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Ants on a Tree

(recipe, Matthew Amster-Burton)

Introduction

In this recipe (adapted from Terry Durack's wonderful book [%bookLink code=1579590705 Noodle]), the "trees" are the noodles, and the "ants" are the morsels of pork. It's our whole family's number-one favorite dinner.

Ingredients

  1. 8 oz. ground pork (see Note)
  2. 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  3. 1 Tbsp. sugar
  4. 1 Tbsp. hot bean paste (see Note)
  5. 1 tsp. cornstarch
  6. 6 to 8 oz. cellophane noodles (see Note)
  7. 2 Tbsp. peanut oil
  8. 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  9. 1 red jalapeño or Fresno chile, seeded and minced (optional)
  10. ½ cup chicken stock
  11. 1 Tbsp. dark soy sauce (see Note)
  12. ¼ tsp. ground Szechuan peppercorns (optional; see Note)

Steps

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the pork with the regular soy sauce, sugar, hot bean paste, and cornstarch. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  2. Place the noodles in a large bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Soak for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and drain in a colander.
  3. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet or a wok over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and jalapeño and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, breaking up any chunks, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the noodles, chicken stock, dark soy sauce, and Szechuan pepper. Cook, tossing the noodles with two wooden spoons, until the sauce is absorbed and the pork is well distributed throughout the noodles. Transfer to a large platter and serve immediately.

Note

Ground pork. To really get the ants to climb the tree, you need finely ground pork. You can take regular ground pork and pulse it a few times in the food processor, but I'm too lazy to bother; the flavor is great either way. Hot bean paste. A mixture of soybean paste and ground dried red chiles, this is the stuff Iron Chef Chen was always reaching for. Available at Asian groceries and some supermarkets, it's sometimes called hot bean suace, or spicy bean paste, or Toban Jan. Cellophane noodles. Also called bean threads or saifun._ Look for mung-bean starch in the ingredients. Around here, they're sold in a 6-ounce package. Dark soy sauce. Also called soy superior sauce or mushroom soy sauce. I buy Pearl River Mushroom Soy Sauce at my local Safeway. Szechuan peppercorns are a strange beast. They're not really spicy at all. Instead, when you bite down on one, it causes a novocain-like numbness with a faint citrus haze. There's no way to make this sound appealing if you haven't tried them, but the same is true of hot peppers. Szechuan peppercorns are, in fact, the dried buds of a citrus tree, and they were banned in the United States for decades because of the threat of citrus canker, a parasite that can ruin citrus crops. (Contraband of varying quality was readily available, of course.) They're now legal again as long as they've been heat treated (that is, baked). I have a bottle of the heat-treated ones from Penzeys, and they're great. If this were not a family book, I would recommend that you also get baked before enjoying a dish with Szechuan peppercorns.