This is one of those dishes that has haunted and taunted my palate for a few years. It’s dead simple, just a handful of ingredients are involved. Unfortunately the main ingredient is a fleeting seasonal vegetable — garlic scapes that are not often sold in the United States. Slender with a mild sweet garlic flavor, the garlic flower stalks are thinly sliced and then stir-fried with bits of Chinese bacon.
I first had the preparation in October 2009 at the Din Tai Fung at the World Square Shopping Center in Sydney, Australia. It was a great sidekick to an order of xiao long bao Shanghai soup dumplings. The restaurant used the jade colored scapes, which are typically trimmed by farmers to foster bulb growth, per food writer Molly Watson. It was spring in Australia and I took that taste memory back to California, where six months later in 2010, I got to enjoy another spring.
I started looking for garlic scapes at Chinese markets and over the years, have found them a couple of times, once at Ranch 99 in Milpitas, California. The stalks were sold as long thin bundles of 1/4 to 1/3-inch thick green cords. However, I was disappointed by their lackluster flavor. Maybe not enough people buy them or know about them. The ones I’ve found tended to be borderline over the hill. The little stir-fry eluded me.
This year, I got smart and instead opted for locally grown green garlic, which are baby garlic plants that farmers often pull to thin their plantings. I selected the slender ones to ensure a more delicate flavor that’s closer to excellent garlic scapes. These were grown by Coke Farm and they were super fresh and firm:
They look like young leeks but the white bulb at the bottom is enlarged and relatively fat. When trimming green garlic, remove the root part. I use just the firm part of the stalk and maybe 1 inch or so of the leafy part – essentially what is chewable.
Then I thinly sliced the green garlic. Instead of the Chinese bacon, I used dried Chinese sweet sausage (lop cheung in Cantonese, lap xuong in Vietnamese), which I had plenty of in the freezer.
Finally, it was a matter of cooking everything up in the wok. No oil needed because the fat in the sausage will render a bit to enrich things. (When buying the sausages, I avoid the lean stuff and look for MSG free, all pork sausages with grain alcohol.)
The final dish was smallish in size but big in flavor. My husband and I nibbled on it with some sherry as a snack, though you could surely have it with other dishes and/or rice. Feel free to double the recipe below to serve more people.
I got what I wanted but it required using a different kind of spring time garlic and Chinese charcuterie. The satisfaction was the same as my initial taste of the dish.
Some more cooking tips:
No Chinese sausage? Try another kind fatty, salty-sweet sausage. A smoky bacon would be nice too. About 2 ounces is what you need.
Got good garlic scapes? Use 3 ounces of scapes instead of 4 ounces of green garlic as there’s less trim waste.
When to buy? Spring time garlic is a fleeting ingredient that’s around until early summer. Keep your eyes peeled open for them NOW.
Stir-Fried Green Garlic and Chinese Sausage
Servings: 2 or 3 as a side dish
- 1 dried Chinese sausage, halved lengthwise and cut to match the garlic in length and thickness
- 4 ounces green garlic, trimmed and cut on a steep diagonal into thin slices
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (1/2 capful) Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- About 1 1/2 teaspoons water
- White pepper, optional
- Heat a wok or skillet over high heat. Do not add any oil. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, for just about 15 seconds, until some fat has rendered and the sausage is shiny and translucent.
- Add the green garlic, stir, and cook until heated through. A little browning is okay. Splash in the rice wine, stir to moisten the ingredients and help to cook the green garlic. The Shaoxing will vaporize quickly. Your aim is to cook the green garlic to a tender firmness. Poke at it to check. I usually splash in the water to further facilitate cooking. Keep stirring until no liquid is visible, about 30 seconds. The green garlic should be done at this point. Lower the heat and cook more if it isn’t. Add a bit of water, if needed.
- Pull off the heat, taste and sprinkle in some salt, if needed. If you want a touch of heat, add a pinch of white pepper. Transfer to a dish and serve.
Have you had green garlic or garlic scapes in Asian dishes? How was it prepared or what do you like to do with them?