I haven’t used the wok for a while, so the other night I was thinking about some sort of Sichuan stir-fried situation for dinner using the napa cabbage and fennel I had in the fridge. There was also a package of goat stew meat, which enjoys those highly aromatic spices, so perfect, right? But because these goat chunks had some fat and connective tissue on them, they weren’t great candidates for quick cooking; those things tend to be pretty chewy or worse unless they’re cooked long and low and I didn’t feel like trimming them all and ending up with a pile of stringy scraps fit only for stock. So I came up with a sort of hybrid, using slow-roasted goat in an otherwise speedy stir-fry.
I toasted cinnamon, star anise, fennel, mustard black pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, caraway, coriander, cardamom, clove, dried clementine peel, and Thai chili before grinding them all to powder. (The fennel, coriander, and mustard were homegrown.) I mixed this with salt and tossed the meat (cut from big chunks into thin slices) in it and then let it sit in the fridge for most of the day. Come mid-afternoon, I put the meat in a pot with a bunch of chopped fennel stalks and a whole head of garlic and let the whole thing roast for three hours, starting at 425˚ but then dropping the heat to 275˚ after about half an hour.
The house smelled absolutely amazing. It’s worth noting here that I had baked bread in the morning, and then dehydrated the citrus peel in the cooling oven, so by the time the spiced goat and garlic got going, there was a pretty profound base aroma permeating the old abode.
When I pulled the pot out, the meat had turned to little black nuggets, assertively spiced, and sweet from the caramelized fennel and garlic (which I squeezed out into the bowl where I assembled the sauce). Because I sliced it thin before roasting, it was well past shreddy tenderness and fully into chewy burnt ends territory, and definitely had the dry-cooked vibe I was going for. Honestly, the little bits were so spicy and so good I could have just eaten them all with a spoon at this point and called it dinner. But I did not, because I have a family.
In that sauce bowl, besides the garlic I added grated ginger, the bits of raw garlic from the tips of the cloves where I sliced the top off the head before roasting, more of the spice mixture, fish sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and about a pint of the liquid produced from cooking a big turkey offal pâté sous vide for five hours a while back mixed with chicken stock from some tandoori drumstick bones I had left over from another meal. This was a good combination, rich and complex with a lot of information and a lovely wiggly texture when cold.
I shook a little corn starch into the goat pot and stirred it in to coat the meat and roux-ify the fat. Then I dumped in the sauce and let it thicken while I threw fennel, cabbage and onion into a very hot wok with a little lard. Once the vegetables were nicely charred and wilted, I dumped in the goat gravy and let it all commingle for a minute before removing it to a serving bowl full of just-boiled soba. The fennel fronds and a stray scallion made a nice green antidote to Brown Winter Food.
This hewed pretty closely to what I was hoping for: spicy, thick, intensely flavored, with al dente vegetables (fennel and Chinese cabbage both love this kind of quick cooking) contrasting with those dense little meat bites in a serious gravy. It had good heat, but I wanted more so I added lashings of Sichuan chili oil for that inimitable and addictive sweaty brain sensation. This one’s a keeper, and would be just as good on rice or naan or rolled up inside a crêpe. Or eaten standing in front of the stove when nobody else is home.