Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chinese Rediscovered: Dry-fried Szechuan Beef with Crispy Noodles

The devil came to me last night and asked what I wanted in exchange for my soul. I still can't believe I said pizza. Friggin' cravings. — Marc Ostroff

I finally found this recipe. It's only been about 17 years...
This is a recipe I’ve been craving for a very, very long time. I finally found something close on another blog in an entry dated 2006. Their recipe came from a cookbook called Chinese Cooking by Janet Johnson (JG Press). I can’t find any reference to that book still being in print.

I was craving this dish so badly because I haven’t had it since the mid-1990s. Dry-fried beef was one of the two dishes I remember so fondly from my time at NSCAD when we used to go to The Great Wall Restaurant on Granville Street. Several of us would to go for dinner occasionally when we had a free night. Ahh, student money...

This is my crispy fried rice. I chopped it coarsely and
added it for texture on the plate.
The restaurant has long since moved and I believe the chef who “owned” this recipe left their employment and took it with him when he left. He must have because they no longer offer it and haven’t for many a year.

The Great Wall used to serve their dish on crispy, deep-fried rice vermicelli with fluffy rice on the side. I was too lazy to cook both vermicelli and regular rice so that’s one departure. I’ve also departed from the recipe I found to make it closer to what I remember, but don’t worry, those departures were to its benefit for sure.

This recipe is very dry. That means no sauce. That’s fine because that's what it's supposed to be and it's delicious.

I talked about this Szechuan beef recipe HERE on a post about Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. I was bemoaning the fact this recipe was "lost" – but no more. This is so close to what I remember it’s pathetic.

There is one part of this recipe that I couldn't pull off – the deep-fried rice vermicelli. At the restaurant it was wonderful and puffy. That was due to it being deep fried like french fries. If you read my blog you know my aversion to pots of hot fat. I had to shallow fry mine in small batches. It was slightly different, but was still very good. When chopped up It added the crunchiness that was in the original.

There was also one flavour that was eluding me in my previous attempts at this, until recently. I discovered Szechuan peppercorns. There is nothing in the world like them. First, they’re not peppercorns. Second they’re not so much hot as "numbing," and third, they have an unmistakable floral aroma and taste.

If a recipe calls for this exotic ingredient and you don’t use them they will be missed. You can almost certainly get them at your local well-stocked Asian grocery. That’s where I purchased mine.

If you want to read more about Szechuan peppercorns and what I mean by "numbing" look HERE.

You really should try this recipe, not least because it took me over a decade and a half to find it. It pairs very well with Shrimp with Lobster Sauce for a 2-dish Chinese meal. The link is above.

Invite friends over, share the work, get a box of Chinese beer and have a dinner party!

Dry-fried Szechuan Beef with Crispy Noodles
Total time: about 50 minutes  |  Serves 4
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil 
1 lb lean beef 
1 medium carrot
1 large celery stalk
1 bunch green onions
4  garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1-1/2 tbsp Sambal Olek (hot chilli sauce)
1 tbsp sherry 
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
375 g rice vermicelli (the very thin kind)

Slice the beef into very thin strips about 3” long and 1/8 thick. Set aside. 

Cut the celery and carrot into matchstick-sized pieces. Set aside in a different bowl. Chop the green onions into 2” lengths and add to the vegetables.

Mince the ginger and garlic and set aside.

Cook the rice vermicelli according to the package instructions. Remove 1/4 of the vermicelli and rinse with cold water. Keep the other 3/4 in warm water, not hot.

Meanwhile heat the oil in a wok. When hot enough for water droplets to sizzle in the oil drop a little of the vermicelli in the oil. Let it cook until crisp and set aside on paper towel to drain. 

Continue with the rest of the 1/4 of the vermicelli. Chop into bite sized pieces, or crumble, and place in a bowl.

Drain off all the oil except for 2 tablespoons. Return to the heat. Add the beef in batches and cook until browned. As it is cooked set aside. Repeat until all the beef is done. 

Add the vegetables to the wok and cook until they begin to brown slightly. Then add the garlic, ginger, chilli flakes and Szechuan peppercorns. Cook for a further 2 minutes.

Add the beef back to the wok and mix well. Let cook to heat through.

Add the Sambal Olek, sherry, sugar and some salt. Toss well to coat.

To serve place some of the warm rice vermicelli on a plate, top with the crumbled crispy rice and then the beef.


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