I’ve been learning Mandarin for a while now. Because of my love for Chinese food I’ve planned to go there in 2009 so a few months back I started on the language knowing that a lack of knowledge of it will severely impair any time there. I’m not one for organised holidays so if I want to look after myself I need to be able to speak the lingo. From a Westerner’s point of view the language is fairly daunting mainly because it’s written in symbols and tone plays such an important part. Once you get beyond this though the grammar is actually really simple and, lacking the masses of verb conjugation you get with, say, Spanish, you can spend your time learning vocabulary. As such you find yourself learning loads, even if your pronunciation would leave any Chinese speaker completely unable to understand what you’re saying.
Getting to the reason why I brought my Mandarin learning up and that’s the name of this dish. In Mandarin (well pinyin anyway) the name of this dish is written shui zhu niu rou – water boiled beef – and it’s the first dish whose name I’ve actually understood in Chinese. If you’re looking for some plain tasting you couldn’t be further off the track though and so it tends to be translated into English as Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce. This dish is from Sichuan and typically for a lot of the dishes in the region it has lots of heat both from the chili and the Sichuan peppercorn. It’s from the same book the Mapo Dofu was, Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, and is perfect if you’ve made that recipe as it utilises the same chili bean paste you use for that.
Shui Zhu Niu Rou - Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce, for 2 people.
1 Head Celery
4 Spring Onions
8-10 Dried Chillies
400gr Rump Steak
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine
2 Teaspoons Sichuan Peppercorns
3 Tablespoons Chili Bean Paste
750ml Chicken Stock
2 Tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce
4 Tablespoons Cornflour Mixed With 4 Tablespoons of Water
- Chop the celery into 4cm by 1cm batons and cut the spring onions into similar length pieces.
- Slice the beef thinly against the grain and marinate in the rice wine, the cornflour and water mixture and a little salt.
- Heat some oil in a wok and add the chillies and the peppercorns frying until beginning to brown. When they start to colour remove to a plate. Once cool chop up into small pieces (see photo).
- Heat more oil and stir fry the celery and spring onions until starting to go translucent. Once it’s at this stage remove the vegetables to your serving bowl.
- Add the chili bean paste to the wok and fry till fragrant and the oil has taken on the red colour.
- Add the stock and soy and as soon as it’s boiling give the beef mixture a quick stir and pour it all into the wok. Separate the pieces of beef and as soon as the stocks started to thicken from the cornflour pour it all over the celery and spring onions.
- Quickly wash the wok then heat up again. Once hot add some oil, maybe 3 tablespoons, and add the chopped up chillies and peppercorns. Briefly fry then pour it, oil and all, over the top of your beef, it will spit a bit but that’s part of the fun.
Serve this dish with some boiled rice as there’s loads of liquid and the rice soaks it up beautifully. This dish is spicy but no over the top and large amount of celery gives it a very earthy quality.