This curiously named dish, with origins in Sichuan, is a classic in Chinese cuisine. It is based on the wiry, thin Mung Bean Starch noodles (粉絲), whose transparency yields the common English names of ‘glass noodles’ or ‘cellophane noodles’. Ground meat, generally pork or beef, is cooked in a sauce and then tossed with the noodles so that the ‘grains’ of meat give the appearance (with some poetic license) of ants climbing the branches of a tree. In Sichuan, Chili Bean Paste, and sometimes chopped fresh or dried chili, is incorporated into the sauce, while in Taiwan or other parts of China, a less spicy version results from the use of the milder black or yellow bean sauces. Our version today will be of the traditional spicy, hot variety…
- 3/4lb dry Cellophane Noodles;
- 1/2lb. Ground Pork (or beef, if you prefer);
- 1 large dried Chinese Black Mushroom, reconstituted and finely chopped;
- 2 Scallions, chopped – keep the white and green parts separate;
- 1 tbsp. minced Garlic;
- 1 tbsp. minced Ginger;
- 2 tbsp. Sichuan Chili Bean Paste;
- ¾ cup Chicken Stock;
- ¼ cup Shaoxing Wine;
- 1 tsp. Sugar;
- 2 tbsp. Light Soy Sauce;
- 1 scant tsp. Cornstarch;
First, reconstitute the noodles by soaking in hot water for about twenty minutes and then drain and set aside. If you are preparing these well in advance, you can toss the drained noodles with a tablespoon or so of oil and keep them in a covered container in the refrigerator. If the bean threads are very long, you can cut them up with scissors into more manageable lengths.
Put the cornstarch into a bowl and mix with enough water to make a smooth paste and then stir in the sugar, soy sauce, chicken stock and wine. Set this aside to use later as the sauce.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok over moderate high heat and then add the pork. Break the meat up as it cooks and stir and toss until the resultant ‘grains’ are browned and just starting to get a little crispy here and there.
Now ‘scoot’ the meat up the sides of the wok to form a little ‘well’ in the middle and add the ginger, garlic, and the white parts of the scallion. As soon as you smell their aroma, add the chili bean paste and stir in the meat until the grains are well-coated.
Now add the noodles, mushroom pieces and the sauce mix. Stir to blend, and allow everything to cook away until the sauce has largely been absorbed. Throw in the green parts of the scallion and toss before turning out onto a plate for service.