Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gong Bao Tu Dou Ding

Mary got home from work yesterday, came into the kitchen, stopped and said: "It smells like summer in here. Why does it smell like summer?"

I swept a hand toward my mise en place of chopped and sliced and slivered garlic, ginger, green onions, chilies, and a bowl of "fish fragrance" dressing, soy, sesame, dark vinegar, sugar, sambal, hua jiao. "Because we're having Chinese food!" I said.

Mary smiled.

Specifically, we were having Sichuan food, the best thing in the world to eat on a hot and humid summer evening; last night definitely qualified.

One of the dishes was gong bao tu dou ding, which might bring to mind the desperate, slurred imprecations of a drunk outside a bar after closing time.

Drunk outside bar, disheveled, holding out hand, staggering: "Hey, buddy, couldja gong bao tu dou ding me?"

You, alarmed, recoiling: "I beg your pardon? You want to go where? You want me to bring you what? Look, uh, I, I gotta go...".

And...scene! Here concludes another episode of Trout Caviar Internet Theater.

Gong bao tu dou ding=Kung Pao Potato Cubes. You might not have heard of it. I might just have made it up, as gong bao tu dou ding draws exactly zero results in a Google search. Kung pao potatoes gets a few. But this isn't any particularly original preparation, just a nice vegetarian variation on the Sichuan classic Kung Pao Chicken, gong bao ji ding. Gong bao is usually translated as "grand duke," as a certain gentleman of that rank was said to have particularly enjoyed the dish. Ding is a small cube, a dice. Many Chinese dishes specify the shape of the food in the title. Pian=slice; si=shred.

I'm not going to tell you what ji means. Here I substitute pieces of nice, firm, sweet market new potatoes for the meat component of the dish. Chicken is used most commonly in Sichuan, followed closely by pork, and gong bao tu ding, kung pao rabbit, is on many menus, as well. Vegetarian versions may use mock duck (wheat gluten) or cubes of fried tofu.

Oh, and I have to tell you the literal translation of the characters that mean potato, tu dou: it's "earth bean." Love that.

I was very pleased with this earth-beany iteration of kung pao. I would make it again, if I didn't have any meat on hand, or just for variety, and another way to use those excellent new potatoes.

Gong Bao Tu Dou Ding

1 generous cup (6 ounces by weight) small new potatoes, red or white or a combo
1 Tbsp slivered ginger
1 Tbsp finely sliced garlic
2 scallions, in 1/3-inch pieces (use the white and the light green)
3 dried red chilies (or more, to taste), cut in half
1/2 cup raw skin-on peanuts--available in Chinese markets and at co-ops
1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns (hua jiao)

1 Tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp Chinese dark vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch

1 cup canola or peanut oil

Wash but do not peel the potatoes. Cut them into pieces, roughly 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes--my potatoes were so small, barely bigger than grapes, I just cut them in half, and some I even left whole.

Heat a wok or deep fry pan, and add the oil. When it is hot (dip a piece of trimmed scallion green in; it should sizzle right away), add the potatoes and fry for 3 minutes, moving the pieces about gently with a wok shovel or spatula. The potatoes should just start to brown. Drain on paper towels.

Pour the oil off into a clean heat-proof container, like a Pyrex measuring cup, and reserve. Heat the wok again, add about 1 tablespoon of the oil, and the peanuts. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the peanuts are lightly, uniformly brown, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel.

Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. All these steps can be done well in advance.

Just before you're ready to serve, then, heat your clean wok again, and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil. Add the chili pieces and the hua jiao, and stir-fry--high heat--for 30 seconds, until the spices become dark and fragrant (you will sneeze). Add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for 15 seconds--don't let the garlic burn. Add the potato pieces and the scallions. Stir-fry for 1 minute.

Stir the sauce well to dissolve the settled cornstarch, and add it to the pan all at once, stirring briskly. Add the peanuts. Stir-fry another 30 seconds.

Serve with steamed rice and cold beer.

Quick pickle of snap peas and carrots.

The flashing chopstix of delight.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


angie said...

Lovely. On my short list to try (as is the pea salsa)!

I note your choice of beverage...

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Angie: Yes, unfettered access to the many flavors of New Glarus is one of the delightful perks of life in the Land O' Cheese. You can't get it in Minnesota.

Cheers~ Brett

nt moore said...

I cracked open the package of szechwan peppercorns from United Noodle to make this one. Thanks for the motivation! Do you guys bake in a stone (hearth) oven? I built one a few years back with my students at Winona State.

Trout Caviar said...

nt: Another thing that says it's summer here is opening the cupboard and being hit by the scent of hua jiao blasting out. It really gets fragrant in the hot, humid weather.

When I started cooking Sichuan food, in the '80s, the Sichuan pepper available in stores here was crap. That was perhaps the result of the fact that there was a ban on importing it for many years--supposedly because it can carry a fungus that attacks citrus fruits.

Anyway, when I got to Chengdu in '89 and tasted the real thing, at the source, I was blown away--incredibly fragrant and "ma," or numbing.

Now the stuff available at places like United Noodles is actually pretty good. I will just point out for those who may be unfamiliar with it, that it's the reddish-brown husk that has all the flavor, and the small black seed is just like a tiny pebble--no taste or aroma there at all. So in shopping for it, look for a high percentage of husks, and very few of the black seeds.

I use it raw and whole in stir-fries like this, or toasted in a dry skillet for a few minutes, then ground to use on finished dishes, the same way you'd use black pepper--which is also used in Sichuan cooking, though less so than hua jiao.

Cheers~ Brett