary vegetable within the Moo Shu stir fry is generally cabbage. While there are many varieties of cabbage available, the most traditional for this style of dish is the Chinese cabbage, also known as Napa cabbage.
Chinese cabbage is a traditionally cool weather crop which thrives during the shorter days of the year, so it is normally planted during the second half of the calendar year. It generally reaches maturity within about three months after planting. In order to provide a continual supply of the vegetable, a late crop is planted in areas with appropriate conditions. There are several varieties of Chinese cabbage, which all have delicate, sweet flavors, and blend well with the other foods with which it is cooked. It also holds up well to various cooking methods, which is why it makes a good base for dishes such as Moo Shu. Stored in the crisper of the refrigerator, Chinese cabbage can keep for up to ten days.
Scallions, also known as green onions or Spring onions, are milder than most other species of onion. They may be eaten raw or cooked, and are very common in Asian recipes. Scallions are generally sold in bunches with the roots still attached. Stored properly, in a plastic box to allow them to breathe, they can keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Bamboo shoots are the edible shoots of a variety of bamboo species. They are available fresh, dried and canned. Fresh bamboo shoots must be parboiled to eliminate a harsh, bitter poison, hydrocyanic acid, prior to being eaten or used in recipes. Dried bamboo shoots must be soaked prior to use. Both parboiled fresh and reconstituted dried bamboo shoots need to be rinsed with fresh water as the final preparation step. Canned bamboo shoots are parboiled and require no reconstitution, though should also be rinsed.
One of my favorite quotes about bamboo from The Chinese Kitchen is as follows:
Traditionally, the bamboo symbolizes the virtuous man, bending in the wind yet never breaking.
Not generally a word most casual Westerners associate with food, there are a wide variety of mushrooms that are used in Asian cooking. The specific fungus specified in Mr. Hsiung's recipe is dried black fungus, which has long been cultivated in China. While there are many different varieties available in China, there are only a few commonly available in the West. Stored in a dry, dark place just as they are packaged, they can last indefinitely. Once reconstituted, they can be stored for up to five days in the refrigerator in a bowl of fresh water.
Makes 24-30 pancakes
Preparation time: about 10 minutes plus 30 minutes' standing time
Cooking time: 45-50 minutes
4 cups (960 ml) (560 gm) (19¾ oz) all purpose flour
About 1½ cup (300ml) (10 fl oz) boiling water
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vegetable oil
Dry flour for dusting
- Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Gently pour in the water, stirring as you pour, then stir in the oil. Knead the mixture into a soft but firm dough. If your dough is dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, to reach the right consistency. Cover with a damp towel and let stand for about 30 minutes.
- Lightly dust the surface of a worktop with dry flour. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until smooth, then divide into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a long sausage and cut each sausage into 8-10 pieces. Keep the dough that you are not actively working with covered with a lightly damp dish cloth to keep it from drying out.
- Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat pancake. Dust the worktop with more dry flour. Flatten each pancake into a 6 to 8 inch (15 cm to 20 cm) circle with a rolling pin, rolling gently on both sides.
- Place an un-greased frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat to low and place the pancakes, one at a time, in the pan. Remove when little light-brown spots appear on the underside. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.
Alternate method for preparing the pancakes:
Once the dough has rested and been kneaded again, divide it into an even number of small pieces, rolling each into a ball. Working with two balls of dough at a time, dip the bottom of one ball lightly into sesame oil and press it onto the top of the second ball. Press the double layer flat, then roll the doubled pancake layers into 6 to 8 inch circles. In a dry pan, cook on each side until dry and lightly blistered (but without browning). Separate pancakes after cooking.
Alternately (I know, an alternate to the alternate...), if you would prefer not to dip the dough in the sesame oil, you can achieve a similar result with a slight modification. Again working two pieces at a time, roll each piece into a three inch pancake. Using a pastry brush, brush sesame oil onto the top of one of the pancakes, and top it with the other pancake. Further roll the doubled pancake into a 6 to 8 inch circle and cook as the above alternate method. This method was actually our favorite of the three, and yielded the best results – very thin pancakes that held up a little better and had the most authentic texture. We had the best luck brushing a bit of sesame oil on both circles of dough, then sandwiching them together. Just be careful separating the pancakes after cooking them on both sides – heat (steam) does get caught between them, so don't burn your fingers!
