Cassia Blossom (Mu-Shu) Pork

木樨肉

Probably my first real Chinese meal was in a little restaurant in the back of a gas station on Route 1, just outside Princeton. While the husband pumped gas up front, the wife cooked splendid food in the back—either hamburgers and fries for the dazed truckers who wandered in or pot stickers, mu-shu pork, and other marvelous everyday Chinese wonders for the band of local Sinophiles who knelt rapturously (and hungrily) at her feet* I, at the time, was a 1960s-style emotional vegetarian, and for me the magic lady made pork-less mu-shu pork. The only one I have had better is this very carnivorous version I now make myself.

  • Mu-shu means “cassia blossom,” in lyric reference to the bits of stir-fried egg that dot the dish. It is, in fact, rather a forest in a plate—along with the eggy blossoms are crunchy tree ears and slim lily buds, all in a tangle around the wine-rich slivers of marinated pork. It is a light but very satisfying dish, especially when enfolded in a steaming mandarin pancake.
  • All the preliminaries may be done up to a day in advance, leaving only the quick stir-frying for last minute.

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* One of our band led The New York Times to the station, resulting in the nice couple becoming very rich in a second, palatial restaurant that featured miserable, steam-table food. Said Sinophile was ostracized to Harvard.

Ingredients

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

To marinate the pork

  • 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 30 lily buds
  • ¼ cup tree ears
  • 4 large whole scallions
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 5–6 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

Seasonings

  • 2–3 teaspoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry

Method

Preparations

Wrap the pork airtight in plastic wrap, then freeze just until rigid enough to slice with precision. Slice the meat crosswise with the grain into slices a scant ¼ inch thick, stack neatly, and slice against the grain into long slivers a scant ¼ inch wide. Cut the slivers crosswise, if needed, so they are about 1½ inches long.

Blend the marinade ingredients until smooth and toss well with the pork, stirring with your fingers to coat and separate the slices. Seal airtight, then put aside for 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator, stirring midway through marinating. Bring to room temperature before stir-frying.

Soak the lily buds and tree ears separately in cool or warm water to cover until supple, about 20 minutes. (Cover the tree ears generously, with about 3 cups water, as they expand greatly when soaked.) Drain the lily buds, then snip off and discard the hard stem ends. Drain the tree ears, rinse thoroughly several times under cool water to remove grit, then pick them over and discard any especially tough or gelatinous bits. Tear into nickel-size pieces, rinse again, and shake dry. The lilies and tree ears may be refrigerated a full day before using, sealed airtight in plastic.

Cut the scallions into 1½-inch lengths, then cut the white and light green segments in half lengthwise. To hold overnight, seal in a water-misted plastic bag.

Beat the eggs lightly with the soy and salt. Seal and refrigerate, if desired, for several hours.

Stir-frying the dish

Have all the ingredients, several paper towels, and 2 empty bowls or plates all within reach of your stovetop. Put a serving platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm. Stir the pork to loosen the slivers.

About 10 minutes before serving, heat a wok or heavy, 8-inch skillet over high heat until hot enough to sizzle a bead of water on contact. Add 2 tablespoons oil, swirl to glaze the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to puff one drop of egg on contact, pour the egg mixture into the pan. It should puff around the edges immediately. Wait several seconds for the bottom to set, then use a spatula to gently push the cooked portion to the side of the pan, letting the loose egg flow beneath to make contact with the oil. If you are using a flat skillet, tilt it to aid the flow. Adjust the heat so the egg cooks swiftly, but stays soft and does not brown. Continue to push the cooked egg aside until the entire mixture is cooked but still only very loosely set. Scrape immediately into one of the waiting bowls or plates, then break the egg into small bits. The whole process should take about 30 seconds.

Use the towels to wipe the pan clean, then return the wok or a larger heavy skillet to high heat. Add 1½ tablespoons oil, swirl, and reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one scallion nugget, add the scallions to the pan. Toss briskly about 15 seconds to glaze the scallions and explode their fragrance, then splash 1 tablespoon wine into the pan. Wait a second for it to hiss, then immediately add the lilies and tree ears. Stir-fry briskly to combine, about 10 seconds, then scrape the mixture into the remaining bowl or plate.

Wipe the pan clean, return to high heat, and add 2 tablespoons oil. Swirl to glaze the pan. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one sliver of pork, add the pork. Stir-fry briskly, adjusting the heat so the meat sizzles without scorching, until the meat is 90 percent gray. Return the vegetables and eggs to the pan, stir several times, then sprinkle with soy. Stir to combine, sprinkle with wine and stir again to mix. Turn off the heat. Taste and adjust with a dash more soy or wine, if needed. Work quickly lest the mixture overcook.

Serve immediately, while steaming and aromatic.

Leftovers will keep 2–3 days, refrigerated airtight. Reheat tightly covered in a steamer until hot.

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