Wok with me: Mu Shu Pork 木須肉 with homemade Mandarin pancakes 薄饼

By Charleen - January 18, 2020

Slivers of pork stir-fried with two kinds of dried mushrooms, cabbage and a mix of green and gold strands, wrapped in paper thin pancakes with a glossy, rich sweet and savory sauce... One of our favorite Chinese dishes mu shu, moo shu or moo shoo pork 木須肉 is made simple in Grace Young's The Breath of a Wok, down to the translucent pancakes of Peking duck fame, which are surprisingly easy to make using only two ingredients!

Each month, the 3000+ members of the Wok Wednesdays Facebook group cook two new dishes from the award-winning cookbook The Breath of a Wok. We share our photos, thoughts and suggestions for great camaraderie and a chance to win some fabulous cooking prizes. Without this group, I would never have discovered that I actually like tofu, nor would I have sought out a hand-hammered pow wok to recreate a favorite childhood dish using traditional cookware. I would have never had the confidence to make har gow 蝦餃, those beautiful and delicious shrimp dumplings wrapped in translucent rice flour, that grace the carts pushed around Cantonese dim sum 點心 restaurants. These little bites really do "dot or touch the heart," although "order as your heart desires" may be a more accurate translation for these small, à la carte dishes.

Classically made with golden slivers of day lily buds, matchsticks of sliced pork, crunchy wood ear mushrooms, winter mushrooms, cucumber, ginger, garlic, scallions, soy sauce and rice wine, mu shu pork is a Northern Chinese dish, thought to have originated in Shandong. The name of the dish 木須肉 literally means "wood whiskers meat (pork)," which may relate to the thin strips of wood ear fungus 木耳 (Mù'ěr) in the dish. Some people believe the name may also be 木犀 in reference to the yellow and white flowers of the Sweet Omanthus, which is used to make tea or wine rather than in cooking, as the scrambled eggs commonly found in this dish are thought to resemble these blossoms.

Mu shu pork was introduced to Chinese-American restaurants when I was less than 5 years old. I have always loved rubbing the rich brown sauce on paper thin pancakes that are wrapped around the stir-fry before being consumed like tiny burritos. Because dried wood ears and day lily buds were not readily available, the most typical restaurant version uses scrambled eggs or strips of yellow omelet, green cabbage, carrots, button mushrooms, scallions and sometimes bean sprouts. The dish is healthy, delicious and maintains the colorful strips of yellow amidst shades of green and brown.

The thin, white pancakes were usually the limiting factor, as most restaurants only offered four of these delicate wrappers, usually folded into quarters. Called 薄饼 (báo bǐng) (), or literally "thin pancakes" these wrappers are also served to wrap a bit of Peking duck, crispy duck skin, and raw scallion for a truly heavenly bite!  With their thin, translucent nature, I had always assumed they would be too hard to make.
Homemade Mandarin pancakes, separated.

Virginia Yee's moo shoo pork with mandarin pancake

When I started seeing other members post their lovely renditions of this recipe, including the hand made pancakes, I gained the confidence to try it.  And it was surprisingly easy! The pancakes are made from a simple hot water dough (flour and boiling water) using brushed on toasted sesame oil to separate the layers. Grace estimated that, with some help for the pancakes, the entire recipe would take under two hours to prepare. Indeed, even taking a 20 min break to watch the videos in the 5 or 6 helpful, step by step posts that she prepared for us, the entire process took 1 h, 29 minutes as we only made half of the pancakes (4 each was more than enough)!

