It is not entirely true – rillettes quesadillas notwithstanding – that left to my own devices, and without the restraining influence of others to cook for, and from whom to receive occasional censure, I will just cover things in cheese. Not entirely. Sometimes I cover things in chillies. It is again, not entirelytrue that but for the arch glances, and looks of blank, uncomprehending, moral terror, I would churn out endless portions of that pork with tuna sauce contrivance – a dish unique in receiving unanimous and eternal vetoes from all of my housemates. Pork in tuna sauce* is a lot of fuss to make; and it is possible to run out of cheese.
That just leaves chillies, and today’s hideous gastro-manchild indulgence was a more productive experiment than pulping up tuna, capers, anchovies, and egg yolks, then trying to pass it off as an Italian “Classic.”** It has also the distinction of being an experiment which might bear repeating. To wit: crispy chilli beef, shoddy Chinese takeaway style. The not-particularly-shoddy takeaway I had in mind was the gloriously named “Cook For You” (rendered, in my head, as a belligerent imperative: cleaver-waving, liminally racist caricature shouting.) which can be found on Cambridge’s unlovely Norfolk Street. They make the dish as an adhesive, fiestily piquant mass of slightly beef-ish cinders. It’s moreish, crunchy, and doled out in portions just under the fatal dose, for just under a fiver. I’m addicted. I am also emphatically not making a forty minute round trip in driving sleet, probably to find the place closed. No, experimentation it was to be, and a rousing success it turned out.
There’s probably finesse involved in doing this well, but a passable version is childishly simple. And I was, in any case, more interested in delivering something punchily spicy-sweet-crunchy. There is probably also a recipe somewhere in the house, now I think about it. But fumbling around was more fun, and a recipe would most likely have cautioned against the sort of quantity of chilli I had in mind. Tenderised, finely-shredded beef, possibly marinated, coated in cornflour and fried infernally hot until nigh-unappetisingly crispy; that’s the essence of it. The tail end of the stewing beef seemed to work, once it had been soundly beaten, and cut into very thin slices. I left it sitting in chilli powder, and a little lime juice which – whilst not actually counterproductive – didn’t really seem to help, and can probably be ignored. The slivers were tossed around in well-seasoned cornflour (chilli powder and black pepper, mostly) until thoroughly coated, and fried in small batches then kept warm in a low oven.
Next, to prepare the sauce. Well, goo. To prepare the goo. I’ve no idea of the quantities, but it was mostly honey, light soy, vinegar, and a spot of plum sauce on probably-redundant impulse. The final quantity was perhaps 100ml, maybe slightly more, and in hindsight it would accommodate some chilli sauce. In fact, if by the end there’s a stage where I haven’t added chilli, add some chilli.
So far, the preparation hasn’t taken very long, six or seven minutes of brutal frying per batch of beef, I would have thought, and the final stage is equally rapid. Soften some thinly sliced onion in oil, then crank up the heat and stir-fry briefly, adding ungodly quantities of similarly thin-sliced red chilli, garlic, and ginger. Toss the beef back in, then the liquid, letting it cook down to little more than a sticky coating. Fucking fantastic. Add chilli.
*Silver Spoon, pp 770. And don’t listen to these heathens, it’s divine.
** Though it is. Really, it is. Just an almost unmodified medieval one.