When I was a kid, my family used to go to the Twin Dragon restaurant — a mere mile from my home, it was the best gig in town, shy of driving all the way to Chinatown which we did on the weekends sometimes for dim sum.
By today’s Chinese restaurant standards of Szechuan vs. Cantonese vs. Fujian vs. Shandong, etc., Twin Dragon was pretty old school — sweet & sour pork, wor wonton soup, pressed duck. But back then, when most Chinese joints were serving chop suey and egg foo young, it was pretty special. They made a mean spicy kung pao chicken with whole blackened chilies, a rocking tangerine chicken with bits of chewy peel, a sublime three-flavor sizzling rice soup, as well as some unique specialties — I recall the chicken with pine nuts standing out, and remember my parents once ordering a big plate of jiggly jellyfish which they tried without success to get the kids to eat.
But the thing I always lobbied for, the dish that sometimes entered my dreams, was the moo shu pork. The tuxedoed gentleman waiter filled the pancakes right at the table — first a swath of complex, sweet and sticky hoisin sauce, then a large scoop of the eggy, porky, cabbagey filling, then a couple careful folds and delivery via tongs right on my plate.
I’ll still pop by a Chinese joint now and again and order moo shu pork to go for a quick lunch. But better yet, discovering moo shu wrappers in the frozen section of the 99 Ranch Market, decided to make the dish myself for our family at home!
I scanned some old cookbooks — including my favorite Chinese volume, a faded, dog-eared paperback called “Madame Wu’s Art of Chinese Cooking” from perhaps the most famous old school L.A. Chinese joint, Madame Wu’s Garden in Santa Monica — and browsed some websites for inspiration. Thinly sliced “shabu shabu” pork from the Japanese market made a nice shortcut for the shredded pork, I fried up a couple eggs, splashed some soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine around, and we were in business.
The older kids approached cautiously — Willa examining for mushroom incursions, Flynn poking around for anything out of the ordinary — while Imogen, true to form, dug in with wild abandon. But ultimately, while perhaps not infiltrating dreams as it did to my childhood, the moo shu won a thumbs up to become a new addition to the dinner rotation. I included whole blackened arbol chilies in mine for an added bit of Szechuan-style kick.
Here’s your how-to, in addition to a recipe for the tasty “Sean-chuan” fried rice I served alongside. In the event you have difficulty finding the wrappers, you could use very thin flour tortillas instead. Or, troll around online a bit and I’m sure you’ll find a recipe for making them at home. That’s more work than I’ve got time for when I’m looking for a close approximation to the Chinese take out experience.
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Moo shu pork
serves 4 – 6
12 moo shu wrappers
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. chopped ginger
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 lb. pork, sliced into thin strips
4 shitake mushrooms, sliced
4 cups chopped cabbage
4 scallions, cut in 1-inch segments
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup Chinese shao hsing cooking wine
1 tbsp. sugar
Beat the eggs. Brush a nonstick pan with a little oil, heat over medium, and fry the egg, flipping once (do not scramble).
Remove egg to a cutting board and slice into thin strips. Set aside for later.
Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry for one minute. Add pork and continue stir frying for another couple minutes, until pork is begin to brown slightly. Add mushrooms, cabbage and scallions and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add soy sauce, 1/4 cup hoisin, cooking wine and sugar, and cook an additional few minutes until sauce had reduced. Toss in egg. Remove from heat.
Lightly heat moo she wrappers in a pan over medium heat. Place wrapper open, and brush with a teaspoon of hoisin sauce. Add 2 heaping tbsp. of moo shu filling, and wrap up like a burrito. Continue until all moo shu are made, and serve.
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Sean-chuan fried rice
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tbsp. chopped ginger
5 scallions, cut into 1-inch segments
1/2 lb. Chinese broccoli or baby broccoli, cut into 1-inch segments
1 carrot, slivered
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp. Chinese shao hsing cooking wine
1 tbsp. XO sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sugar
2 cups cooked long-grain rice
4 large scallops, cut in half, each half then quartered
Heat oil over high heat in a large wok. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Push aromatics to the side and add scallions, broccoli and carrot. Stir fry for 2 minutes, until wilted. Add stock, wine, soy and XO sauces and sugar, and stir fry for another minute. Toss in rice and scallops, and cook for 3 minutes, tossing and stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and serve.