Hot and Numbing Dried Beef for a Sichuan Feast

Sichuan Feast

My friend and I cooked this Sichuan feast for another friend’s birthday present. The power of Microsoft Word was harnessed to create a voucher entitling him to “1 Sichuan Feast cooked in your own home”, which he chose to redeem on Saturday.

When the three of us get together, you could say that we enjoy a little drinky. Now this meal took a few hours to prepare so by the time we finished we were a little under the influence. Most of the feast was delicious although there were a few misses: the spicy cucumber salad from Fuschia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’ was strangely bland even though I’ve cooked it 5 times before and it’s always amazing; the tripe (we weren’t sure what to do with it really) and an attempt at getting creative with a bitter melon and black fungus. We blame the booze.

There were plenty of hits though – my mate and I make a damn good team in the kitchen and we’ve got some fine feasts under our belt like this and this. We made fish fragrant aubergines which ended up more like fish fragrant pork, fish and tofu hotpot, twice-cooked pork and the hot and numbing ‘dried’ beef. The meat is not actually dried but goes through a four stage cooking process: first it’s simmered in one piece then thinly sliced; next it’s marinated in a mixture of spring onion, ginger, shaoxing wine and salt before being deep fried, rendering it like strips of  jerky, with a bit more juiciness. Those slices are addictive, as you would expect bits of deep fried meat to be and you need to resist eating them all before the final stage of simmering with soy, ginger, spring onion and sugar until the liquid has reduced to the merest lick of syrup. It’s then dressed with the hot and numbing part – ground Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies before being sprinkled with coriander and sesame seeds. The pieces of meat have a very satisfying chew and leave a tantalising tingle on the lips.

A few hours, two bottles of champagne and a bottle of Albarino later and we went at that feast like hungry wolves. Noodles flew; hot pot broth splashed; peppercorns bounced across the floor. It must have been quite a sight. Between us we’d prepared nine dishes, had as much fun during the cooking as during the eating and made our friend happy. I call that a success.

You can see more photos from the feast on my Flickr.

Hot and Numbing Dried Beef

(from Sichuan Cookery by Fuschia Dunlop)

500g lean beef in 1 piece
Oil for deep frying, such as groundnut or vegetable oil

For simmering the beef
Small piece of cassia bark or cinnamon
1 star anise

For the marinade:
2tsp shaoxing wine
4 spring onions, white parts only
25g piece of ginger, unpeeled
1/2tsp salt

For the braising:
1 tablespoon sugar
1tablespoon dark soy
25g piece of ginger, unpeeled
3 spring onions, white parts only
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
1 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
1-2 teaspoons ground chillies/chilli flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Very small bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Put the beef in a large pan with the cassia bark and star anise, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the beef is cooked then remove and set aside. Reserve the cooking water. Slice the beef into 1cm slices along the grain, then slice across the grain into 1cm wide strips. Halve any long pieces so that all the strips are roughly the same size.

Crush the ginger and spring onions a bit with the side of a knife or heavy object then chop each into 3-4 pieces. Place in a bowl with the shaoxing wine and salt, add the beef and mix really well. leave for half an hour or more in the marinade.

Heat the oil for deep frying in a deep pan. Add the beef in small batches for about 4 minutes, until the pieces are reddish broan and crisp. Set each batch aside to drain on kitchen paper. Don’t worry if they stick together during frying, they should pull apart easily.

Heat 2tablespoons of oil in a wok, until smoking. Stir fry the ginger and spring onions for 30 seconds or until the oil smells fragrant. Add 500ml of the reserved beef cooking water plus the soy, sugar and salt. Add the beef and bring it to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the beef has absorbed almost all the liquid leaving a syrupy glaze coating the beef.

Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing. Arrange the beef on a serving plate and pour over the dressing then garnish with the coriander leaves and sesame seeds.