A quick post this as my quest continues to find new ways of using lesser known cuts of meat to prepare weekday family meals, Chinese style.
Bavette of beef was one of the cuts I discovered at the Butchery Demonstration given by James Whelan Butchers in Avoca Food Market, Monkstown. It comes from the flank or belly muscle of the cow and I first used it to make Hunan Style Crispy Beef. I was blown away by how well this relatively cheap cut responds to fast stir-frying with minimal marinading and I wondered if it was a fluke.
So in order to test the theory that almost any Chinese recipe requiring fillet or sirloin beef can be made with bavette, I decided to adapt a recipe from Ken Hom for stir-fried fillet beef with Sichuan preserved vegetables which features in Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure. I haven’t yet found Sichuan preserved vegetable in Dublin but I have used Tianjin preserved vegetable – dong cai – as a substitute. This salted mustard green is sold in squat earthenware jars and is readily available in Asian food markets and some speciality stores. It keeps for ages so a jar goes a long way. The 600g jar costs €1.75 in the Asia Market in Drury St., Dublin.
I have used it before in the vegetarian version of fried green beans and I love its crunchy texture. It is very salty and it should be rinsed well and squeezed dry before use. I also had a leek left over from the weekend when I cooked Short Beef Ribs Chinese style. And so the dish below was born. Stir-fried Beef with Tianjin Preserved Vegetables, Leeks and Noodles
I’ve a head teeming with ideas for blog posts and recipes I want to try but it’s been a hectic week since I came back from Sicily and I haven’t yet had time to cook anything new. A Twitter conversation with Elaine (@LainerC) on how and in what combination with other ingredients to use Sichuan pepper reminded me of Fuchsia Dunlop’s version of Xie Laoban’s dan dan noodles which I tried for the first time just before I went on holidays and captured all the flavours of Sichuan in one simple dish. This dish is also a good example of ma la – the balance of numbing, cooling ma with spicy la, and I’m grateful to Ronan Farrell (@ronan_farrell) for reminding me of that lovely Chinese expression.
I love the Chinese characters for noodles 面条- mian tiao where the first character is the symbol for “face” and the second for “twigs”. I always remember it by thinking of a man piling “twigs” of noodles up to his face.
I also love Fuchsia’ story, told in detail in Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, of the inscrutable and often cranky Xie Laoban who made this legendary version of dan dan noodles in a tiny restaurant in Chengdu and her painstaking efforts to recreate the recipe by getting little nuggets of information from him over time and by closely examining the dish.
Increasingly for me Chinese food is not just flavour, it’s story and history woven into a tapestry on a plate. Noodles are a very significant part of the Chinese diet and, while I sometimes craved something more like a Western breakfast while I was there, Shan was constantly in search of noodles, eating little and often as the Chinese do. I can never eat them now without thinking of her Mum explaining the importance of serving them when welcoming family home, because of their symbolism in binding people together.
The dish below is unapologetically spicy, one for the spice girls – or the la men zi as they are known in China – and is the version Fuchsia included in her seminal cook book on Sichuan cuisine Sichuan Cookery. Get this right and you know exactly what balance of flavours to look for in a Sichuan dish.
The joy of this recipe is that it can be prepared in minutes from store cupboard ingredients and a 100g of minced beef. I got some extra lean minced beef today and froze it in 100 gm portions as an emergency supply so that I can avoid the need for mid-week takeaways. It has already become one of our favourites. Dan Dan Noodles – Niu Rou Dan Dan Mian*
A few cloves of garlic again you can put more if you like it garlicy
Wash beans and use your hand to break them into 1 inch long pieces.
Boil water in a small pot if you wish to have a healthier dish.
Chop garlic and dried chilli into fine pieces.
Pork: put oil in wok and throw 1 tsp of Sichuan pepper in it, when it gets hot and you can smell the pepper then you can use a spade to take out the pepper if you don’t want to eat it accidently later. I usually take the wok to the sink and shovel them out and deal with it later. Then put minced pork in, fry till they are cooked, put a pinch of sugar and a small amount of soy sauce. When the meat looks golden brown, take the pork out and wash the wok and dry it.
Beans: put oil in wok, put chopped chilli and garlic in, when the oil gets hot, basically garlic starts to look brown, throw beans in (healthier version would be that beans are already boiled in the pot and drained, typically 1 minute in the boiling water is enough, the colour of green starts to look crispy green), fry the beans till it gets brown and bits of it almost look like it’s burnt then the beans are ready, see picture below.*
Final step: put cooked pork in and then add 2 table spoon of soy sauce, and some salt, fry a minute or two then it’s ready. I usually just put one in my mouth and check the flavour and if it’s cooked.
The picture below shows the finished dish and you will not have the really dark bits if the dry leafy vegetable is missing.
Take a look at my first attempt to cook this delicious recipe.
*Note: I later learned inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan that the easiest way to get the bubbly brown skin on the green beans is to deep-fry them very quickly in oil in the wok. Sichuan fried green beans – vegetarian version
250g – 350g green beans
Dried chilli – 4 to 6 pieces depending how spicy you want it to be (my tastes are getting spicier!)
2 spring onions, white parts only
3 cloves garlic
Piece of ginger, about 3 cms
2 tbs Tianjn preserved vegetable
Wash beans and use your hand to break them into 1 inch long pieces.
Boil water in a small pot and blanch the beans for about a minute. Drain well.
Finely slice the spring onion whites, garlic and ginger.
Heat wok over a high heat, add oil (about 2 tbs), then sizzle the Sichuan pepper and chillies briefly until they begin to darken and release the gorgeous smells.
Add the spring onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a few moments to release their fragrance.
Add the Tianjin preserved vegetable and stir briefly.
Add the blanched beans and stir fry for a minute or two to coat in the spicy oil and brown slightly.
Stir in about a tsp of sesame oil and serve.
Absolutely delicious. I love both versions of this dish. The one with pork makes a simple supper on its own. The vegetarian version is a great side dish for pork or other meats.
If any of the ingredients in this post are unfamiliar check out Chinese Kitchen Essentials elsewhere on this blog.