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Annual (or so) sour yard-long bean query

Yes, it's time to ask you chowhounds for help with this once again. Since moving away from NYC, I've had powerful cravings for this Hunan (I think) dish served at Grand Sichuan International on Ninth Avenue; it's called, on the menu, "spicy minced pork with sour string beans." Ground pork, with scallions, spiciness, lots of (chili?) oil, and finely diced pickled yard-long beans. I've been trying for years to replicate it, sometimes using the vacuum-packed preserved beans I find in Asian markets in and around Atlanta (I live near Athens now), sometimes, in a pinch, using just regular fresh green beans. The vacuum-packed beans are fine, but just not as good as the GSI version, so now I want to make my own pickled—"sour"—yard-long beans. I have a whole bunch of fresh beans, and I'd like to pickle and maybe can them or preserve them for future use in some way. Any ideas how to do this? Should I just make them as I'd make dilly beans? Is there a more authentic method? Rice wine? The beans are crunchier than regular green beans, and I don't want to destroy that texture in processing. But the GSI dish is so wonderfully sour . . .

Also, again, I'd like to put the word out that I'm open to any hints about how to make this dish. I've come very close in my many attempts, but not quite close enough. It's a very simple dish, and it can't be *that* rare.

Here's a picture of the vacuum-packed beans I sometimes use (on the left): http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/90... .

The ones I saw at the store (Super H Mart) today were really bleached and odd-looking, so I got fresh instead.

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  1. Liana, try this:

    From Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

    Pickled String Beans with Ground Pork (rou mo jiang dou)

    1/2 lb long green beans plus pickling solution (see below)
    1/4 lb ground pork
    1/2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (or med. dry sherry)
    1/2 tsp light soy sauce
    salt
    peanut oil for cooking
    3 - 4 Sichuan dried chiles, snipped in half and seeds discarded
    1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns

    Several days in advance...
    Wash and trim beans and then dry them throughly. Immerse them in pickling solution (recipe below) and leave the picking jar in the refrigerator or a cool place for 1 - 3 days.

    At time of cooking...
    Mix pork with Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, and 3 generous pinches of salt. Set aside.
    Remove beans from pickling solution. Chop green beans into 1/8 inch slices to complement the small grains of the ground pork.

    Season wok (i.e. heat on high) then add 1 Tbs peanut oil and heat over a high flame until smoking. Add the pork and stir-fry until it is dry and a little crispy. Tip meat back into marinating bowl. (Don't worry. It'll get cooked a second time.)

    Return wok to flame and add 1 Tbs fresh oil. When oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the chiles and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry briefly until fragrant. Do NOT let the spices burn. Add the beans and pork and stir-fry another minute or two until the beans are hot and fragrant. Turn out onto a serving plate.

    Pickling Solution
    2 1/4 C water
    1/4 C rock or sea salt
    4 dried chiles
    1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
    2 tsp strong rice wine or vodka
    1/2 of a star anise
    1 Tbs brown sugar
    1 inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
    1/3 of a cinnamon stick or a good piece of cassia bark

    Sterilize jar. (Boil in water for 10 minutes, heat in oven for few minutes, or wash in dishwasher. Let cool before using. Note: we're not canning for long term storage, and the beans will be in a brine with vinegar in the refrigerator. So it doesn't have to be sterile <i>per se</i>, just clean.)

    Bring water to boil with salt, stirring to dissolve. Set aside to cool. Place cooled water in pickle jar, add other pickling ingredients, and stir. Add clean and dried green beans. If necessary, wedge a small glass or something in the jar to push the green beans down so they are completely immersed. Seal and refrigerate.

    6 Replies
    1. re: 123Monkey

      You have made me so happy. Thank you very much for posting this recipe—I can't wait to try it. Some of the elements I got right (the Shaoxing), and some very wrong. My latest attempt (and I knew it could not be the right way to make this dish) involved canning pickled long beans (cider vinegar, hot pepper, salt, water) and letting them sit a few weeks before using them. It was good and tasty, but not really what I remembered. I don't think there were Sichuan peppercorns in the restaurant version, but I love them so I'll use them here. One question: There's no vinegar in the pickling solution ingredients list, but vinegar is mentioned in the directions—should there be some vinegar, or is it just a brine?

      1. re: Liana Krissoff

        Liana, I know this is an old post, but I had to write you because I have also been drooling for the same dish for years - I thought I was all alone in the world! I also had been trying for years to reproduce it with the same results as you. I live in Mexico City now, but can get all the ingredients. My friend finally got the truth out of them, i.e. that the beans are pickled, not simply dressed in vinegar- in fact, she said they told her there's no vinegar at all in the dish, which surprised me. So, anyway, on a recent trip to NY, (June 2011) I went back to the Grand Sichuan, which, thank Buddha. is still there, for the first time in probably 10 years, and ordered it- was just as good as I remembered. The thing we'll never be able to do, is to get that sort of roasted flavor they get- because they have a super hot restaurant wok.
        I'm glad to see there are kindred spirits out there...

