Ants Climbing a Tree

螞犠上樹

A justly famous, very spicy Szechwanese classic, so named because the dots of meat scattered throughout the noodles are thought to resemble ants. Think what you will of the name, but it is positive addiction for chili lovers and texture fiends. The little cubes of carrots, an untraditional touch, lend color and dash.

  • Bean threads, the transparent “glass” noodles that wrap dutifully around one’s tongue in submission, are here at their slinky, slippery best, stained and flavored temptingly by the sauce. They constitute the bulk of the dish and make it appealingly light.
  • This is a simple enough dish for a beginner and a good choice for a quick, after-work dinner. All of the preparation, save the actual stir-frying, may be done in advance.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces bean threads (glass noodles)
  • ½ cup tiny fresh carrot cubes
  • ½ pound ground pork butt

For marinating the pork

  • 2 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Aromatics

  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
  • 6–8 tablespoons thin-cut green and white scallion rings
  • 3–4 teaspoons Chinese chili sauce
  • cup rich, unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • coarse kosher salt, to taste
  • about 5 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
  • scant teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil

Method

Preparations

Remove the outer wrapper from the noodles, but leave the rubber bands or strings binding them intact. Soak in warm or hot tap water, as described above in TECHNIQUE NOTES, until rubber-band firm. Once pliable, cut through the loop ends of the skein with scissors to cut the noodles into manageable lengths, then cut and discard the rubber bands or strings. Do not oversoak the noodles. Drain well. The noodles may be refrigerated covered with cool water or sealed airtight against drying overnight.

Blanch the diced carrots in simmering unsalted water only 1 minute, until tender-crisp. Drain and rush under cold water until chilled. If working in advance, cover with cold water and refrigerate, up to 2 days. Drain thoroughly before using.

Blend the soy, wine, and cornstarch until smooth, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Distribute the pork around the blade, then process with several on-off turns to blend. Alternatively, stir the marinade ingredients until smooth, then combine with the pork by hand, stirring in one direction until blended. Seal airtight and refrigerate until use, overnight if desired. Bring to room temperature before stir-frying.

Put the ginger, scallion, and chili sauce on a plate. Combine the stock and soy, taste, and add salt if required.

Stir-frying the dish

About 10–15 minutes before serving, arrange all the ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop, and put a serving platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.

Heat a wok or a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the vegetable oil, and swirl to glaze the pan. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bit of ginger, add the scallion, ginger, and chili sauce, and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds, adjusting the heat so the mixture foams without browning. Add the pork and stir briskly, tossing and chopping the meat to break it into tiny bits. Adjust the heat to maintain a merry sizzle, and dribble in a bit more oil from the side of the pan if the meat is sticking. When the pork is gray, add the stock mixture and bring the liquids to a simmer, stirring. Add the noodles, stir gently to coat, then add the carrots and stir to combine. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cover the pan.

Simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 2–4 minutes, then remove the cover and turn off the heat. Stir the contents of the pan once or twice, sprinkle with sesame oil, and stir to combine.

Remove the mixture to the heated platter and serve at once, while the noodles are steaming, slippery, and fragrant.

Leftovers keep 2–3 days and are delightful at room temperature if you’re a fan of cold noodles. If not, steam in a tightly covered bowl until hot.

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