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.
Eat4Fun: My YouTube Video of the Challenge:
Shelley 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, Shelly 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.
You must make Moo Shu pancakes using the provided recipe, a stir fry, and a complementary sauce.
Moo Shu Pork:
2/3 cup (1 oz) (30 gm) Dried black fungus ('wood ears')
½ lb (450 gm) pork loin or butt
¾ cup (3½ oz) (100 gm) bamboo shoots, thinly cut
3 cups (6 oz) (170 gm) Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage), thinly cut
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
4 tablespoons (60 ml) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) light soy sauce
2 teaspoons (10 ml) rice wine
A few drops sesame oil
12 thin pancakes to serve
1. Soak the fungus in warm water for 10-15 minutes, rinse and drain. Discard any hard stalks, then thinly shred.
2. Thinly cut the pork, bamboo shoots and Chinese cabbage into matchstick-sized shreds.
3. Lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of salt.
4. Heat about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in a preheated wok and scramble the eggs until set, but not too hard. Remove and keep to one side.
5. Heat the remaining oil. Stir-fry the shredded pork for about 1 minute or until the color changes. Add the fungus, bamboo shoots, Chinese cabbage and scallions. Stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes, then add the remaining salt, soy sauce and wine. Blend well and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the scrambled eggs, stirring to break them into small bits. Add the sesame oil and blend well.
To serve: place about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of hot Moo Shu in the center of a warm pancake, rolling it into a parcel with the bottom end turned up to prevent the contents from falling out. Eat with your fingers. (See Final Preparation and Serving section below for more complete details.)
4 cups (960 ml) (560 gm) (19¾ oz) all purpose flour
About 1½ cup (300ml) (10 fl oz) boiling water
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vegetable oil
Dry flour for dusting
1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Gently pour in the water, stirring as you pour, then stir in the oil. Knead the mixture into a soft but firm dough. If your dough is dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, to reach the right consistency. Cover with a damp towel and let stand for about 30 minutes.
2. Lightly dust the surface of a worktop with dry flour. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until smooth, then divide into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a long sausage and cut each sausage into 8-10 pieces. Keep the dough that you are not actively working with covered with a lightly damp dish cloth to keep it from drying out.
3. Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat pancake. Dust the worktop with more dry flour. Flatten each pancake into a 6 to 8 inch (15 cm to 20 cm) circle with a rolling pin, rolling gently on both sides.
4. Place an un-greased frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat to low and place the pancakes, one at a time, in the pan. Remove when little light-brown spots appear on the underside. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.
Alternate method for preparing the pancakes:
Once the dough has rested and been kneaded again, divide it into an even number of small pieces, rolling each into a ball. Working with two balls of dough at a time, dip the bottom of one ball lightly into sesame oil and press it onto the top of the second ball. Press the double layer flat, then roll the doubled pancake layers into 6 to 8 inch circles. In a dry pan, cook on each side until dry and lightly blistered (but without browning). Separate pancakes after cooking.
Alternately (I know, an alternate to the alternate...), if you would prefer not to dip the dough in the sesame oil, you can achieve a similar result with a slight modification. Again working two pieces at a time, roll each piece into a three inch pancake. Using a pastry brush, brush sesame oil onto the top of one of the pancakes, and top it with the other pancake. Further roll the doubled pancake into a 6 to 8 inch circle and cook as the above alternate method. This method was actually our favorite of the three, and yielded the best results – very thin pancakes that held up a little better and had the most authentic texture. We had the best luck brushing a bit of sesame oil on both circles of dough, then sandwiching them together. Just be careful separating the pancakes after cooking them on both sides – heat (steam) does get caught between them, so don't burn your fingers!
4 tablespoons (60 ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) peanut butter OR black bean paste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey OR molasses
2 teaspoons (10 ml) white vinegar
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml) garlic powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) sesame seed oil
20 drops (¼ teaspoon) Chinese style hot sauce (optional, depending on how hot you want your hoisin sauce)
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml) black pepper
1. Simply mix all of the ingredients together by hand using a sturdy spoon.
2. At first it does not appear like it will mix, but keep at it just a bit longer and your sauce will come together.
Final Preparation and Serving:
Each of the three components that comprise the complete Moo Shu dish are served separately, and the diner prepares each serving on his or her own plate. Most restaurants provide four pancakes, a serving of Moo-Shu and a small dish of hoisin sauce as a single serving. To prepare each pancake for eating, the following is the most common process: a small amount of hoisin sauce is spread onto the pancake, on top of which a spoonful of the stir-fry is placed. In order to prevent (or, realistically, minimize) the filling from spilling out while eating, the bottom of the pancake is folded up, then the pancake is rolled, similarly to a soft taco. Once rolled, the prepared pancake is eaten immediately.
Eat4Fun's Closing Comments:
1. I suggest using 1/2 the salt called out in the filling recipe.
2. The pancakes is a bit of work. I suggest finding soft flour tortillas or premade thin pancakes at the Asian market, usually found in the freezer.
3. The Hoisin sauce is more like a peanut dipping sauce, but not as sweet as Hoisin.