This month was a special challenge for me! See if you can figure out why...
Hi! I am Shelley from C Mom Cook, and I am super excited to bring you this month's challenge. I have been a member of the Daring Kitchen for almost two years now, and have learned so much from the experience. I am also glad to be able to have my twin sister and fellow Daring Cook, Ruth, from The Crafts of Mommyhood, to help me out. Despite being twins, we have very different personalities and cooking styles, not to mention different food preferences and dietary restrictions, so my hope is that we are presenting a challenge that will work for the majority of cooks, and that will be enjoyed by all!
I kind of lucked into the position of hosting this challenge – I think I accidentally volunteered when working on a FoodTalk article late last year, but was then so excited to see my name on the hosting schedule, that I just had to go with it. Deciding on what to present, however, was another story. I considered and tested several different ideas before settling in on one.
I am extremely fortunate to have a friend and neighbor who went to culinary school, and with whom I always discuss my latest kitchen adventures. Recently she offered me an unbelievable gift – she offered to loan me her binders and notes from culinary school. I turned each page carefully, amazed by the information, tips, and recipes it contained. And then I saw it. A recipe for Moo Shu. All of the other ideas I'd been tossing around were tossed away. Moo Shu is one of the dishes that introduced me to Chinese food, and remains a favorite of mine. A simple, yet multi-component dish, my challenge was chosen.
The recipe that was included in my neighbor's binder was intended for restaurant use, with fancy ingredients, make-ahead components and scaled very large. Perfect for inspiration, but not the best recipe for a home cook with limited access to specialty ingredients and not needing to feed a restaurant full of people. After poring through cookbooks and websites, I selected the recipe for this challenge because it is both accessible and adaptable to a variety of dietary requirements, while maintaining authenticity to what Moo Shu is supposed to be.
Deh-Ta Hsiung, a renowned authority on Chinese cuisine, published a beautiful book called The Chinese Kitchen. The book is a wonderful and encyclopedic volume containing a wealth of information about all aspects of Chinese cooking, from ingredients to process to history. The recipes are accessible, flavorful, and clearly written. His recipe for Moo Shu, like the others, is straightforward and delicious, and is what I am sharing with you for our challenge.
In preparation for this challenge, I contacted Mr. Deh-Ta Hsiung, who is pleased to have his recipe as our challenge. Mr. Hsiung is widely considered an international expert on Chinese cooking, though his original work was in the arts and film-making. Chinese cooking was his passion, though, and he proceeded to take lessons from top Chinese chefs and work in professional kitchens around the world. Having written numerous books and articles, Mr. Hsiung is a respected authority in the world of Chinese cooking.
About this dish, specifically, Mr. Hsiung offered us a brief anecdote from his earliest work, regarding the origins of this dish's name. In The Home Book of CHINESE COOKERY, Mr. Hsiung discusses the dish as follows:
PORK LAUREL (MU-HSU PORK)
Some explanation is needed for the name of this dish. In China, we have a tree called kwei; according to my dictionary, kwei is called laurel in English, and it is a shrub rather than a tree; but the laurels we have in the garden of our London home never seem to flower at all, while the Chinese laurel is a large tree which produces bright yellow, fragrant flowers in the autumn. The pork in this recipe is cooked with eggs, which give a yellow colour to the dish – hence the name. But to add to the confusion, the Chinese name of this dish is mu-hsu pork, mu hsu being the classical name for laurel (are you still with me?). So you might say that calling it pork laurel is taking a poetic license.
Simply put, Moo Shu is a stir fry, containing thinly sliced or shredded vegetables, meat (traditionally) and scrambled egg. It is usually served on flat, thin, steamed pancakes, and is accompanied by a complementary sauce.
Moo Shu pork (the protein most commonly used in Moo Shu dishes) originates in Northern China (commonly attributed to the Shandong province, though sometimes attributed to Beijing), rising in popularity in Chinese restaurants in the West in the 1960's and 70's. As the dish became more popular, different restaurants adapted the recipe to meet their own styles, or to accommodate for expensive or hard-to find ingredients, so there is a lot of variation among recipes. Common among them, though, is a basis of cabbage and the inclusion of scrambled eggs.
