Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mongolian Lamb

It fascinates me how kitschy American approximations of international cuisines seem to take on lives of their own. Tex-Mex of course being a classic example, but no less the repertoire of dishes that have become staples of American Chinese restaurants. Sweet-and-sour pork, moo goo gai pan, General Tso's chicken, those weird red spareribs. Man, I love that stuff. Mongolian beef was always my favorite when I was growing up. Wikipedia says the dish was invented in San Francisco in the 1970s's by one Robert Hsi; of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with Mongolia.

It's a flavor that reaches way back into my history of eating, back to when I was about ten and my parents took me to the Ming Garden. At least, I think that's what it was called. It was new, I remember that, and it had moved into a space formerly occupied by Lester Maddox's Pickrick, a strange fast-food franchise owned by the noted segregationist former Governor of Georgia. It seems surreal now that the place ever existed. There was even a cartoon of himself on the sign, armed with his famous axe handle.

Anyway. Mongolian Lamb. Why not? I had this leftover Christmas-Eve lamb in my fridge (courtesy of Philippe and Mary Duke), and a wonderful new wok, and I was thinking about the extraordinary effect that flank steak cooked with ginger and garlic and green onions had on my young palate all those years ago. So...

Mise en place: Mince up about a half teaspoon each of fresh ginger and garlic. Measure out a quarter-cup each of soy sauce and water and about a third of a cup of dark brown sugar. Take your leftover lamb (maybe a pound or so? I had a hunk about the size of a healthy human heart) and cut it into bite-size pieces; toss them with about a quarter-cup of corn starch. Slice five or six nice fresh scallions lengthwise and cut them into inch-long lengths, including the green parts. Fry up a couple of handfuls of saifun (cellophane noodles) (but do it in small batches, they get out of control quickly) and set them aside on paper towels to drain.

In a saucepan, saute the ginger and garlic in a little oil. Add the soy sauce, water, and brown sugar. Simmer and reduce slightly.

While the sauce is reducing, fire up your wok. Add a generous amount of oil and rapidly stir-fry the lamb in batches, just till you've got some browning happening at the edges. Drain off most of the oil, return all the lamb to the wok, and add the sauce, stirring to coat the lamb bits. After a minute or so, add the scallions. Toss and cook for another minute or so. Serve steaming hot on top of the noodles.

Serves two. I would have taken pictures, but we were hungry.


Di said...

I actually can't believe how good the sauce was. Er, no offense :) Brown sugar makes all the difference!

Anonymous said...

A segregationist fast food restaurant - what an interesting concept. So, if you wanted the chocolate milkshake did you have to go in through the back door?

And hmmm, now that I think of it, would a kosher restaurant be considered segregationist?

Rob said...

Well, Maddox was a real piece of work, but by the time I came along things had changed a bit, fortunately. Rather than defending his restaurant with an axe handle from the encroachment of fried-chicken-seeking Negroes, he had formed a comedy act with one of his dishwashers (who was African-American) and was working the nightclub circuit.

Di: yeah, like a lot of things I like to cook, the dish gives you a lot of return on your effort. We'll have it again soon.