I had all sorts of grand plans for this to be the year that I posted wonderful holiday-themed recipes and tips in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, between work, illness, and an oven that was broken until yesterday, I just haven’t gotten around to making my holiday dishes. Instead, as usual, I will be making edible holiday gifts on Christmas eve, cursing myself for being a procrastinator, and probably blogging whatever works sometime next week. Thus today, instead of nutmeg and allspice scented fantasies, boozy dark chocolate and eggnog, I bring you … jellyfish.
Jellyfish commonly features in Asian cooking. For the uninitiated, jellyfish is all about texture. It is semi-transparent and largely tasteless, and crunchy without being hard or rubbery. The texture is similar to some types of seaweed. I had intended to write a hugely informative post, telling you all about types of jellyfish that are consumed, how they’re harvested and prepared, and where they’re eaten, but I was so impressed by this post that I won’t try to surpass it.
This pork, jellyfish, and celery dish was friend Nayan’s effort to recreate a dish he’d enjoyed at Ying Chow, his favourite restaurant in Adelaide. I largely prepared the dish according to his direction. As with the ma po tofu that we also prepared, I think an excellent vegetarian version could be made substituting a firm Asian mushroom, such as wood ear, for the pork.
The dish itself is a clever exploration of contrasting textures. The cartilaginous crunch of the jellyfish contrasts with the fibrous, vegetable snap of the just-cooked celery, while the chewy, marinated pork somehow bridges the gap between the two. In contrast to the acidic, vinegary jellyfish preparations common to Szechuan cooking, Chinese five-spice, rice wine, and the sugars in dark soy sauce give this dish an aromatic sweetness. Since I’ve never eaten at Ying Chow, I can’t tell you how closely this version imitates the original, but I liked it, found it easy to prepare, and would make it again.
You can find jellyfish preserved, dried, and recipe-ready, in many Chinese supermarkets. Dried jellyfish needs to be reconstituted in water before use. The jellyfish we used came in a handy packet, and all I needed to do to prep it was chop it slightly into finger-length pieces. When you are preparing your mise-en-place for this dish, the guiding principle is that all the key ingredients should be roughly the same size. To get suitably thin strips of pork, I used a filet that had been partially frozen. I split this in half lengthwise (through the middle – I can’t figure out how better to describe it), and then sliced the fillet into 2-3 mm strips.
150 – 175 grams (about 1/3 pound boneless lean pork fillet), cut into finger-length strips about 2-3 mm thick
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice
½ teaspoon corn flour (corn starch)
3 celery ribs, trimmed and sliced at an angle into pieces about 2-3 mm thick
100 grams (about ¼ pound) jellyfish, sliced into finger-length strips (if using dried, go with the weight after the jellyfish has been soaked)
1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped
3 red chilli peppers, finely chopped
About ½ teaspoon salt (optional)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable or groundnut oil
Mix together the dark soy sauce, rice wine, Chinese five-spice and corn starch until the corn starch is fully incorporated. Marinate your sliced pork in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a pan or wok over high heat until quite hot. Strain the pork pieces from the marinade, reserving the liquid, and add to the pan. The pan will sputter and spit. Toss until the pork has started brown and curl, about three minutes. Stir in the garlic, red chillies, and jellyfish, and sauté for a further three to five minutes, or until the jellyfish pieces are cooked through. Stir in the celery and the reserved marinating liquid, and continue to stir-fry until the celery is crisp-tender. Taste and add additional salt if necessary.
Remove from heat and serve immediately, with rice.
Makes about four servings.