White Chinese cabbage and red pork sausage are traditional partners in Chinese cooking. It is a yin-yang marriage of soft and solid textures, neutral and pronounced flavors, and contrasting colors and food types. Blanched separately then stir-fried together, the result is a very simple dish with a sweet, understated charm.
Slice the sausage into thin diagonal coins, 2 inches long and ⅛ inch thick. Simmer in unsalted water to cover for 12 minutes, then drain and put aside.
Choose only very firm, full cabbage leaves at peak freshness. Wash and shake off excess water. Stack the leaves with the curved side down, cut lengthwise through the middle of the stack, then cut crosswise at 1½ inch intervals into large squares. (Cutting the cabbage rib side down prevents it from splitting under the pressure of the knife.)
Blanch the cabbage in a generous amount of boiling unsalted water for 1–1½ minutes, until the thinner edges turn translucent. Drain immediately in a colander, then rush under cold water until chilled. Press gently to remove excess water.
Once blanched, the sausage and cabbage may be left at room temperature for several hours, or stored for up to 12 hours in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before stir-frying.
About 5–10 minutes in advance of serving, have the sausage, cabbage, and stir-frying ingredients all within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a shallow serving bowl of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the chicken fat, swirl to coat the pan, and reduce the heat if necessary to keep the fat from smoking. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one slice of sausage, add the sausage coins and stir-fry briskly to coat and separate them. Add the cabbage and stir-fry to glaze the pieces evenly with the oil, adjusting the heat so the cabbage sizzles without scorching. Sprinkle with salt, toss to mix, then sprinkle with sugar and toss briskly to combine. Add the steaming juices or stock, and raise the heat to bring the liquids to a simmer, stirring. Cover the pan for about 20 seconds while the contents bubble under the lid, then remove the cover, stir once or twice, and reduce the heat to low. Taste and correct the seasonings as needed with a dash of salt, pepper-salt, or pepper. The taste should be predominately fresh and sweet, with a hint of pepper to offset the sausage. Scrape the mixture at once into the serving bowl and arrange several of the sausage coins on top. The dish may be held at room temperature for 4–5 minutes before serving, during which time the sausage grows appealingly chewy. Do not delay the serving further or it will harden.
Leftovers may be resteamed in a tightly covered bowl until hot. The coins and cabbage are not as tasty as when first made, but the broth is extraordinary.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.