Hunan Cooking: Lamb

In the last few years, Szechuan-style Chinese cooking has caught on on both coasts. To many of us, after years of eating bland Cantonese-style food, Szechuan cooking was a revelation. It has a spicy, hot component because of its use of chili peppers. It should be noted that, initially, chili peppers were not used in Chinese cooking. They had their own milder variety, farago, also called Chinese pepper or Szechuan pepper. Then, when Portuguese and Spanish traders introduced chilies to the region in the 16th century, the cooking became even more peppery. Hunan cooking is part of this culinary tradition; but it is less well known than its Szechuan cousin. It is often lumped with Yunnan in the south as representative of China's western regional style of cooking. But there are differences. Not only does it feature the subtle uses of hot spices within the food, it also engages hot and sour and sweet and sour flavor combinations.

Like its neighbors, Hunan does employ stewing and stir-frying techniques along with simmering and steaming. But Hunan cooks are fortunate that they have more ingredients and materials to work with and thus can do more and be more innovative with the ingredients prior to cooking. For example, a classic dish such as orange beef not only contains dried orange peel, but the beef is marinated overnight, washed, and marinated again in egg white, wine, and pepper, then cooked twice in a wok with fresh chili, ginger and orange peel. Another classic dish, General Tso's chicken, has the chicken marinated in a mix of egg, salt, and pepper, and uses a sauce prior to cooking that has garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, rice wine, chili peppers, and scallions. Hunam lamb is not so outlandish or complicated, but it does have that exquisite Hunan taste. Serve with boiled rice.


2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
4 small dried hot chili peppers, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh shredded ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 stalks scallion, washed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 pound boneless lamb meat, sliced into thin strips (can use boneless lamb leg, lamb shoulder, or stew
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. In a medium bowl whisk together the soy sauce, wine, cornstarch, vinegar, sugar, and water. Reserve
2. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the chili peppers, ginger, garlic, and scallion, and stir-fry for about half a minute.
3. Add the lamb and stir-fry until the lamb is no longer pink. Add the sauce mixture and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened (1 to 2 minutes). Stir in the sesame oil, remove from heat, and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Photo: courtesy of JING JING - Szechuan & Hunan Gourmet
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