The history and etymology of the dish are widely disputed, as indicated by Mr. Hsiung's anecdote above. There are two primary theories as to the origin of the name. Many, including the author of our challenge recipe, suggest that the Chinese characters, read as mu xi, refer to a tree that blooms with small, fragrant blossoms. They suggest that the scrambled egg in this dish is reminiscent of these blossoms, and thus a variety of egg dishes are referred to as mu xi. An alternative suggestion uses the Chinese characters reading mu xu, roughly translating to wood whiskers or wood shavings. The dish is thus named, it is said, due to the appearance of the shredded vegetables and meat, resembling wooden whiskers, or wooden shavings that were used as packing materials.
Recipe Source: The challenge recipe provided for the Moo Shu filling comes from The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung. The pancake recipe comes from the same source, though we have also provided an alternate method for preparing them, adapted from a variety of online demonstrations. The sauce recipe provided is from epicurian.com.
Blog-checking lines: The October Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Shelley of C Mom Cook and her sister Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood. They challenged us to bring a taste of the East into our home kitchens by making our own Moo Shu, including thin pancakes, stir fry and sauce.
A few notes about the traditional main ingredients of a Moo Shu stir-fry:
The primary vegetable within the Moo Shu stir fry is generally cabbage. While there are many varieties of cabbage available, the most traditional for this style of dish is the Chinese cabbage, also known as Napa cabbage.
Chinese cabbage is a traditionally cool weather crop which thrives during the shorter days of the year, so it is normally planted during the second half of the calendar year. It generally reaches maturity within about three months after planting. In order to provide a continual supply of the vegetable, a late crop is planted in areas with appropriate conditions. There are several varieties of Chinese cabbage, which all have delicate, sweet flavors, and blend well with the other foods with which it is cooked. It also holds up well to various cooking methods, which is why it makes a good base for dishes such as Moo Shu. Stored in the crisper of the refrigerator, Chinese cabbage can keep for up to ten days.
Scallions, also known as green onions or Spring onions, are milder than most other species of onion. They may be eaten raw or cooked, and are very common in Asian recipes. Scallions are generally sold in bunches with the roots still attached. Stored properly, in a plastic box to allow them to breathe, they can keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Bamboo shoots are the edible shoots of a variety of bamboo species. They are available fresh, dried and canned. Fresh bamboo shoots must be parboiled to eliminate a harsh, bitter poison, hydrocyanic acid, prior to being eaten or used in recipes. Dried bamboo shoots must be soaked prior to use. Both parboiled fresh and reconstituted dried bamboo shoots need to be rinsed with fresh water as the final preparation step. Canned bamboo shoots are parboiled and require no reconstitution, though should also be rinsed.
One of my favorite quotes about bamboo from The Chinese Kitchen is as follows:
Traditionally, the bamboo symbolizes the virtuous man, bending in the wind yet never breaking.
Not generally a word most casual Westerners associate with food, there are a wide variety of mushrooms that are used in Asian cooking. The specific fungus specified in Mr. Hsiung's recipe is dried black fungus, which has long been cultivated in China. While there are many different varieties available in China, there are only a few commonly available in the West. Stored in a dry, dark place just as they are packaged, they can last indefinitely. Once reconstituted, they can be stored for up to five days in the refrigerator in a bowl of fresh water.
You must make Moo Shu pancakes using the provided recipe, a stir fry, and a complementary sauce.
Substitutions for purposes of dietary requirements are allowed, and creativity with vegetables, proteins and sauces, maintaining the spirit of the challenge, are encouraged.
Yes, my sister and I hosted. To read the recipe and such, (and Shelley's fabulous pictures) check things out here.
I just wanted to add my two variations for you.
I clearly did not make pork. I made a tofu moo shu that was really good. I did play with the veggies, Hubby doesn't like mushrooms, and I like lots of vegetables!!
I then wanted to try something very out of the box that Shelley and I had wondered about - dessert moo shu.
Apples cooked in margarine, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would have made this even better, but I loved it as it was!
Thank you, Shelley, for letting me help with this challenge. I had a lot of fun, and I hope to return the favor! Thank you to Lis for... well, for the Daring Kitchen! And thank you to the wonderful Daring Cooks who moo shu'ed along with us! Please check out their creations here!