This dish might have been the food catalyst to our partnership and pursuit of starting a restaurant. It was Josh’s father’s favorite dish to order at Bei Gan, or Main Street Imperial Taiwanese restaurant in Flushing. So it was one of the first things Trigg sampled when Josh took him to the place.
It’s a light, chive-centric dish that’s served over rice. It is called flies’ head because the pork and fermented black beans that stud the green chives are tiny, like flies’ heads. The pork adds an unctuous savory note, enhanced by the shiro dashi (a soy-dashi concentrated soup base, which you can find in Japanese markets), funky beans, and garlic, but there are more chives than there is pork in this dish. At Win Son, we also make a vegetarian-friendly version with minced dry tofu, or doufu gan, instead of the pork, which is explained in the variation below.
Whichever you go with, just be sure to serve this with rice. Not only do the ingredients match the rice grains in size, but the sauce from the glazed chive buds causes the pork, vegetables, and rice grains to cluster together like molecules, creating something greater than the sum of its parts. The combination of flavors and textures really makes it hard not to shovel this into your mouth. If you’ve put your chopsticks down while there’s still some left, it’s because you’re getting more rice to eat it with.
1 pound (455 g) budding chives (aka garlic chives or flowering chives)
4 to 6 fresh red bird’s-eye chiles, thinly sliced (see note)
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup (45 g) dried fermented black beans (see note)
2 tablespoons of neutral oil, such as soybeans
8 ounces (225 g) ground pork shoulder (or leave this out and see the vegetarian variation with dry tofu below)
½ cup (120 ml) mirin
¼ cup (60 ml) shiro dashi
¼ cup (60 ml) rice wine, preferably Taiwanese, or use Shaoxing rice wine as a substitute
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons Bull Head Shallot Sauce
¼ cup (60 ml) toasted sesame oil
Trim any very tough, light green, or white stems from the budding chives. Finely chop the budding chives. (You can snip off the buds with scissors and reserve them or stir-fry into the dish, whichever you prefer.) In a bowl, combine the chives, chiles, garlic, and fermented black beans. Make sure you have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go, because the cooking process is quick.
In a wok or large wide pot, heat the neutral oil over high heat. Add the pork and break it up as the fat renders and the meat cooks. When the pork is just cooked, after about 2 minutes, add the mirin, shiro dashi, and rice wine, and let the mixture bubble for another 2 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch and water slurry and allow it to gently thicken the sauce for another minute.
Turn down the heat to medium-low and quickly add the chive mixture and the shallot sauce. Mix thoroughly with a spoon or by using a tossing motion with the pan—you are more or less dressing the vegetables with the glazed meat and warming them in the pan. Add the toasted sesame oil. After a few tosses, and about 30 seconds to a minute, the mixture needs to come out of the pan and into a serving bowl. The chives should be just barely cooked, still bright green, and dressed from the hot, glazed pork. (Don’t overcook.) Adjust the seasonings; the stir-fry should be flavorful and balanced (salty, sweet, spicy). Serve immediately.
Note: Red bird’s-eye chiles get spicier as they get smaller. If the chiles are large, maybe use six, and if they are smaller, maybe only go for four. Not to be confused with black turtle beans, dried fermented black beans usually appear sticky and are very tasty. We prefer the whole, loose beans, which usually come in a 1-pound (455 g) bag, to the type that comes in jars mashed up or in a salty brine, but either will work here.
Vegetarian Variation With Dry Tofu
Replace the ground pork with 8 ounces (225 g) of dry tofu (aka doufu gan), which may be five spice flavored or smoked. (Look for it in the refrigerated aisle of Chinese markets.) Mince the tofu before starting the recipe, and use in place of the pork for the rest of the steps.
– From “Win Son Presents a Taiwanese American Cookbook,” text copyright © 2023 by Josh Ku, Trigg Brown, and Cathy Erway, published by Abrams.
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Brownstoner magazine.