Every now and again I am about to write a blog post about one aspect of Chinese cooking and I get diverted by another idea. This is one such occasion.
Since we returned from China in early July, Chinese takeaways have been banned in our house but there’s one particular dish I’ve had a hankering for recently. When I used to give in and order takeaway, crispy chilli beef was alway a favourite, because of it’s rich, tangy flavour, but no sooner would I have eaten it than I would regret it as the heavy batter settled on my stomach and my wheat intolerance kicked in. Recently I’ve being thinking of ways to give this takeaway staple a lighter, Shananigans makeover and, after several half-successful attempts, I finally got it right a few nights ago.
I’m not sure of the origins of this dish – I suspect it’s not pure Sichuan or Hunan but a European adapatation. While this may not be as healthy as some of the dishes I cook, I would be confident that it’s a lot lower in fat and carbohydrate content than some of its takeout counterparts and it certainly passes the taste test, with no added MSG or gloopy sauces.
I love shopping in neighbourhood shops and, on weekdays, when I am commuting in and out of the city centre of Dublin, Donnybrook is a perfect staging point on my bus journey home. Dunnes of Donnybrook, recently awarded Star Shop of the Year by the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, and Roy Fox Gourmet Food can provide, between them, all the meat, vegetables and condiments I need. Roy Fox is particularly good on stocks of Asian spices, sauces and noodles and carries many of the items I usually have to seek out in an Asian Market – a boon for those daunted by the overwhelming range of stock in those markets.
So on the way home from town I picked up a few excellent fillet steaks from Fintan Dunne and my vegetables from Roy Fox. This is what I did with them:
Shananigans Crispy Chilli Beef – Xiang ciu niu rou pian – 香脆牛肉片
Serves 3 – 4
- 400g of fillet steak
- 2 egg whites, beaten
- Good pinch of salt
- About 4 tbs potato flour
- A pinch of baking powder
- Oil for deep frying – use good quality sunflower or rapeseed oil
- 2 carrots cut into thin matchsticks
- 2 spring onions thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 2 red chillies, de-seeded and thinly sliced
- About 80 g caster sugar
- 3 tbs Chinkiang (Chinese black) vinegar
- 2 tbs light soy sauce
- Coriander (optional) to garnish
- Rice to serve
- Cut the beef into slices against the grain and then into thin shreds.
- Dip in the egg white and mix with your hand, leaving it to rest for a few minutes.
- Mix the potato flour with salt and baking powder.
- Drain off any excess egg white and dip the beef strips in the flour mix, shaking off any excess.
- Fill a wok quarter full with oil and heat to 180 degrees (or until a piece of bread fries golden brown in 15 seconds) – I can usually guess this now by watching the bubbles form on the surface of the oil.
- Cook the beef for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring to separate the strands, until it is really crispy. Remove with a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper (I found it best to add the beef quickly, a little at a time and use a Chinese “spade” to separate the strands).
- Reheat the oil and cook the carrot for 1 1/2 minutes before removing and draining.
- Pour the oil from the wok (into an empty saucepan so that you can strain through muslin and re-use one more time), leaving 1 tbs.
- Reheat the remaining oil over high heat until very hot. Add the spring onion, garlic and chilli and stir-fry for a few moments. Add back the beef and carrots.
- Add the sugar, soy sauce and vinegar and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar.
- Garnish with coriander, if available, and serve with boiled rice and perhaps a simple stir-fried vegetable such as broccoli.
You could use sirloin steak rather than fillet steak.
Some variations on this recipe suggest using whole egg and cornflour for the batter but I prefer the lighter “tempura style” effect of the egg white and potato.
This is lighter and easier to digest than it’s takeaway cousin. Enjoy.