Chinese Aromatics 101: Stir-Fried Tripe With Pickled Mustard Greens

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Tripe is quickly stir-fried with pickled mustard greens, fermented black beans, and chilies. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

Study cuisines from around the world, and you'll find that many tend to rely on fairly consistent bases of aromatic vegetables, no matter the dish. In France, this vegetable base is known as mirepoix, and features celery, onions, and carrots. In Creole cooking, it's known as the holy trinity—onion, celery, and green bell peppers. Italy, Spain, German, and other countries and cuisines have their own variations as well. So what would the Chinese equivalent of mirepoix or the holy trinity be? The answer depends largely on the region.

In this series, we're looking at two of the most fundamental aromatic bases used in Chinese cooking: spicy (chili peppers and garlic) and aromatic (ginger, scallion, and garlic). This week, the focus is on the latter group of ginger, scallion, and garlic, which is common to the Southern Guangdong province and, more specifically, the famed Cantonese cooking of that region. To read more on the basics of this flavor base, take a look at our primer here.

Offal fanatics are going to be excited to see today's dish: stir-fried tripe with pickled mustard greens. It's actually not a Cantonese dish, but rather a Hakka one. The Hakka community originated in the Central Plains of China, and migrated to the southeast and western parts of the country many centuries ago. Their cuisine reflects the flavors and cooking techniques of those regions, including Guangdong, where a large Hakka population lives.

The tripe here is omasum beef tripe (also known as book, bible, or leaf tripe, it is one of the cow's stomachs), and it is one of my favorite organ meats. Unlike the soft and chewy honeycomb variety of tripe, omasum tripe is has a slightly crisp bite. In dim sum, you'll usually find it steamed with ginger and scallion, and sometimes a little bit of fermented black beans.

Some folks may look at this recipe and be confused by the fact that it contains not only ginger, garlic, and scallions (the aromatics we're focusing on today), but also chilies, which technically belong in the other, spicier flavor base of Hunan and Sichuan cooking. The truth is that there are no absolute rules when it comes to aromatics in Chinese cooking, so sometimes you'll see chilies pop up in a cooking style that isn't generally known for its heat. I happen to like the chilies here, but they're an optional ingredient in the dish.

The aromatics that are critically important here are the ginger and scallion, which are commonly used with offal dishes: Their clean, strong flavors help balance any funky notes an organ meat like tripe might have, which is why they're added to the oil first to flavor it before the tripe goes into the wok.

With this stir-fry version, I was inspired by one of my favorite Hakka dishes, stir-fried tripe with bean sprouts. One of the most frequently used ingredients in Hakka cooking is pickled/salted mustard greens—salty, sour, and crispy, they're a Hakka pantry staple. Combined with tripe, fermented black beans, and a little heat from the chili pepper, this dish represents all the flavors and ingredients I love most in Hakka cuisine.

Here's a look at the dish and how I prepare it:

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The aromatic base here is with garlic, ginger, and scallions, but it's augmented with the salty taste of fermented black beans, and a small amount of sliced fresh red chili.

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Pickled mustard greens add a bright, tangy flavor to the dish.

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I wash the tripe in a slurry of cornstarch and rice wine, to clean it. After rubbing the slurry in, I let it stand for 30 minutes, then wash it off.

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Then I slice the tripe into strips to prepare it for the stir-fry.

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Once everything is prepped, I start the stir-fry. First up are the mustard greens, which I toss with brown sugar. I start by adding just half the brown sugar, then taste the greens, and only add additional sugar if it tastes too tart.

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Then I empty the wok, add fresh oil and stir-fry the aromatics. Because they're in large pieces for this dish, I add them first to the hot oil.

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Then I add the tripe, followed by the pickled mustard greens, chilies, and some soy sauce.

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As soon as it's combined and heated through, the dish is ready.

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