Dry-fried green beans are one of Sichuan’s most famous recipes. The beans are fried until slightly wrinkled. Ground pork, rice wine, and fermented Ya Cai round out the flavor.
This is one of Sichuan’s most famous vegetable dishes. The green beans are traditionally dry-fried over a medium heat until they are tender and slightly wrinkled, although these days most restaurants deep-fry them to reduce the cooking time. If you want to minimize the oiliness, you can steam or boil the beans to cook them through instead of frying them, and then follow the rest of the recipe (from step 3) according to the instructions given below. This method isn’t authentic, but the results are delicious, particularly for the vegetarian version of the dish.–Fuchsia Dunlop
Dry-Fried Green Beans
- Remove any strings from the edges of the beans and trim off the tops and tails. Break them into short sections (about 2 inches long).
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok, add the beans, and stir-fry over a medium flame for about 6 minutes, until they are tender and their skins are a little puckered. Remove from the wok and set aside. If you want to save time, deep-fry the beans at about 350°F (175°C) until they are tender and puckered.
- Heat another 2 tablespoons of oil in the wok over a high flame, add the pork, and stir-fry for 30 seconds or so until it’s cooked, splashing in the Shaoxing rice wine and the soy sauce as you go.
- Add the ya cai or Tianjin preserved vegetable and stir-fry briefly until hot, then toss in the beans, stir and toss, adding salt to taste (remember that the ya cai is already very salty).
- Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil, and serve.
*What is ya cai?One of our recipe testers, Deb L., answered this question for us. Ya Cai, the mysterious fermented vegetable ingredient in this recipe, can be purchased on Amazon. You may find it labeled as Yi Bin Sui Mi Ya Cai (made in the Sichuan Province city of Yibin). It’s sold in small foil pouches. Pictures can be worth a thousand words. Snap a picture on your cell phone and take it with you to the Asian market where one 80-gram packet should cost $1 to $2 and provide enough Ya Cai for several recipe batches. It keeps in the refrigerator after opening——just push out the air and seal it up tight. You can also freeze it. As long as you are in the Asian market pick up a bottle of the Shaoxing (Shaoshing) rice wine. If you buy it in a grocery market, it’ll have salt added. If you’re fortunate to find it in a wine store, it should be a delicious beverage to sip as well as for cooking.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
One of my favourite dishes at a local restaurant are their Sichuan green bean dish that I completely devour on my own even though it's meant to share. This dry-fried green bean recipe came extremely close to the dish that I love. I'm definitely keeping this one!
I did find that it had a little too much oil, I think a tablespoon less (3 tablespoons total) would have been perfect.
Dry-frying is just a dry-heat cooking method that uses little to no oil and no water. I particularly like this method for green beans. The dry-fried green beans have great texture—tender with just enough crunch. If you don’t have a wok, a heavy skillet will do, but a few more minutes may be required in the frying time. The recipe called for 6 minutes of frying in a wok. I used a skillet and needed 8 minutes. Stir often to evenly distribute the heat and prevent burning. The beans will pucker, and it’s OK if a few of them are slightly browned in spots.
It took me a while to find Sichuanese ya cai in the Asian market. It helps to know what you’re looking for, so I did a little research before going to the store. The recipe refers to ya cai or Tianjin preserved vegetable. The preserved vegetable used for Sichuanese ya cai is jie mo cai—mustard green. This type of mustard green is indigenous to Southeast Sichuan and the pickling process is pretty extensive. Look for pickled mustard green or, from the Tianjin area, pickled cabbage. You’ll find them in the refrigerator section of the store, packaged in tightly sealed plastic.
Both vegetables in their preserved state are tart and salty. Consider this when adding additional salt to the dish. I used a low-sodium soy sauce. Rather than add more salt, I placed soy sauce on the table for anyone who needed more seasoning.
There are many versions of dry-fried green beans. Some recipes include minced garlic, spring onions, and ginger. Experiment. This is a very flexible dish. My family does not eat pork, so I substituted ground white meat turkey with excellent results. For a vegetarian/vegan version, add the ingredients aforementioned, and throw in some carrot ribbons (carrot shavings created with a vegetable peeler) for color and a little sweetness. You can also replace the meat with dry-fried, marinated tofu cut into small pieces. Serve as a one-dish meal for lunch or dinner, or with sticky rice or fresh udon or Shanghai noodles.
Originally published May 9, 2003