Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hunan Beef

There are thousands of recipes for Hunan Beef out here on the InterWebs. But there is one by Ann Mendelson that does something out of the ordinary. Her recipe adds cumin to the mix, a spice rarely used in Chinese cooking.

For those of us in the United States, we were first introduced to the spice by Spanish and Portuguese immigrants (who fortunately got in before Donald builds his wall). Cumin is used extensively in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. Heck, it's now so ubiquitous that you'll find it in every taco you buy at Taco Bell.

When added to this beef dish from the Hunan province, it dramatically alters the flavor profile. The heat of the chiles and the bite of garlic are still there, but the cumin gives the recipe incredible depth and sophistication (which are attributes absent in all 2016 presidential candidates).

Hunan Beef is typically served with sticky rice, which helps to mitigate the heat (and there will be heat!). But you can keep it Paleo by serving it over stir-fried veggies. And while you could certainly use any kind of steak, I recommend boneless beef short ribs because of their huge, beefy flavor. This recipe serves four.

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry or vermouth
½ teaspoon salt
teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon potato starch or flour
12 ounces boneless beef short rib 
1 ¾ cups peanut oil
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 fresh red chilies (tien tsin or Thai red chiles), seeded and finely chopped
2 to 4 teaspoons dried chili flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. In a bowl, mix the wine, salt, soy sauces, potato starch or flour and one tablespoon water. Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices and add to marinade.
  2. In a wok or large non-stick pan, heat peanut oil over medium-high heat to about 275 degrees. Add beef and stir gently for two to three minutes, then remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain well.
  3. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of oil in wok. Over a high flame, add the ginger, garlic, fresh chilies, chili flakes and cumin and stir-fry briefly, until they are fragrant. Return beef to the wok and stir well, seasoning with salt to taste.
  4. When beef is sizzling and fragrant, add scallion greens and toss briefly. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil. Serve.

Pairing: For white wine lovers, choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It goes really well with the heat of this dish. Red wine lovers should opt for a big, fruity Zinfandel.

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