Garlic Scapes, Bacon, Soy Sauce—That’s the Recipe


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The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.

When I first saw garlic scapes outside of a Chinese grocery store or my mother’s garden, it was during that brief, beautiful period at the farmers market in late spring. I was surprised, and asked how to prepare them, curious to hear how Americans eat the lanky green stalks with buds at the top. Pesto, some said, or perhaps in an omelet. But I already knew what I wanted: to stir-fry them with a little bacon, the simplest and fastest way to let sweet, floral garlic scapes stand on their own. 

In Chinese cooking, garlic scapes, also known as garlic stems, are cooked in stir-fries, commonly with pork slivers that have been marinated with Shaoxing rice wine and soy sauce or oyster sauce. In Sichuan, they might be cooked with cured pork belly. My own lazy version cuts down on most of the prep, minimizes the ingredients, and swaps to use what I can find at my local grocery store. 

To start, I cut a few slices of bacon with scissors, then I chop half a pound of garlic scapes into bite-size pieces. As with a lot of Chinese stir-fries, the ratio of meat to vegetable focuses on the vegetable, and the meat acts as a flavoring agent. In a hot wok or skillet, even a modest amount of bacon oozes enough fat to render oil obsolete. 

Then, in go the garlic scapes. They don’t need to cook for long to get the sharpness out and the mild, tender flavor in. Sometimes pieces will char—that’s great. Pour a splash of soy sauce in, which adds even more umami and prevents dryness, and stir-fry for another minute. The bacon should be crisp giving way to chewy, and the scapes should be softer while retaining their crunch. You want that; it’s like eating an idyllic screensaver scene of a lush yard of grass, if grass actually tasted good.

You could, of course, marinate slivers of pork loin and do the whole thing up, which doesn’t take that much time either. But I find American bacon to be a suitable swap because, yes,  bacon tastes great with pretty much everything, and it gets me to the end result faster. I’ve also used spicy, crumbled breakfast sausage to great success, and I imagine a fatty Italian sausage would also work well too. 

So godspeed to everyone taking the time to make pesto this weekend—but I’ll be making the most of this garlic scape season by eating them straight out of the pan. 

The only thing I’m doing with garlic scapes this year: 

Roughly chop 3 slices of bacon. Add the pieces to a pan over medium to medium-high (I used a wok, cast-iron works well too). Let it cook, flipping halfway through, until the bacon is browned and has rendered its fat. There should be enough for the garlic scapes to sizzle in; if the pan looks dry, add a little neutral oil. Throw in ½ pound garlic scapes, chopped into roughly 2-inch pieces. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes, until the scapes are tender but still with a good crunch. Add a splash of soy sauce, then cut the heat. Transfer to a plate and eat hot.

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