A tangy dish with ginger, garlic, and fermented black beans
Peak asparagus season is short, so we like to take full advantage of it. Hence today’s dish, where asparagus has the starring role in stir-fry.
We combine it with pork in this recipe, but you could substitute chicken or beef. Shrimp would work too. Or you could even use tofu if you want to go meatless.
But whatever you do, don’t forget the asparagus.
Recipe: Asparagus and Pork Stir-Fry
We should say upfront that this dish isn’t “authentic” stir-fry. For that, you need a very intense heat source. Most of us don’t have super-powered stovetops, so we have to adapt. In this case, we finish the dish by braising it in a bit of liquid (chicken stock). The dish takes a few minutes longer to cook than traditional stir-fry, and the texture is not quite the same. But the flavor is great – and that’s what matters to us.
We like to add sweet red or yellow bell peppers to this dish, but feel free to substitute another veggie. Or just add extra asparagus.
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes (and you can do most of it ahead of time). Cooking adds about 10 minutes. If you’re serving this dish with rice, add another 25 minutes or so for cooking it (depending on package directions).
This recipe yields 2 to 3 main-course servings. Leftovers keep for a couple of days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 6 to 8 ounces pork (boneless loin or pork chops work well)
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional; see Notes)
- ~8 ounces asparagus (to taste)
- 1-inch piece of ginger
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 bell pepper (preferably red, orange, or yellow) or a handful of mini sweet bell peppers (see Notes)
- 1 bunch of scallions
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil (as needed)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Chinese chili/garlic paste
- ½ cup chicken stock (more if you want a really saucy dish)
- 1 additional tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 additional tablespoon soy sauce
- cooked rice for serving (optional)
- Cut the pork into strips of about 1 inch long and ¼ inch thick. Place 1 teaspoon each of rice wine/sherry, soy sauce, and cornstarch (if using) in a mixing bowl (use one that’s large enough to hold the pork). Stir to combine, then add the pork strips. Toss the pork with the mixture, then allow it to marinate for 20 minutes as you prep the veggies. (You can do this step an hour or two ahead and let the pork continue to marinate until ready to use; just cover the bowl with shrink wrap and refrigerate it.)
- Cut off and discard an inch or two of the less-tender butt end of each asparagus spear (up to a third of the spear). Then cut the asparagus spears into pieces about 2 inches long (you can use a bias cut – i.e., cut them on a slant – if you want a fancier look). Set aside.
- Peel the ginger and chop it roughly. Place it in the bowl of a mini food processor. Peel the garlic and chop it roughly. Add it to the mini food processor. Pulse the food processor until the ingredients are finely chopped.
- Wash and dry the bell pepper(s). If using a regular bell pepper: Core it, then cut it into dice of about ½ inch. If using mini bell peppers: Cut them into rounds (we usually don’t core these). Set aside.
- Wash and dry the scallions. Cut off their root ends, then cut the scallions into thin slices (start with the white part and go about halfway up the green part). Set aside.
- Rinse the fermented black beans with water. Set aside.
- When ready to cook the dish: Place a large frying pan (cast iron works best; see Notes) over medium stovetop heat. Let the pan heat for 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, then add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the marinated pork strips to the pan. Sear the pork strips on one side, then use tongs or chopsticks to flip them over. Cook on each side until the pork begins to brown (about 2 to 3 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is). Remove the pork strips from the frying pan and let them drain on a plate covered with paper towels.
- Lower the stovetop heat to medium. Add more cooking oil to the frying pan if necessary, then add the chopped ginger/garlic mixture. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the chopped asparagus, bell peppers, and scallions. Stir-fry for two minutes. Add the chili paste, fermented black beans, and chicken stock. Add 1 tablespoon each of rice wine/dry sherry and soy sauce. Let the mixture cook for 2 minutes, then add the pork strips back to the pan. Cook for another minute or two, until the asparagus pieces are tender.
- Serve as is, or over rice.
- Most modern frying pans don’t do well on extremely high stovetop heat (you can ruin the finish of a nonstick pan; stainless pans can warp if overheated). So don’t turn the heat up past medium-high if you’re using a nonstick or stainless frying pan.
- But cast iron can take the heat, so disregard that caution if you’re using a cast-iron frying pan.
- You could also try using a wok (they’re made to withstand high heat). Be advised, however, that most woks don’t work well on typical stovetops.
- You can find fermented black beans in any Chinese food store. Or look online (Amazon carries them).
- They’re not really black beans, BTW. They’re actually soy beans that are fermented and heavily salted. They pack a lot of flavor, so you don’t need to use more than a tablespoon or so for most dishes.
- Fermented black beans keep for a long time. We refrigerate them, and they keep that way for a year or longer.
- Shaoxing rice wine is traditional in Chinese cooking, but we usually substitute dry sherry. The flavor of the two is very similar, and we usually have dry sherry on hand.
- You can skip the rice wine/sherry if you wish. If you go that route, you may want to use more soy sauce.
- For this dish, we like to use mini sweet-bell peppers (you can find them sold in packages at most grocery stores). But a regular-sized bell pepper works too (and sometimes has better flavor). In any case, use red, orange, or yellow bell peppers. We don’t think green ones work in this dish.
- You can leave out the cornstarch to Step 1 if you prefer (it’s mainly there to thicken the sauce).
- Alternatively, if you want a thicker sauce, you could add the cornstarch right at the end (before serving the dish). If you’re going that route, dissolve a tablespoon of cornstarch in two tablespoons of cold water, then stir it into the dish right before serving. You can read our recipe for Chicken and Celery Stir-Fry for more details on using this technique.
- Feel free to use more pork and/or asparagus than we specify. We think the dish is nicely balanced as is, but adding more of a favorite ingredient is always fun.
- You can prep most ingredients for this dish a couple of hours ahead. Then just refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook.
Creating a Stir
“Asparagus, yum,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Plus ginger and garlic? Just call me a porker.”
“Those fermented black beans add zing too,” I said. “They’re kinda the straw that stirs the drink.”
“And the touch of chili incites a taste riot,” said Mrs K R. “This dish is hog wild.”
Not to mention stir crazy.
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