Four-Spice Pork with Spinach


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    as a main dish with noodles or rice .

Appears in

Here is my favorite aromatic foursome—ginger, garlic, scallion, and chili—flavoring a simple stir-fry of marinated pork ribbons, velvety spinach leaves, and crunchy spinach stems. It is a nice, light dish on its own or an appealing topping for Pot-Browned Noodles. I enjoy it “nude”—dressed only in the natural pork and spinach juices—but if you wish a richer sauce, an optional one is provided.

  • The spinach may be blanched and the pork marinated up to a day in advance. The stir-frying takes only 5 minutes.


  • ½ pound boneless pork loin, trimmed of all fat (weight after trimming)

To marinate the pork

  • 2 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound fresh spinach, preferably with red stem ends intact


  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced green and white scallion
  • 2–3 teaspoons Chinese chili sauce, or ¼–½ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 3–4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

Sauce ingredients (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • teaspoons hoisin sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil



Hold a sharp knife diagonal to the board, then slice the meat against the grain into thin slices evenly ⅛ inch thick and about 1 inch wide. Cut the slices crosswise, if necessary, so they are about 2 inches long. Holding the knife on a diagonal lengthens the slice.

Blend the soy, sugar, and cornstarch until smooth. Toss well with the pork, using your fingers to coat and separate the slices. Seal airtight, then set aside to marinate 1 hour at room temperature or several hours to overnight in the refrigerator. Stir once or twice while marinating to redistribute the seasonings. Bring to room temperature before frying.

Cut, blanch, and chill the spinach. The blanched spinach may be left at room temperature for several hours or sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before frying.

Combine the aromatics in a small saucer.

Combine the sauce ingredients, if you are using them.

Stir-frying the dish

(If you are using the pork and spinach to crown Pot-Browned Noodles, begin stir-frying as soon as you have flipped the noodles over.)

Have the pork, spinach, aromatics, and sauce mixture all within reach of your stovetop. Using your fingers, stir the pork to separate the slices and fluff the spinach to loosen the mass.

About 5 minutes before serving, heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to sizzle a bead of water on contact. Add 3 tablespoons oil, swirl to glaze the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bit of garlic, add the garlic, ginger, scallion, and chili sauce. Stir until frothy and fragrant, about 10 seconds, adjusting the heat so the aromatics sizzle without browning.

Add the pork and toss briskly to separate and coat the slices. If the meat is sticking, dribble in the additional 1 tablespoon oil from the side of the pan. When the meat is 90–95 percent gray, add the spinach. Toss to blend and heat the spinach through, about 30 seconds. If you are adding the sauce, scrape the combined sauce ingredients into the pan and raise the heat to bring the liquids to a boil. Toss briefly to combine, then remove at once to a heated serving platter of contrasting color. Work quickly, lest the meat overcook.

(If you are using the stir-fry as a topping for the noodles, turn off the heat and cover the pot briefly if the noodles are not quite done. Once they are browned, mound the pork and spinach gently on top, leaving an inch of noodles showing all around.)

Leftovers keep 2–3 days, refrigerated, and are savory at room temperature.