crispy minced pork with noodles
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Crispy fried minced pork with noodles and a cucumber salad, called ‘ants climbing a tree’ in Sichuan cuisine. Traditionally glass vermicelli noodles are used for this tasty Asian bowl, but I suggest egg noodles; simply to provide the ants with more traction…
Ants climbing trees is not the most appetising dish name but very apt. Traditionally made with glass noodles, the little bits of crisp fried pork mince are crawling around the strands of noodles, with an odd bit of greenery/spring onion/chillies masquerading as leaves.
Caramelised, well-seasoned fried pork mince is the cheapest (decent quality though), simplest and absolutely delicious meat fix when you think you’re really a bit hungrier than just a bowl of noodles and veg. Oriental fashion is the way to go as the variations on mince elsewhere, albeit tasty, always involve copious saucing of the meat. Not the climbing ants: they are crisp but not dry, caramelised but not burned, no sauce requiring micro-bits of satisfaction.
Pork mince is used so well in Vietnamese, Korean and of course Chinese dishes that it’s almost shameful to think what we have to show for it in Europe. Meatballs, meatloaf, Bolognese sauce (when beef is scarce); it seems we can only clump the ground pork together, as if trying to reconstitute it back into a ham, or make it float in tomato sauce. So much better to let it jump around a large hot pan, crispen up and caramelise so that each little bit of the ground pork stands on its own.
I would take this crispy pork further because it’s so gorgeous. Not just on trees, but I’d have ants crawling out of tacos, lugging chunks of jalapenos on their backs. I’d have them all over pappardelle or linguine. I’d set an anthill upon a baked jacket potato and get them swimming in a puddle of crème fraiche. I’d make them invade a lettuce bowl, swarm a pizza and – best of all – have an epic and-and-gherkin sandwich on thick fresh sourdough. Watch this space!
crispy minced pork with noodlesServings: 2Time: 20 minutes
- For the cucumber salad:
- 1 large cucumber
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 2-3 sprigs of mint, leaves stripped and finely chopped
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- For the pork:
- 1 tbsp. groundnut oil
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 1 lemongrass stem, finely chopped
- 3cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (2 tbsp.)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 3-4 birdseye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
- 300g (10oz) best minced pork
- 1 tsp salt
- 50g (4 tbsp.) brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce (nam pla)
- To serve:
- 2 portions of dried egg or rice medium noodles
- sesame oil, to drizzle
- 3 spring onions, green part only, sliced
- soy sauce
- sriracha sauce
1. Peel the cucumber, halve it lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a small spoon or a melon baller. Slice into 1 cm chunks on a diagonal. Toss the cucumber with the salt and caster sugar and set on a sieve or colander over a bowl for 15 minutes or longer, while you peel and chop all the other ingredients. After that time shake it on the sieve to drain the liquid, transfer to a serving bowl and toss with the mint, brown sugar and rice vinegar.
2. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet or a frying pan over medium heat (use the wok if you like but this is going to be frying rather than stir-frying so an ordinary frying pan might work better). Add the onion, lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes until the onion softens.
3. Add the pork mince, sprinkle with salt and cook it, breaking up with a fork, until it’s no longer pink. Turn up the heat, add the brown sugar and fish sauce, stir once and leave it to cook without stirring for about 2 minutes, until all the moisture cooks off and the pork starts to caramelise. Stir once, scraping the crisp bits and leave it to cook again until all the bits of meat are crisp to your liking.
4. While the pork is cooking, put on the water to boil for the noodles. Soak or simmer them as instructed on the packet, drain and toss with a little sesame oil.
5. Divide the noodles between serving bowls. Spoon the pork over the noodles, sprinkle with spring onions and serve with the soy and sriracha sauce on the side.