This is a dish from Hunan, the intriguing province of China which sits just to the west of Szechwan. It is a first cousin to the classic Szechwan Rice Crumb Beef, and no two recipes could better indicate the difference between the two cuisines. Whereas the Szechwanese dish is unabashedly spicy, this one is piquant with an overtone of sweetness. Ginger, garlic, and scallion keep the chili sauce in a comfortable shadow, and the unseasoned rice crumbs highlight the native sweetness of the rice and the pork. It is a dish to make you sigh, not to sweat.
Cut the pork against the grain into even slices a scant ¼ inch thick. Cut the slices against the grain into ribbons ½ inch wide, then cut the ribbons crosswise if needed into 1-inch lengths.
In a bowl large enough to hold the pork, combine the marinade ingredients, stirring well to blend. Add the pork, then toss well with your fingers to coat each slice. Seal airtight, then set aside to marinate, up to several hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. The longer the meat marinates, the spicier it will be.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a bead of water on contact. Reduce the heat to low, add the rice to the pan, then stir constantly until pale gold, about 5 minutes. If the rice begins to scorch, move the pot off the burner and continue stirring. Transfer the toasted rice to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife and process for 4–5 loud minutes until the grains are about ⅓ their original size, small but not powdery. Alternatively, pulverize the rice in a blender or a mortar.
Pour the rice crumbs over the pork, then toss well to combine. Seal airtight, then let the mixture stand up to several hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator, tossing once or twice to redistribute the crumbs. The rice crumbs will absorb some of the seasonings as they sit and turn reddish when steamed. It is not necessary, however, to let the mixture stand before steaming.
Scrub the yams with a stiff brush under cold water to remove any dirt, then pat dry. Cut crosswise into rounds ¼ inch thick. If you are working in advance, then seal airtight and refrigerate until use, overnight if you like.
(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)
Spread the yams in the bottom of a heatproof plate or pie plate at least 1 inch smaller in diameter than your steamer. Toss the pork to redistribute the crumbs, then layer the pieces evenly on top of the yams, leaving a thin border of yams showing all around. Do not worry if the crumbs do not stick to the pork. Pat half of what falls off in a layer underneath the pork, then pat the other half on top.
Bring the water in the steamer to a gushing boil over high heat, put the plate in place, and cover the steamer. Reduce the heat to medium-high to maintain a strong, steady steam, and steam the pork for 40–50 minutes, until the rice is fully swollen and cooked through and the meat is very tender. You may leave the pork in the steamer set over low heat for an additional 10–20 minutes, and the flavors will only grow fuller.
Serve the pork hot from the steamer. Or, if you like, the dish may be left to cool at room temperature, then sealed and refrigerated several hours or overnight. Resteam over medium-high heat until hot, about 15 minutes. The dish is remarkably durable and does not suffer at all through resteaming.
Leftovers keep nicely up to 3 days and may be resteamed over medium-high heat until hot.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.