Links to a video demonstrating these alternate methods can be found in the Additional Information section below.
- Be sure to use very hot-to-boiling water, as it helps relax the gluten, which will aid in rolling the pancakes super thin.
- Adjust the heat of your pan as needed to cook the pancakes without burning them. I had to keep my burner on medium (rather than low) heat in order for my pancakes to cook properly (low was drying them out too much without cooking them fully), so watch your pancakes carefully.
- If the pancakes are not to be used as soon as they are cooked, they can be warmed up, either in a steamer for 5-6 minutes, or in a microwave oven for 20-30 seconds, depending on the power.
- And, in case you are curious, we both asked our local Chinese food restaurants about their Moo Shu pancakes, and they informed us that they purchase them prepared, and simply steam them for their customers as they order the dish.
Moo Shu Pork:
Preparation time: 25-30 minutes
Cooking time: 6-8 minutes
2/3 cup (1 oz) (30 gm) Dried black fungus ('wood ears')
½ lb (450 gm) pork loin or butt
¾ cup (3½ oz) (100 gm) bamboo shoots, thinly cut
3 cups (6 oz) (170 gm) Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage), thinly cut
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
4 tablespoons (60 ml) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) light soy sauce
2 teaspoons (10 ml) rice wine
A few drops sesame oil
12 thin pancakes to serve
- Soak the fungus in warm water for 10-15 minutes, rinse and drain. Discard any hard stalks, then thinly shred.
- Thinly cut the pork, bamboo shoots and Chinese cabbage into matchstick-sized shreds.
- Lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of salt.
- Heat about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in a preheated wok and scramble the eggs until set, but not too hard. Remove and keep to one side.
- Heat the remaining oil. Stir-fry the shredded pork for about 1 minute or until the color changes. Add the fungus, bamboo shoots, Chinese cabbage and scallions. Stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes, then add the remaining salt, soy sauce and wine. Blend well and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the scrambled eggs, stirring to break them into small bits. Add the sesame oil and blend well.
- To serve: place about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of hot Moo Shu in the center of a warm pancake, rolling it into a parcel with the bottom end turned up to prevent the contents from falling out. Eat with your fingers. (See Final Preparation and Serving section below for more complete details.)
- I have used white mushrooms and dried black mushrooms in this recipe, but any variety of mushrooms, either fresh or reconstituted dry, can be used.
- I did all of my chopping ahead of time and set all of the chopped ingredients aside in separate bowls. The cutting was the longest part of the process. Once I started cooking, it really came together quickly and beautifully.
- In a pinch, you can use pre-chopped cabbage, usually sold as a cole slaw blend, as the basis of your Moo Shu.
- If the stir fry is ready ahead of time, you can reduce the burner to low and cover the pan until you are ready to serve.
While most restaurants, or at least those at which I have ordered the dish, serve this with plum sauce, none of the cook books or online recipes that I have seen have referred to that as being traditional. Most that reference serving it with a sauce call for it to be served with hoisin sauce.
4 tablespoons (60 ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) peanut butter OR black bean paste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey OR molasses
2 teaspoons (10 ml) white vinegar
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml) garlic powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) sesame seed oil
20 drops (¼ teaspoon) Chinese style hot sauce (optional, depending on how hot you want your hoisin sauce)
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml) black pepper
Final Preparation and Serving:
Each of the three components that comprise the complete Moo Shu dish are served separately, and the diner prepares each serving on his or her own plate. Most restaurants provide four pancakes, a serving of Moo-Shu and a small dish of hoisin sauce as a single serving. To prepare each pancake for eating, the following is the most common process: a small amount of hoisin sauce is spread onto the pancake, on top of which a spoonful of the stir-fry is placed. In order to prevent (or, realistically, minimize) the filling from spilling out while eating, the bottom of the pancake is folded up, then the pancake is rolled, similarly to a soft taco. Once rolled, the prepared pancake is eaten immediately.
You can take a look at all the wonderful versions of Moo Shu that were cooked up this month here.
And thank you again for cooking with me this month, Daring Cooks! You guys are the best!