20120508-chichis-chinese-dry-fried-pork-3.jpg

The Sichuanese technique of dry-frying meat is one of the few instances where it's recommended—no, required—that you cook your meat until it looks irretrievably tough and dry.

There is no cornstarch to coat the meat; no wine and soy sauce marinade. There is only the meat and the oil commingling in the wok, the oil turning the meat browner and browner until you begin to tremble with fear and doubt. Yet fear not! It is only by standing at the wok for a long time, stir-frying and stir-frying until you think you've really overdone it, that you achieve the unique texture which is the hallmark of Sichuanese dry-fried meat.

Each morsel is tender, crispy, spicy, full of flavor. It tastes like juicy meat jerky—a contradiction, you might think, until you experience it first-hand.

Note: Drying-frying meat gets a lot of love here on Serious Eats. You can read Kenji's tutorial here, and here's Nick's dry-fried chicken recipe. My version for dry-fried pork is similar to both; all fall in the family of dry-fried meat.

Stage One: Stir-fry meat in a generous amount of oil, using a technique I think of as a hybrid stir-fry/deep-fry. In the beginning, you put the meat in the wok, and juices will exude and make the oil cloudy.

Stage Two: The meat begins to cook and the oil becomes clear again. You keep pushing and pushing the meat around in the wok, until the surface of the meat starts to brown. Then you add the seasonings: Sichuan chili bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns, chili peppers, soy sauce, and wine. The meat absorbs the seasoning; the seasonings stain each sliver a shade of dark red. You stir-fry until all signs of liquid disappear from the bottom of the wok.

20120508-chichis-chinese-dry-fried-pork-1.jpg

Stage Three: The stage of drying may or may not coincide with the stage of self-doubt. You think to yourself, Gosh, this meat looks dry. Isn't it going to be tough? Am I really doing this right? Why I am still here, fifteen minutes after I first started, still pushing these darn slivers of meat around in my wok? Then you stir-fry for a while longer and you doubt yourself a while longer.

The doubt disappears when you take your first bite. On the exterior, the meat is a little crisp and chewy. Yet the interior is still tender. It seems to explode with the seasonings you introduced in stage two.

Of course the meat tastes so good because of all the oil, chili bean paste, and soy sauce you splashed in. Each morsel is bursting with these goodies. It's as though the meat, while all dried out on the surface, has a memory of richer times, and it's only by chewing on each toothsome nugget that you can access those memories.

You can employ the technique to almost any protein (beef, chicken, pork, or lamb), to almost any cut of meat, though of course the degree of leanness and the kind of meat you use will affect the result. (Not to belabor the point, but a dry-fried chicken dish is going to be more tender than a dry-fried beef flank dish, because chicken is more tender than beef flank.)

And while traditional recipes call for lean cuts, the meat doesn't have to be as lean as flank. I like it when there's a little more fat marbled in. Too much fat takes away from the chewy appeal of the dish, but trace amounts will help keep to keep the interior on the soft side. It's best to use dark meat (with skin still on) when dry-frying chicken. That yields the pleasure of deep-fried skin in addition to the dry-fried flesh. The skin is especially adept at soaking up all the flavors in the wok.

Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: