Guest blogger Anita Dukeman  sent me this guest post several weeks ago, but with all the holiday  items I've been posting, it's gotten shuffled around. I'm pleased to post it today. Dukeman volunteers with a culinary arts class at Arthur High School and is teaching students to cook using dishes from around the world.
Chinese immigration, stir-frying, Confucius, chopsticks, a wok - (during a recent week), our culinary travels took us to China. Stir-frying and the use of the wok began when China suffered from a shortage of firewood during the Zhou (or Chou) Dynasty.
As forests were cut down to plant crops for the expanding Chinese population, wood became scarce and stir-frying in a wok became the new method of cooking. When food is stir-fried in a wok, the meats and vegetables are cut into small uniform pieces prior to cooking to speed up the cooking process, thus saving fuel and eliminating the need for knives.
As a result, chopsticks as an eating utensil became popular. There is some belief that Confucius was responsible for the use of chopsticks as he associated knives with violence and felt it was barbaric to have knives at the table.
"The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table," Confucius said.
Early Chinese immigration to the U.S., mostly men from the province of Canton (Guangdong), began during the 1820s and then increased by the thousands in the late 1840s. These men came to “make their fortune” in the California Gold Rush and help build the Transcontinental Railway.
When they began to cook in America, they were faced with many of the same difficulties other immigrants faced — adapting ingredients found in their new country to their traditional recipes. Many of these adaptations resulted in a tasteless end result, requiring the addition of sugar, soy sauce and eventually MSG to “improve” the taste of the dish. With that, American-style Cantonese cuisine was born and became the Chinese food Americans learned to love. Most American-Chinese food today is adapted from these early Cantonese-style dishes.
During class, we prepared a couple of delicious stir-fry dishes—Moo Shu Pork (the most popular with the students) and Chicken and Broccoli (my personal favorite) with Steamed Rice. (Check back here for the recipe for the latter tomorrow. - Meg)
Just like the Cantonese immigrants, we needed to adapt the recipes to our kitchen at the Arthur High School. We chose our recipes based on the meat and vegetables stocked by our local grocery store. As a result, the pork chops for this recipe were cooked in a slow cooker so the meat would be very tender. (We also discussed the energy-saving method of slow cooking in preparing food. It worked out beautifully for this dish.) We used broccoli and chicken for one dish and used a bag of coleslaw mix instead of the napa cabbage for the other.
Regarding woks, although the wok is preferred for stir-frying, both of these dishes can be prepared in a large skillet. The wok I use is stainless steel. I don’t think electric woks get hot enough. I'm also not comfortable using a nonstick-coated wok as I am not sure what the effects of high heat are on nonstick coating and how that transfers to the food being cooked. Stainless steel woks handle the heat and clean up beautifully.
Moo Shu Pork results: This was a huge hit — a class favorite. I'm not sure how I feel about stir frying the purple cabbage found in the coleslaw mix as it seemed to turn an odd color of blue, but no one else seemed to complain or even notice as there were no leftovers.
Personally, I prefer the milder flavor of shredded/chopped napa cabbage in stir-fry rather than the coleslaw mix. However, I did love the ease of the coleslaw mix — no shredding or chopping and, of course, the availability of the bag of coleslaw and the addition of shredded carrots. Thin (emphasis on thin) flour tortillas could easily be substituted for the moo shu pancakes, but some of the kids actually liked the stir-fried pork mixture with just steamed rice, foregoing the moo shu pancake wrap altogether. Regardless of how they ate it, they all loved it, especially the sweetness of the additional hoisin sauce drizzled on each wrap, and were anxious to try the recipe at home. Quick and easy.
Moo Shu Pork
4 (4-ounce) boneless pork loin chops
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 cups napa cabbage (or a bag of coleslaw mix)
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon minced gingerroot
1 tablespoon hoisin
3 tablespoons soy
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas, warmed (or moo shu pancakes)
For the pork: place pork chops into the slow cooker with chicken broth, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Brush chops with hoisin sauce. Cook on low for about 3 to 4 hours until tender. (Depending on the thickness of the chops, cooking time may be vary so check for tenderness of the meat).
For the cabbage: Stir-fry the cabbage along with some garlic and ginger in canola oil with sesame oil. When nearly cooked but still crunchy, add hoisin sauce mixed with soy sauce. Mix like a salad to coat. Simmer.
Remove pork from the slow cooker. Shred the meat with a fork. Warm pancakes or tortillas. Place pork/vegetable mixture and wrap. Can top with additional hoisin if desired.
Notes: Once again, for the chicken broth, I used Das Esssenhaus Chicken Broth and water. I used an entire bag of coleslaw mix instead of napa cabbage. If the mixture appears a little dry, a little more chicken broth can be added.
This stir-fry dish can be served without the tortilla/pancake and just the steamed rice on the side. Hoisin sauce can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores or at an Asian market. Napa cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage, can be found in the produce department of most large supermarkets.
And a side note about the chicken broth: I recently found the website for the company that makes Das Essenhaus Chicken Stock. Located in Middlebury, Indiana, they have a restaurant, an inn and a gift shop. This may just be worth a road trip. They even have a store locator  to show you where their products can be purchased locally.