Stir-fried Pork with Napa Cabbage

I can’t believe how much pork I seem to eat lately.  Our Meat CSA keeps sending it, so we keep eating it.  I don’t mind, and I think it’s only because the pork is such good quality–I’ve never been a big pork eater before, but I don’t regret it–most pork I had before was not particularly tasty (though I could eat prosciutto every day).

The challenge is of course is figuring out what to make with these cuts of pork I have never heard of in my life (not knowing about pork).  Cube steak?  Country-style ribs? 

Then we had another challenge–what do to with the Napa cabbage I got from our CSA.  I have never eaten much cabbage (though after living in the Czech Republic for two years I did eventually come to like it quite a bit!), much less “specialty” Napa cabbage. 

What to do?  Check the internet.  I found a manageable looking recipe on epicurious.  I substituted cube steak for pork tenderloin (as I learned a tough cut of pork that has been tenderized.  This explained a lot, as when I looked at the frozen cube steak I thought it looked almost like ground pork–thanks again, internet!)  The next challenge was figuring out how many new ingredients I was going to have to buy.  I don’t cook Asian food much, partly out of a chicken and egg problem:  I don’t have the ingredients, so I don’t cook it, I don’t cook it so I never buy the ingredients.  Since I cook more French and Italian, I’m always sure to have the marjoram, oregano, or tarragon on hand, but rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, ginger?  Not so likely.

Luckily the required ingredients weren’t too expensive, and are shelf stable so that I can have them on hand for whenever the “next time” is.  After work last Friday I ran out to get rice wine vinegar (unflavored–this specification only became clear to me when I saw how many varieties you could choose from), soy sauce, and ginger.  While not required by the recipe, I also picked up fish sauce as Mark Bittman has decreed it’s an ingredient no kitchen should be without (and it’s shelf-stable and cheap, so fine, I bought it).

The recipe is easy but there is a fair amount of prep.  The marinade for the pork, a separate soy-sauce based mixture for the cabbage, and various finely chopped items.  (Still haven’t mastered working with ginger with much agility, but I managed eventually). 




Saute the pork, then cook the cabbage and other ingredients, then add the pork back in.  What i thought was interesting about this was the use of cornstarch to make a nice thick sauce.  I suppose this could be an Asian technique that substitutes for a “roux” but is certainly lighter in flavor. 


Not to be too self-complimentary but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this–often I find the sauces in Chinese food too heavy or gummy, but this was great.  (I’m not saying I’ve ever had Chinese food at anything but the cheap takeout, which would be the equivalent of  judging Italian food based on Domino’s).  Also I preferred my substitution of cube steak for tenderloin.  I feel that tenderloin is too expensive a cut for a stir-fry or stew (mainly because something else will do); I’d rather roast it or prepare it in some way where it stands alone and where the preparation relies on the use of that particular cut of meat.  (Here I go offering opinions on pork which I have already said I don’t know much about.  But I do like noting a successful substitution of a cheaper cut of meat–you can’t always get away with that!)

And being honest here:  to prove that I don’t make Chinese food much, I finished preparing this recipe, and realized I had better make some rice to go with it.  A bit obvious, in retrospect.  So, I can tell you too, that this is not one of those “serve immediately” type of recipes, fortunately for me.

 Stir-Fried Pork with Napa Cabbage (Gourmet, October 2005, original available here which uses pork tenderloin).

  • 1 lb pork cube steak
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 lb Napa cabbage, quartered lengthwise, cored, and cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces (10 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves

Cut pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then toss with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a bowl.

Stir together vinegar, salt, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl.

Stir together water and remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a cup.

Rinse cabbage in a large colander. Tap colander lightly, then transfer cabbage to a large bowl with water still clinging to leaves.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking, (N.B. I made this in a dutch oven which worked fine) then add pork in 1 layer as quickly as possible. Cook, undisturbed, until pork begins to brown, about 3 minutes, then turn over and cook, undisturbed, until browned but still pink in center, about 1 minute more. Transfer pork and any juices to a plate. Do not clean skillet.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil in skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then stir-fry garlic and ginger 30 seconds. Add half of cabbage and stir-fry over high heat until cabbage is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in remaining cabbage (skillet will be very full), along with any water in bowl, and soy sauce mixture, then cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until all of cabbage is tender, 4 to 5 minutes.  (If you are using a dutch oven you can add all the cabbage at once).

Add pork, along with any juices accumulated on plate, and bring to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture, then pour into skillet and boil, stirring, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Season with salt, then serve over rice, sprinkled with cilantro. 


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