Red-cooking is a Chinese braising or stewing technique; most of what I know about it I've learned from Ellen & John Schrecker's "Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook" (Harper & Row, 1976) and Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" (W. W. Norton, 2003).
It's usually hunks or chunks of meat that get red-cooked, or slabs of tofu imbued with pork, but I thought I'd like to try a version with brussels sprouts. The challenge was to get depth of flavor in the relatively short time the sprouts would take to cook through.
The dish tastes best hot, so instead of putting it out on the table with other dishes, family-style, I served it as a separate course, with a scallion bread.
- Serves 6 as part of a chinese meal with other dishes
dried shiitake mushrooms
scallions (3 oz.)
Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
light soy sauce (Kikkoman is fine)
brussels sprouts (2 lbs.)
dark brown sugar
- Start by reconstituting the mushrooms in the red wine and flavoring them with the cloves. (I put the mushrooms, cloves, and wine in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup and nuke them on medium-low for 3 minutes. If you have your own favorite way of reconstituting dried mushrooms, use that instead.)
- Slice the white and the tender green parts of the scallions into half-inch lengths.
- Choose a heavy pot big enough to hold all 40 brussels sprouts snugly. Coat the bottom liberally with peanut oil (I especially like the flavor of Spectrum Naturals unrefined peanut oil). Add the scallion slices and put the pot over a medium flame.
- Rough-chop the garlic and add it to the scallions.
- As soon as the garlic is fragrant (a minute or two), dump in the Shaoxing wine and the soy sauce. (Dump them in all at once rather than dribbling them so they don't vaporize and burn you.) Holding back the mushrooms and cloves, pour the red wine into the pot. Add a teaspoon of salt. (I know it sounds strange to use both soy sauce and salt, but Chinese cooks condemn the practice of achieving saltiness solely with soy sauce; they say American Chinese food "tastes like soy sauce" instead of tasting like food.)
- Grate the ginger into the pot till you reach the point where you will bark your knuckles on the grater; throw the remaining bit of ginger into the pot. Add the two star anise stars. Take the peel off the tangerine with a vegetable peeler, only the orange part (the white pith is not bitter, as some people say, but it is tasteless); taking it off in one long piece is elegant, but it doesn't change the flavor to take it off in three or four pieces; keep track of how many because in a while you're going to fish them out. Eat the tangerine or save it for some other purpose.
- Reduce the liquid by simmering until it is a thick, shiny, syrup studded with pieces of scallion and garlic (about 10 minutes).
- Meanwhile, trim the stems of the brussels sprouts flush and remove any bruised or battered leaves. (The discarded stems and leaves make a nice little soup the next day with some meat broth and a potato.) Halve the sprouts lengthwise.
- Discard the cloves and the stems of the mushrooms and cut the caps into slivers.
- When the sauce is cooked down to syrup, remove the pan from the fire. Remove the lump of ginger, the star anises, and the tangerine peel. (Eat the peel; as my great-grandmother used to say, "The cook gets the licks." Or save it for some other purpose.) Stir in the sprouts, the mushrooms, and the brown sugar. Every sprout half should be thoroughly coated with the syrup. Luckily, the sprouts are light-colored and the syrup is dark, so you can see whether you've done a thorough job.
- Now put the lid on the pot and put the pot over a low flame till the sprouts are cooked through (40 minutes).
- Serve them and eat them promptly. They don't taste as good if you let them cool down.