Let’s get it out of the way – the tiny tea eggs didn’t really work out. The recipe I was using as a start point is here, and I liked the idea of a smaller (and therefore cuter) version. What I found, though, was that the membrane between the egg and shell seems to be thicker in quail eggs than chicken eggs. This meant that when I crackled the shell of the eggs, the tea and soy colours only got as far as the membrane, and this was peeled away with the shell. It would take a lot more effort than it would be worth to take the shell off a tiny bit at a time to get the effect that you can see partially in the egg at the front. The other two eggs only took on colour where the knife pierced right into the egg itself, and really just has the effect of making them look like they should go in the bin. It’s a shame, because the flavour of the eggs is lovely, they are subtly flavoured and spiced from the spiced chai, sesame oil, dark soy and white pepper that I put in the water to colour and flavour them – they just don’t look like I wanted them to! You can see the intention – can’t win ’em all.
The Chinkiang pork, on the other hand, was a total winner. This is a recipe adapted from, no surprise here, Sichuan Cookery. The first thing I did was marinate a pork loin steak in dark soy, a crushed clove of garlic, a teaspoon of ground ginger and two pinches of mixed spice. I made sure the pork was completely coated in the marinade and then covered and put in the fridge for about eight hours, from morning until I was ready to cook. After that, here’s how I put it together.
- one marinated pork loin steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
- half a red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar (black rice vinegar)
- 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 1/4 potato flour
- 2 spring onions, sliced into rings
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp groundnut oil plus more for stir frying
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- a block of noodles
- sesame oil to serve
- The first thing to do is to mix all the ingredients for the sauce together – that’s everything from the sugar to the teaspoon of sesame oil. Put everything in a little bowl and stir well.
- Boil a kettle, and put the noodles into a pot with plenty of water covering them – you’ll need some of this water for your sauce, in a minute.
- Put a wok over a high heat and add a little groundnut oil. Once the oil is almost smoking, put in the pork and stir fry for one minute.
- Add the sauce ingredients and stir through to coat the pork. Cook for another minute then add enough of the noodle water to make a thick sauce. Taste and add sesame oil or anything else you think it needs, to taste.
- Add the peppers to the wok and stir fry for a final two minutes.
- By this time the noodles should be ready – drain them, put in a bowl and top with the Chinkiang pork.
This comes together really quickly so you need to have everything prepared before you put anything on the heat. Make sure that the pork really is bite-sized, so that it cooks in the four minutes that you have it on the heat.The picture, yet again, doesn’t do it justice – it was really good, and looked great. The sauce coats the meat and noodles beautifully without tasting floury or gluey. The Chinkiang vinegar has such a great taste, unlike vinegars you traditionally get in the US or Britain – it’s sweeter, smokier, it even smells better. To quote Fuchsia Dunlop, this is sweet and sour ‘light years away from the synthetic-looking orange confections served under the same name in the West’. Proper nice.