Our family has discovered a newfound love for suncài dùn fntiáo, a Northern Chinese sour cabbage stew traditionally made with pork belly and glass noodles. Try this dish if you like the flavor of pickled foods.
A Cold Weather Icon of Northern Chinese Culture
Any northerner would get hungry at the mere mention of sour cabbage stew with glass noodles (suncài dùn fntiáo). This meal, along with others like sour cabbage pork dumplings, is a staple in the diets of many people in the north.
This classic noodle soup is a staple throughout the colder months in Northern China, but its popularity extends well beyond the winter season. It’s the kind of food at celebrations, big and small.
It’s easy to conjure up a scene of a large family enjoying a bowl of savory soup brimming with a creamy pork belly, pungent, sour cabbage, and chewy cellophane noodles. Steam rises from the simmering stew as snowflakes flutter outside the windows. There is a melee of competing chopsticks over the noodles, and then a slurping burst. No one has time to chat, so they all just look at each other and grin as they eat.
That’s the mental picture I get whenever I have a pot of this stew simmering on the stove.
Sour Cabbage is the Main Ingredient.
This Chinese sour cabbage stew is meant to be sour, as the name would suggest. The soup should have the same level of acidic sourness as a hot and sour soup.
Noodles of the right sort
When shopping for glass noodles, it’s best to find those made from sweet potato starch and sliced to a thickness that’s comparable to spaghetti. More substantial and dense than the lighter mung bean vermicelli, they retain their structure and don’t water down the soup.
However, you can use any type of cellophane noodle you choose. Remember that there are a few variations in how to cook your noodle of choice. Many need to be soaked before being cooked.
If you want to know how to cook it, check the package.
Please serve this meal steaming hot. A cast-iron dutch oven or clay pot is ideal, as they keep their heat for a longer period of time after being removed from the stove.
And if you have a dedicated induction, electric coil, or butane burner, all the better! The stew should be served in a saucepan set over low heat to maintain a low simmer. If you have a shabu shabu pot or electric hot pot, you can use that instead.
This will offer the full, genuine dining experience typical of the way people up north enjoy their food. Be cautious when working with live wires and hot broth.
Try the dipping sauce; the raw garlic gives it a great zing and unique taste. Also of note is the fact that rice is virtually always served alongside this noodle stew. The noodle and rice combination? Sure thing!
- 1 pound of pork belly
- 4 slices of ginger
- 2 scallions
- 1 star anise
- 4 cups of water
- 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 3 cloves of finely minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
- chili oil
Rest of the dish:
- 1 pound of Chinese sour cabbage
- 3 ounces of dried sweet potato starch noodles
- 3 slices of julienned ginger
- 2 scallions (green parts chopped and white part julienned)
- 1 cup of chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
- The first step is to get the pork ready. Water, entire pork belly (or ribs), Shaoxing wine, ginger, scallions, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, and salt should be placed in a medium-sized, thick-bottomed saucepan.
- Bring to a boil while covered. As soon as the water begins to boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
- If you’re going to use pork belly, take it out of stock and set it aside to cool. Don’t take the ribs out of the stock if you’re using a different cut of pork. While preparing the remainder of the dish, turn off the heat and let the noodles “cook” in the hot broth.
- Combine the minced garlic, light soy sauce, sugar, and chili oil (if using) in a small bowl to make the dipping sauce. Don’t bother with it right now.
- Put the sour cabbage slices in a big metal bowl and cover them with clean water by approximately 14 inches (0.6 cm).
- After a brief period of manual agitation in the water, drain the vegetables and cabbage, making sure to remove as much liquid as possible. The cabbage’s salinity and sourness can be mitigated with a brief rinsing. Putting aside.
- Once the pork belly is just warm enough to touch (not hot), cut it into 1/4-inch (0.6-centimeter) slices. Remove from consideration.
- Vegetable oil, ginger, scallion whites, and sour cabbage should be heated in a pot with a thick bottom and a shallow depth (a clay pot, stone pot, or cast iron dutch oven works well for this purpose). Cook in a wok until all liquid has evaporated, about 7 minutes.
- Remove any solids from the liquid left over after boiling the pork and return it to the pot. Sliced pork belly should be added after the oyster sauce and chicken stock have been stirred (the latter is optional if you like a more broth-like consistency) (or ribs). Cook, covered, over low heat for 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
- Stir in the glass noodles, then cover the pot again. Continue baking for 2–3 minutes, or as directed on the packaging.
- Last but not least, season to taste with white pepper and salt and mix well. Steamed rice, pork with dipping sauce, and scallions sliced from the green parts should be served at once.