Recipe: Based on "Stir-Fried Rice Cakes" on Serious Eats by Chichi Wang and "Ground Roasted Sichuan Pepper" from "Land of Plenty" by Fuchsia Dunlop.
Rating: Good quick dinner
Status: Made once.
There are a bunch of different Chinese rice cakes (search for Nian Gao) on the Internet. I choose this one because I wanted to use bok choy instead of napa cabbage, since we have been eating a lot of cabbage recently, and I liked the Sichuan pepper and oyster sauce in this recipe. Rice cakes are really quick to make for dinner, and the recipe is very modifiable. Many recipes use soy sauce, or dark soy sauce, black bean sauce, spicy fermented Chinese black beans, etc, so you should be able to modify the sauce on whim. The pork and bok choy and mushrooms can be changed. You could use napa and beef, or tofu, or you could leave out the meat entirely. The mushrooms are optional or you could use black or shitake (dried or fresh) mushrooms, though I would suggest slicing, marinating, and stir-frying them separately (similar to how they are marinated in this recipe) and mixing them in at the end when you mix in the greens and pork. Mustard greens also seem to be possible, though they might need to be prepared with salt. Rice cakes can also be stored in the freezer until you need them, so it is also something that you can buy ahead of time, and then easily buy the additional ingredients for a last minute quick dinner.
There are a few different kinds of rice cakes: dried, fresh (Aeri's Kitchen has an interesting recipe for how to make fresh rice cakes), frozen fresh, and frozen partially dried. Rice cakes need to be soaked in cold water anywhere from 2 hours to overnight; dried rice cakes definitely need to be soaked overnight. The best way to figure out if your rice cakes need soaking is to check your package directions and follow them. If you are unsure, then soak them in cold water; it probably won't hurt. My rice cakes were frozen fresh; it suggested rinsing in cold water to separate the rice cakes and then boiling them for 30 seconds. So I rinsed them with cold water to separate the rice cakes, as the package suggested, and used them without soaking. Since the recipe uses some liquid which is boiled away to cook the cakes, this was enough to make my cakes soft but still chewy.
I needed 4 Tbsp oyster sauce to flavor the rice cakes. My oyster sauce seems to be less strong, and thus I seem to need more than what is recommended in recipes, so you might need to reduce the amount of oyster sauce in my recipe.
Makes enough for 4 servings
8 oz bok choy
8 oz pork chop
1 package rice cakes (about 1.75 lbs/800 g/28 oz)
1 package enoki mushrooms
For marinating the meat:
1 Tbsp Shao Xing rice wine
3/4 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp salt
For flavoring the rice cakes:
vegetable, peanut, or other neutral oil
several garlic cloves (note: I smashed my garlic cloves and cooked them whole, but next time I would suggest minced garlic)
1/2 to 1 cup water
4 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Shao Xing rice wine
1 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
green onion, finely chopped (optional)
Soak your rice cakes the night before if necessary (mine were frozen ones that don't need soaking so I just rinsed them and cooked them directly).
Mix all of the pork marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Cut pork into 1/4 inch slices against the grain. The pork slices should be bite sized (about 1.5 inches by 0.5 inches) so that they are easy to eat with chopsticks; if they are larger than bite sized, then cut the pork slices in half. Add pork to the marinade and stir. Let the pork marinade for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Wash the bok choy, drain, and chop into 1 inch sized pieces (i.e. bite sized pieces. I don't like it when whole bok choy leaves or baby florets are included in dishes because I find them hard to bite through. Cutting the bok choy leaves into one inch bite sized pieces makes them much easier to eat).
Cut the ends off the enoki mushrooms, and separate into small clumps.
Put the Sichuan peppers in a small saute pan which has been heated on low. Dry roast stirring frequently for 5 minutes, until the Sichuan peppers are toasted and fragrant. Be careful not to burn them. When they are cool, grind them in a spice grinder. Set aside.
Mince garlic and scallions.
Rinse the frozen rice cakes in cold water to separate them. Drain.
Get all of your stir frying ingredients ready, including the sauces. You may want to measure the seasonings out beforehand, because everything happens really quickly in stir frying.
Heat a large wok or cast iron pan on high heat (I used my large 12 inch cast iron pan). Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the bok choy, and stir fry until the stalks are tender but still crisp, about 1 - 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Keep the wok or cast iron pan on high (you want it on high so you can get a good sear, though if the oil splatters too much you can turn down the heat a tiny bit, but keep the pan very hot). Add enough oil to just barely coat the pan (extra oil will splatter when it comes in contact with the marinade). Spread each slice of pork out on the surface of the pan (chopsticks are good to use for this); leave and discard any extra marinade (there shouldn't be much extra though). Sear the pork, undisturbed, until the pork begins to brown (ideally you want brown caramelized spots), about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Turn each slice over and sear. Cook until the pork is cooked through (1 to 2 minutes), and then transfer to a bowl. You may need to cook the pork in batches. Since I was using whole garlic cloves I added them with the pork, and turned them over, and removed them when they were golden, however I recommend mincing the garlic and adding it 10 seconds before (so that it becomes fragrant) the rice cakes.
Add a more oil if necessary. Add a small pinch of Sichuan pepper (about 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp. Don't add it all since it might be too spice for you. You can also add a small pinch of red chili flakes or halved dried red chilis at this point too) and cook the spice in the oil for 30 seconds until it is fragrant and has flavored the oil. Add the rice cakes and enoki mushrooms. Stir in 1/2 cup of water and the rice cake seasoning ingredients. Cook uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes (the water will evaporate quickly since the pan is on high). If the rice cakes aren't soft but still chewy, then you can keep adding 1/4 cup water and evaporating the water until they are cooked correctly (don't add too much water, because it will eventually make the rice cakes too soft). Taste and adjust seasonings; add more oyster sauce if necessary or more Sichuan peppers. Add the vegetables and the pork, and stir to mix evenly. Garnish with green onions and sesame oil. Serve with the extra ground Sichuan peppers and chili oil (or red chili flakes) at the table for people that like their food to be hot.
The rice cakes will become hard and brittle and stick together if your refrigerate the left overs. To eat the left overs, reheat them in a hot pan coated in oil, and add a small amount of water (e.g. 1/4 cup), and heat until the water evaporates and the rice cakes are warm. The water will help to loosen some, but not all, of the rice cakes from sticking together.