sichuan food is something that i miss most from my time in china. the spice from thousands of chillis and the numbness from sichuan pepper corns are warming, fragrant and wildly addictive and even though there are some places that serve sichuan food in the uk, the level of spice just doesn’t come close.
2 dishes that i loved when i was in china are 水煮鱼 shui zhu yu (fish) and also 水煮牛肉 shui zhu niu roy (beef). both dishes are basically meat and fish boiled in a chilli and pepper corn infused broth – perfect winter food.
scouring the internet for recipes and ideas of what to cook i came across various recipes on the chinese search engine baidu.com and i was surprised just how simple the beef version is to make. so i had to give it a go. some chinese friends were doubtful that i could replicate the authenticity of the dish and this made me all the more determined.
the recipe is below and i am so pleased that this was both easy to make and very very authentic in taste.
- 2 stalks of celery sliced into long match sticks
- 4 spring onions or 1 leek roughly chopped
- 500g flank steak, thinly sliced again into strips
- 1 tablespoon shoa xing rice wine
- 5 tablespoons ground nut oil, plus more if needed – it heats to a very high temperature which is perfect for chinese cooking
- 8 to 10 dried red chillis – i used about 15
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn – again i used about 4 tsp
- 3 tablespoons chili bean paste – this is made by amoy and can be bought in a jar at asian supermarkets
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce – for colouring
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
you will want to cook this in a well ventilated room as sichuan cooking involves lots of hot oil and chillis and this can create a lot of smoke and steam which can irritate breathing and skin. open windows wide while you cook this and for a little while afterwards.
marinade the beef strips in the rice wine and leave to tenderise for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare other ingredients.
slice the celery and the green onion/ leek and leave to one side.
in a wok heat 3tbs of oil until it starts to smoke. add the chillies and sichuan peppercorns and stir continuously. the flavours and strong scents will be released and once the chills puff up and start to blister remove from the wok and place in a small dish for later. once they cool down, if you are aiming for very spicy then chop the chills otherwise leave them whole and the dish won’t be so hot.
return the wok to the cooker and heat again and add more oil if needed. once smoking throw in the green onions/leek and the celery and stir. as the onions wilt a little remove the vegetables from the heat and place them on a serving dish.
heat the wok again and when smoking add the chilli paste and the dark soy and mix vigorously to make sure that the paste doesn’t burn. after a few minutes pour in the chicken stock and mix well. bring this all to the boil and then lower the heat so that the liquid gently simmers.
add the beef to the mixture and mix around until the beef starts to turn colour and indicate that it is cooking well. pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir for a few minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. (its important to mix the corn starch in water before adding to the soup otherwise the flour will clump together and not thicken the soup.)
at the last minute throw the chopped/not chopped chillis and peppercorns into the wok and mix through the soup.
pour the entire mixture over the green onions and celery and serve quickly.
this dish is normally served as part of a group of shared dishes in a chinese meal but i simply ate this with some steamed veggies and a bowl of steamed rice.
give this a go if, like me, you are into spicy food and please let me know how you get on.