A combination of going out for Chinese on Friday, and some stubbornly-tough stewing steak cluttering up the fridge left me mulling over tenderizing techniques. Stir fried beef in restaurant Chinese food often seems oddly tender given a taste that implies one of the cheaper, tougher cuts. I was curious.
A little leafing through McGee, and some idle Googling suggest there’s little enough mystery. A blend of acidic marinades, beating the fuck out of it, cutting across the grain, and occasional freezing or additives seem to be largely responsible. Nonetheless, it seemed worth a go.
Acidic marinades break down the meat tissue, and McGee pointed me to ginger as another source of chemical assault. Cornflour seems hotly debated. Half the internet is convinced it’s just for thickening, the other that it has a softening effect. McGee is oddly silent on the subject, and it turns out I don’t own a Chinese cookbook with which to cross-reference. This is a troubling oversight.
In any case, I decided to just do everything I could think of and see what happened; then add garlic.
- Tough-ish beef from the back of the fridge
- An onion
- Pak choi
- Cider vinegar (or any other pale kind, I guess)
- Soy sauce
- Cornflour (about 1tsp, maybe slightly more)
- Sichuan pepper
- Black pepper
Smack the beef about a bit to tenderize, and then cut it onto thin slivers, against the garin of the tissue fibre.
To make the marinade, grind up some black and Sichuan pepper in a pestle and mortar, then pound in a thick slice of ginger and a clove of garlic. Mix this all up with the cornflour, some vinegar and a little soy. Leave the meat sitting in the marinade for a few hours. Four seemed to work.
Quarter the onions, slice the chilli, and set them frying on a moderate heat until the onion starts to colour and soften. Slice some more garlic and add it to the onions, and let that soften too. Remove the fried veg, and start on the pak choi.
You could fry this in with the onions, but I prefer the evenness of texture you get if you flash steam it. So I just stuck it in a basket steamer for about 3 minutes, and then put it to one side. Either way, cook until the leaves are wilted and the stalk only just softening, then put it aside with the onions.
Crank up the heat in the frying pan, and throw in the beef and marinade. This wants to fry quick and hot, and keep moving. I’d say three or four minutes of serious heat would do it. perhaps a little more. After that, reduce the heat slightly, and stir the reserved onions, chilli, and pak choi back through. The moisture on the pak choi ought to get any cornflour/marinade gunk off the pan sides, but a slug of soy at this point doesn’t hurt.
Make sure it’s all tossed together, and serve. You’re done. It probably takes less than ten minutes. Rice or noodles might work, or another vegetable side. But personally I just like gorging myself on spicy wilted greens.
And the beef? Well, it had softened quite a bit, and the ginger flavour had definitely taken hold. The garlic, less so, and the sichuan was a nice structuring back-note, with its tingly/numb spice vibe enhancing the whole thing. The vinegar could have been overpowering, but faded out. I suspect the sweetness of the onions does a lot to cut through there. A win, on balance, and one I’d certainly repeat.