DRY-FRIED STRING BEANS (ganbian sijidou)
A gourmet friend introduced us to this famous dish during an expedition to one of Taipei's finest restaurants. We would probably not have ordered such a mundane vegetable, but luckily we took our friend's advice and discovered one of the more unusual and delicious specialties of Szechwan. Had we seen the string beans before we ordered them, our reluctance would have been even stronger; they are limp, shriveled, khaki -colored objects, covered with dry, brown grains of an unidentifiable substance. It takes up to two hours of long, slow cooking for the string beans to reach this unattractive condition, during which time they also absorb the flavors of the chopped dried shrimps and pickled vegetables with which they are fried. The dish that results has an unusual salty and pungent taste that barely hints at the original flavor of the beans.
Like many classic Szechwanese dishes, Dry-Fried String Beans have an unusual texture, which is emphasized when they are eaten in the traditional manner, encased inside a thin pancake, or baobing (see the recipe for Pancakes, page 329 ). The smooth, elastic crepes highlight the texture of the soft beans and their grainy covering. They also make them easier to eat.
Note that this dish takes a long time to prepare, You have to soak the dried shrimps for 2 hours, after which they are cooked with the string beans for 2 hours more.
1 cup dried shrimps
2 cups hot water, approximately
2 pieces canned Szechwan preserved vegetable, each the size of a Ping-Pong ball
1-inch piece fresh ginger
2 pounds fresh string beans, preferably small and slightly old and wrinkled
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Put the shrimps in a small bowl. Cover them with hot water and set them aside to soak for 2 hours.
Drain the shrimps and wash them, then, if you wish, with the aid of a pointed instrument, remove the black vein running up the back of each shrimp. Rinse the shrimps well and drain them again, then pound them with the back side of your cleaver until they start to flake. Finally, chop them very fine, until they reach the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.
Rinse the pickled vegetable thoroughly under cold running water to wash off all the salt in which it was packed. Then chop it as fine as you can, until it reaches the same consistency as the dried shrimps.
Peel the ginger, then chop it as fine as the other ingredients; you should get about a tablespoonful.
Wash the beans, snap off the ends, and, if the beans are large, break them in half . Rinse them well and set them aside to drain; you should get about 8 cups of raw beans.
Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds, then add the oil. Wait until the oil is very hot and smoking, then add the beans. Stir-fry the beans over the high flame for about 2 minutes, using your cooking shovel or spoon in scooping motion to toss the beans around in the pan and expose them all to the hot oil.
After 2 minutes of this, lower the flame and continue to cook the beans, stirring occasionally, for another 6 or 7 minutes.
Remove them from the pan.
Wipe out the pan with paper towels, then raise the heat again and pour in the fresh oil. It will be ready to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
When the oil is ready, quickly toss in the chopped ginger and shrimps and stir-fry them vigorously for 20 seconds.
Add the chopped pickled vegetable and stir-fry for 40 seconds longer, then add the sesame oil and the sugar and stir-fry for 1 additional minute.
Return the beans to the pan and lower the heat. Cook the beans for about 10 minutes, stirring them several times, then turn the flame down as far as it will go and let the beans cook, without covering the pan, for about 2 hours; stir the beans around every once in a while.
When fully cooked, the beans will be quite shriveled, limp, and dry. The longer and slower they cook, the better they are.
Note : Like most long-cooked dishes, dry-fried string beans can be made several hours in advance and reheated just before serving.