The gloves are off here at FOTL headquarters and we're pumping a fist for that old favorite, surf 'n' turf. Again. Yeah, I know we've already gone a few rounds with this theme before: You'll remember my Kung Pao Geoduck with Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms and my X-Country Double Lobster Risotto. Now behold Sichuan Geoduck with Morels. And if anyone utters the "A" word—y'know, authenticity, or lack thereof—well, there might be a fight.
You hear that word a lot in online chat rooms about food and restaurants, where it's usually thrown around by the guy who's been to [insert exotic city here] thank you very much and knows a thing or three about how the real native people cook and eat. This character spots inauthenticity all around, no matter how artfully camouflaged. Can you imagine what the English language would be like if it was held captive by the authenticity police? The OED wouldn't require a magnifying glass, that's for sure.
So with that preamble out of the way, I give you my take on the Sichuan classic "Fish-Fragrance," except mine doesn't use pork or any other common meat—it uses the sliced body meat of the famous geoduck clam, on this occasion the three-pounder I helped dig up last week. And rather than fungi common to China such as cloud ear mushroms it uses the beautiful morels I found the other day on the eastern slope of Washington State's Cascade Mountains, not to mention tender, thin spears of Yakima Valley asparagus.
You won't be seeing this dish on any menus and as to its claim to Sichuan...um...authenticity, I'll leave that to you dear reader, but to paraphrase the Seinfeld character without the boob job: "It was real—and it was spectacular!"
For my guide I used Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty and her recipe for Fish-Fragrant Pork Slivers, with some changes. Dunlop says the "so-called fish-fragrant flavor is one of Sichuan's most famous culinary creations, and it epitomizes the Sichuanese love for audacious combinations of flavors." As to where the fish fragrance comes from, since the dish uses nary a fish product in its marinade or sauce, she suggests that the name evokes a cultural memory of traditional Sichuanese fish cookery, so that when other ingredients are prepared in the same way they instantly recall the taste of fish.
1 geoduck body (minus siphon), thinly sliced
1/2 lb morels, quartered
1/2 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can bamboo shoots
2 tbsp chili bean paste
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
2 scallions (green part only), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp cold water
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp black Chinese vinegar
3/4 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp chicken stock (or water)
1. Marinate the geoduck. Place sliced clam in bowl and stir in one marinade ingredient after another, stirring in one direction to combine. Refrigerate.
2. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
3. Heat 1/4 cup peanut oil in seasoned wok over high flame. When oil begins to smoke, add morels and asparagus (minus tops), stir-frying 3-4 minutes.
4. Push morels and asparagus to one side and add sliced geoduck clam, stir-frying for another minute or two. Push aside with morels and asparagus and add chili paste to wok. Stir-fry paste briefly until red and fragrant, then add garlic, ginger, and asparagus tops and mix everything together. Stir-fry 30 seconds before adding bamboo shoots, then stir-fry another 30 seconds.
5 Stir the sauce in its bowl and pour into wok, stirring. Toss with scallions and serve over rice.
We drank a bottle of Eroica Riesling, which paired well with the multi-faceted flavors of the dish.