Reading through both recipes, it was clear that the most efficient use of time would be to get the dry mushrooms soaking and the dough resting as soon as possible. 
Left to right: dried wood ear fungus, dried shiitakes or winter mushrooms, dried lily buds or golden needles
So I started by placing all the dry ingredients into a bowl.  I did not have any bean thread cellophane noodles (Grace suggests the Lungkow brand in the pink package, which is made in Taiwan for its superior texture) or bamboo shoots handy, so I used some dry day lilies that I had from making hot and sour soup to add the golden color.  While this was soaking in cool water, I spent 20 minutes figuring out how to project her videos onto the TV for my husband to watch.
After 20 minutes, the dried ingredients are rehydrated enough for slicing. The larger mushroom caps were still dry in the center, so I returned the slices to the water for a bit longer. The scallions were shredded further longitudinally after being cut into 2 inch segments.
By the time we were done, the dried ingredients were ready for cutting. I sliced up the scallions, ginger, cabbage and pork, which my husband made the dough. While the dough was resting, he helped measure out the marinade and sauce ingredients, and then we were ready to make the pancakes. 
All ingredients rehydrated and sliced into slivers. Mushroom soaking water reserved for making the sauce. The slicing and sauce making took 35 minutes. 
We made twelve small discs of dough from the half recipe, and found that we only needed to spread sesame oil onto one disc, before sandwiching the oiled side and rolling out the double layer into a thin pancake.  My daughter rolled out the largest, thinnest disc!  Then it was very easy to heat the disc in a clean, dry wok until it started to puff up. Upon flipping it would often deflate before starting to puff a little more on the edges. And with the oil in between, the layers would practically separate on their own when the hot pancake was slapped onto a wooden cutting board. 
Clockwise from top: rolling out a thin double-layer pancake with sesame oil in between, griddling the pancakes while they puff up and form tiny brown spots, separated pancake layers on cutting board. It took about 20 minutes to roll out and make the pancakes after the dough was done resting.
We kept them warm under a cloth kitchen towel, and I made the stirfry in the same pan, starting with the slices of ginger, and then adding the mushrooms.  After these were piping hot, I pushed them to the side of the wok and spread out the meat to brown.  
Counterclockwise from top: Ginger, rehydrated winter or shiitake mushrooms, and pork go in sequentially. The leftover bones are browned in preparation for making pork stock, while the cabbage wilts and the sauce reduces. This entire process took 7 minutes.
The cabbage was added next, along with the golden needles (dry lily buds) and wood ear slivers.  After pouring the sauce down the sides of the wok, I tossed the entire mixture until the cabbage had wilted. I did have to add one or two spoonfuls of reserved mushroom soaking liquid to keep it from getting too dry, although I was aiming for a relatively dry mixture to wrap in pancakes.

After turning off the heat and garnishing with scallions, we wrapped the stir-fry in the pancakes with a bit of Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce, diluted with one or two spoonfuls of water until it spreads easily.   Delicious!!
Wrapping the mu shu pork with a bit of diluted hoisin sauce. Note that the pancake is so thin you can see the edge of the plate through it.

🐾 Don't use too much flour when rolling out the pancakes. The loose flour tends to smoke in the wok. The wok temperature should be reduced if this starts to happen. The pancakes should stay mostly white with only a few very small brown spots in the time it takes for them to inflate and you should adjust the heat accordingly. It took about 1.5-2 minutes on the first side. 

🐾 Don't substitute flour tortillas without checking the ingredients to make sure they have not used any hydrogenated fats (e.g. shortening). Shortening and margarine are among the worse ingredients for heart health, and once eaten will stay in your body continuing to harm it. Through a legal loophole, companies can claim 0 g trans fat simply by reducing their listed serving size so that a single serving has less than 500 mg of trans fat. Read the ingredient list and avoid the words hydrogenated, shortening or margarine.

Trader Joe has a nice white or whole wheat tortilla using sunflower oil. We also try to avoid palm oils for environmental reasons. The sesame oil in the Mandarin pancake recipe adds a rich, nutty flavor, and is great drizzled onto foods. 

Pick up a copy of "Breath" from your bookstore or library and come join us in the Facebook Wok Wednesday group! It's a fun, supportive and informative community for both beginners and experienced wokkers. 

by Grace Young with Alan Richardson
Simon & Schuster, 2004
·       ISBN-10: 0743238273
·       ISBN-13: 978-0743238274
Inducted into the IACP Cookbook Hall of Fame, May 2019.

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