        1. re: Elchilango

          That is one of our favorite dishes in the world too. Got a jar of the pickled beans once from one of the Chinese groceries in Manhattan Chinatown (HK Supermarket, I think) - so keep an eye out for them in your local Chinese markets, they are imported from time to time (they were with the other canned and bottled pickled vegs and hot bean sauces) . If you don't want to be bothered with the pickling, that is.

          1. re: buttertart

            I've never actually seen jars of pickled beans in Chinese markets, just the ones in vacuum packed bags, which are refrigerated (probably unnecessarily). Oh, and I forgot to mention in my other replies to these recent posts (sorry I missed them last month) that when we moved from outside Athens (GA) into Athens proper a year and a half ago, I walked over to the nearest Chinese restaurant—just a typical college-town buffet-type place—and discovered that they had a separate Chinese menu full of dishes like the ones I loved in NYC, including one with sour long beans (except this one is with ground beef rather than pork). I was astonished! They also have cold appetizer dishes like spicy, oily beef tendon with Szechuan peppercorns, garlicky bean curd with minced fermented mustard cabbage—all delicious, and in the most unexpected place. Still, I'm glad I finally figured out how to make that old favorite.

          2. re: Elchilango

            I'm so glad to see I'm not the only one! I haven't been back to GSI in ages, and even though I've since figured out a reasonably good way to make this dish (fermenting the beans is the key), yes, I do still miss that great wok flavor I'll never get in my own kitchen.

        2. re: 123Monkey

          I did try this recipe, by the way, and it was fine but pretty distant from the dish I was trying to re-create. The spices in the brine were pretty overpowering, and the beans never got very sour.

        3. OK- this has been one of my favorites for years . After inquiring at Grand Sichuan I learned from the wait staff that the beans are fermented. Similar to the Fuscia Dunlop pickling but simpler. In SW China this is a common practice to preserve vegetables and during my stay there I observed the process. Tightly pack chopped beans, salt and small amount of rice or grain alcohol in a glass or stone jar and set out in the sun or a warm place for a couple of days. All the peppercorns and other spices unnecessary. The vinegary taste comes from the fermenting process. Chili oil and peppercorns are added in the stir fry process with the ground pork.
          Also check out a great related recipe by Grace Young in her book Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge.
          Spicy Long Beans with Sausage and Mushrooms, page212

          1 Reply
          1. re: kathe

            Sorry, I haven't been checking CH for a while and just saw this reply. I did eventually determine as well that the beans were simply fermented, and I have been making this dish fairly regularly for the last few years. I even put a version of that recipe in the cookbook I published last year (Canning). I do want to check out the Grace Young recipe now too. Thank you!

          2. Okay, for those who are interested, here's how I've been doing this dish since I realized those damn beans were fermented and not vinegar-pickled (this is just cut-and-pasted from my own ms., with most of the goofy headnote material omitted). I do still use a little black vinegar in the final dish, but it's not necessary.

            Fermented Yard-Long Beans
            Makes 1 pound.

            1 pound yard-long beans
            1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
            1/2 cup pure kosher salt or pickling salt (see Notes)

            Wash the beans well and trim off the ends, as well as any soft or very dark areas. Cut them in half and put them in a large stainless-steel mixing bowl or pot, or a food-grade plastic tub. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes over the beans.

            Combine the salt and 12 cups water, stirring to dissolve the salt. Pour the brine over the beans to just cover them, then pour the rest of the brine into a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, seal, and place it on top of the beans to keep them submerged in the brine. Cover the container with a clean, heavy towel and let ferment at room temperature. After 2 or 3 days, scum will start to form on the surface; skim it off, and skim every day or two. When the beans are sour, after about 1 week, refrigerate them in the brine for several weeks, or drain them and freeze them in freezer bags for up to 6 months.

            Notes: Pickling salt is finer than kosher salt and will dissolve more quickly in cool water; use it if you’ve got it, but use a scant measure.

            “Chopped Sour Long Beans w. Minced Pork”

            Sometimes I add some minced ginger and garlic to the pan (or ginger-garlic paste) when the pork is almost cooked through, but they aren’t really necessary: The fermented long beans give the dish quite enough flavor on their own.

            Chinese black vinegar, which is dark and syrupy (but not sweet), is available in most Asian grocery stores and is worth experimenting with. If you can’t find it, balsamic makes a fine substitute, or you can add some of the sour bean fermenting liquid. The dish should be quite spicy, sour, and salty.

            Serves 2 or 3.

            1 tablespoon chile oil
            8 ounces lean ground pork
            2 1/2 cups diced Fermented Yard-Long Beans (above)
            6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch lengths
            2 tablespoons soy sauce
            1 tablespoon shao xing (Chinese cooking wine)
            1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
            1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
            Hot cooked white rice

            In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring to break it up into small pieces, until lightly browned and no longer pink. Add the beans and scallions and toss to combine. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beans are just tender, about 4 minutes. Add the soy sauce, shao xing, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Serve hot with rice.