When I began regularly cooking for myself, and began experimenting with my cooking, there was one cuisine that I never bothered trying to learn, my own home cuisine. I was intimidated with trying to learn or cook the food I grew up eating. Taiwanese cuisine, being a subset of Chinese cuisine, was always too scary for me to try and teach myself. Anytime I went home, I was never patient enough to try and learn from my father either. So, when I finally got tired of making Japanese rice bowls and Korean one pot stews, I took the plunge and decided to try and teach myself how to make one of my favorite vegetable stir-fries of all time. Since I first tried, I’ve become more confident in this dish and have thus began to expand outward with more and more of the food that I grew up eating. Let this be the gateway dish for others who are afraid to cook Taiwanese food. Today I will be showcasing two forms of cooking cabbage. In my research and from personal experience, Taiwanese stir-fry is characterized as 快炒 or quick fry! Thus the method takes no longer than 2-3 minutes. The second method is a bit more low and slow and layers on more flavors. Taiwanese cabbage has amazing innate sweetness and has a great crunch that makes for an amazing dish. Serve with rice!
Cabbage – make the trek and go to an Asian grocer and get a head of Chinese or Taiwanese cabbage. I can’t say that American cabbage is different, but if you’re going to cook this, you might as well get the best produce.
Garlic – as much as you like. Thinly sliced, not minced.
Dried Shrimp – rehydrate in hot water and then finely chop
Bacon – thick cut, diced
Chilis – I use Thai birds-eye chilis, but choose whatever hot pepper you are most comfortable with.
Stir fry is a method of cooking that requires high heat and speed. Thus having all the ingredients prepped ahead of time is a must. Make sure your mise en place is up to snuff.
– For both methods, make sure to cut about 1/4 to 1/2 of the cabbage (depending on how much you want it make), slice into bite size pieces and separate the leaves, and wash thoroughly.
– For both methods, slice the garlic thinly and set aside.
– For the slower method (method 2), dice bacon and set aside; rehydrate the dried shrimp in warm water and then finely chop
Style 1: The Quick/Orthodox Method
Step 1: Place your wok or non-stick (wide rimmed) pan on high heat and add about 2-3 tablespoons of high smoke point oil (vegetable, canola or bacon fat).
Step 2: Add sliced garlic and stir while moving the pan. The goal is to infuse the flavor into the oil while preventing burning.
Step 3: After about 20-30 seconds, add your cabbage. Once again stir while moving the pan. The goal is to coat the leaves with oil and the garlic. Season with a large pinch of salt and pepper.
Step 4: Cook for about 45 seconds to 1 minute. The goal is to not have the leaves wilt too much and instead retain most if not all of its crisp texture. Taste at this point and adjust for seasoning.
The timing for this is key, you don’t want the leaves to become wilty, but rather crisp. It should taste savory and sweet. If done well, the cabbage will be crisp, sweet, salty and will go down well with rice!
Style 2: The Slow Go Flavorful Method
Step 1: Render out the bacon fat until bacon is to your preferred texture. You won’t need that much bacon fat, so take out about 2/3 (save for another day). Remove bacon after cooked.
Step 2: Add the chopped rehydrated shrimp and the garlic. Cook until fragrant.
Step 3: Add the chopped cabbage and the bacon and the chilis. Season to taste. (Sometimes I cheat and use MSG here too).
Step 4: Make sure to stir in and incorporate all the flavors into the cabbage leaves.
There you have it. Two recipes of amazing Taiwanese cabbage. It really does go down well with rice.
The images below are from method two, but consider them interchangeable for method 1 sans bacon and shrimp.