Lily is here from Jiangxi and brought me some la mei--Chinese sausages called la chang and 'bacon' called la rou-- that her mom made last winter. I steamed some of each and they were just fabulous! I even eat all the fat. Leaving the fat out would be like eating a cake without the frosting. One thin slice of sausage on one chopstickful of rice. Repeat. And repeat. Heavenly, really heavenly. The flavor is unlike store-bought la mei and the xien (savory sweetness) taste is crazy tasty.
Home-made Chinese sausages and bacon are totally different from store-bought ones in looks, flavor, texture and taste. Each region in China, each family even, has its own recipe and the variations in taste and flavor make every link of la chang and piece of la rou exciting and satisfying. I think the superiority in taste of home-made cured meat is because the meat is specially chosen and cured naturally in the winter wind and not in a temperature-controlled factory.
La rou is often stir-fried with vegetables for a very simple dish. I found that on my last visit to China in December last year. The greens, usually those with a crunch to complement the bite in the meat, pick up the oil and flavor from the la rou while the la rou intensifies in taste and flavor after frying. A dish of la rou and greens with a bowl of white rice satisfies the most fussy tastebuds, even those of my son Wey. Before the Guilin trip, Wey wouldn't touch la rou but now he constantly bugs me for Lily's la rou. I'd love to get the recipe for making la mei so that those of you in the southern hemisphere who are going into winter now can make some.
The Cantonese like to blend fried ingredients together with a seasoned cornstarch and water mixture but for this dish, I prefer to leave out the cornstarch for a more crispy, refreshing taste or what the Chinese call 'mouth feel'. If you can't get good la rou, maybe you can use a good bacon which is still better than the hard blackish waxy commercial la rou that we get here. Other than celery, you can use kai lan stems or other crunchy veggies. Cut the meat and the veggies about the same size and shape. That means if your la rou is in strips, cut your veggies in strips too. Btw, I don't string my celery stalks anymore so that the fiber remains but if you prefer the celery to be tender, you can do that. I generally don't peel my root veggies anymore. I don't even peel my carrots when I bake carrot cake. If you think about it, why do we peel carrots? Or radish or cucumbers or eggplant?
Correction: I ate a lovely celery and scallops stir fry today (26/3/10) and the celery was very tender and there were no hard fibers. The celery was not only stringed, it was peeled smooth. I'm now convinced that for stir fries, you have to peel the celery.
La Rou With Celery
2 large stalks celery, sliced thinly
3/4 cup thinly sliced la mei or either la rou or la chang
1/4 t sugar
2 T chicken broth
1/8 t salt
1. Fry the la rou without oil in a wok over medum fire. When the la rou is golden, about 5 minutes or more, remove to a plate.
2. Add the celery to the same wok which now has some oil from the la rou. Add the salt and sugar and fry for a minute. Add the broth and toss, then cover with a wok lid for about 30 seconds. The broth acts to blend the flavors of the two ingredients and also cooks the celery (adding water quickens the cooking).
3. Remove the lid and toss. Taste and season if necessary but remember that the la rou is salty. Add the la rou, tossing well for about 20-30 seconds. If necessary, add another tablespoon of broth. When the liquid has dried up some (not too much or too little), remove onto a serving plate. Serve with hot rice.