Do you guys ever miss high school? Let me clarify – I don’t mean the school part of it, or the cliques or classes, I just mean the after school snacks. Man, after school snacks were the bomb. Snacks were, by far, the best part of a weekday. Sometimes my snack situation would be something simple like a giant bag of cheetos (I miss my teenage metabolism and penchant for crunchy styrofoam-y cheese snacks), sometimes it’d be a pack of instant noodles, but by far, the best after school snack was my mom’s meat sauce.
Chinese meat sauce is the equivalent of bolognese or ragù. Essentially, it’s a super savoury meat sauce flavoured with soy instead of tomatoes. Both soy and tomatoes are high on the umami scale, so it seems to me to be a pretty even swap. Like ragù, Chinese meat sauce (or lǔ ròu or minced pork or braised pork) is fairly salty on its own and is meant to be eaten with rice or noodles.
Every family has their own version of this meat sauce. Some like it more salty, some more sweet. Some people use pork belly, some use ground pork. It’s one of those beautifully customizable dishes that you can put your own spin on and really call a family recipe. That’s exactly what I did here. This meat sauce is not quite what my mom usually makes – she keeps hers simple with just shallots, soy, sugar and ground pork.
Here I’ve added in some black vinegar for acidity, Szechuan peppercorns for spice, cinnamon for warmth, crushed fennel for some complexity and wood ear mushrooms for crunch. It’s incredibly, incredibly moreish – true comfort food at it’s best. And, even better, you can make up a big batch, portion it out and freeze it for whenever the mood strikes. Lǔ ròu fan, here I come!
Taiwanese Meat Sauce and Rice Recipe
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 onion or 1 small shallot, diced
- 1/2 pound lean ground pork
- 1/2 cup rehydrated wood ear mushrooms, chopped
- 1/4 cup sweet soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn powder
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1-2 medium shallots, sliced
- 2 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil (not olive)
- fluffy white rice or grain of choice
- soft boiled eggs, if desired
- sliced green onions, to garnish
- crispy shallots, to garnish
In a sauce pan, heat up the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring until fragrant and golden. Add the ground pork and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned and cooked through. Add the remaining ingredients, taste, season with pepper (and salt, if needed), stir and simmer over low for 30-45 minutes to reduce and meld flavors.
While you’re waiting for your sauce, go ahead and make some rice. And if you want to crisp up some shallots, now is the time to do so. Add two and a half tablespoons of oil to a skillet and heat over medium low heat. Add the sliced shallots and gently fry, stirring occasionally until they turn golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. Keep a close watch as shallots deepen in color quite quickly! When golden, turn off the heat, scoop out the shallots and drain on paper towels. Let the shallot oil cool and save for other uses. If you’re feeling naughty, you can stir it into your sauce for some extra flavor, but I usually set it aside and use it wherever I need an extra bit of flavor in whatever I’m cooking (eggs, veggies, etc).
To serve, top your piping hot rice (or grain of choice) with meat sauce, a soft boiled egg sliced in half, green onions and crispy shallots. Enjoy!