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Beef: The New Favorite

by Angela Chang


Summer Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(2) page(s): 17 and 18

Years ago beef was a luxury in the average Chinese kitchen because of its short supply and high cost. It was rarely seen on dinner tables when I was growing up in Taiwan during the fifties. Things have changed significantly since then. Nowadays, beef is just as common as other meats in Chinese households. More and more Chinese youngsters are influenced by western diets, putting pressure on moms to conform, and to cook them hamburgers and steaks. But for the older Chinese, traditions still prevail. In the hands of an experienced cook, there can indeed be a multitude of ways to prepare a delicious beef dish. In addition to various beef stir fries, we have very elaborate beef stews, beef cold cuts, aromatic beef dumplings, beef egg rolls, crispy or tender meatballs made of chopped or ground beef, and much more.

Stir-frying seems to be designed especially for beef since it cooks rather quickly. This method is a real saver of time, money, and calories. Imagine a chunk of sirloin steak that serves only one; that same steak cut into thin strips and stirred with a head of broccoli, also cut up, and now you have a dish that serves three or four.

The hearty flavor of beef goes well with almost every vegetable. The most popular accompanying vegetables for beef are usually the ones with strong flavors such as green peppers, scallions, or celery. Greens with refreshing taste such as asparagus, green beans, and snow peas are also good matches. One little used vegetable which gives beef a unique good taste is tender young ginger shoots.

Unlike pork, beef demands more care in stir-frying; otherwise you can end up with tough and tasteless meat. Many inexperienced cooks fail to meat the criteria for tenderness and smoothness when they cook beef because they lack the required knowledge to treat beef in the proper way. For satisfying results, remember these guidelines:
• Flank steak is the best choice if it is fresh; but if not available fresh, use other tender cuts such as sirloin or tenderloin. I often use fresh shin beef from a Chinese market for stir-frying, and the resulting dish is surprisingly tender and very flavorful, indeed!
• Cut against the grain for better texture. Allow the beef to absorb enough liquid (soy sauce, sherry, and a small amount of oil) during the marinade (30 minutes or longer). The purpose is to create a tender and juicy texture. Mixing continuously helps bring the desired results.
•For a smooth texture, mix in half-teaspoon baking soda. This is a very efficient tenderizer which has been widely used by many restaurants (but it is not sanctioned because nutrient availability is reduced). If you do not want to use baking soda, use one teaspoon of cooking oil and a small amount of egg white. This combination will also give beef a smooth texture and help it remain tender.

Apart from these special techniques, another important factor when cooking with beef is the sauce. A dish is usually named after the sauce in it. Besides soy sauce, the most popular seasonings for stir-fried beef are oyster sauce, fermented black bean sauce, and sha cha sauce. This last one is the most robust of all, it adds zest to just about any dish. (See letters to editor, page 9.)

Ground beef may receive less attention than whole beef in the average Chinese household, nevertheless, it stars in a few famous dim sum dishes such as Cantonese Steamed Beef Meatballs and Northern-style Pan Fried Beef Dumplings. In many cases, beef may be used the same way as ground pork if measures are taken to eliminate its strong taste and improve its texture. Some of the Chinese secrets for use with ground beef include:
•Use Sichuan Peppercorn Oil, minced ginger and scallion to combat any gamey or strong tastes.
•Mix in egg, cornstarch, and sesame oil for added smoothness.

Interestingly, Pan Fried Beef Dumplings, a famous beef snack made from ground beef, has a better taste than egg rolls. These dumplings are juicy and flavorful on the inside, aromatic and crusty on the outside. They are quite popular in Los Angeles but seldom seen on the East Coast.

One advantage of Chinese cooking is its capability of transforming uninteresting inexpensive cuts of meat into delicacies. A good example of this can be seen in Beef Stew Noodles, which is made from beef shin or brisket. Almost all Chinese people love this dish. When it is cooked to perfection, it tastes robust and incredibly delicious. Another famous beef shin dish is Five Spice Beef. It is succulent and aromatic, and the beef is usually cut into large slices and served as a first course at a banquet or as cold cuts during a regular meal.

Other unusual items such as beef tongue and beef tripe can also be prepared in the fashion of Five Spice Beef. For successful dishes with these items, first boil the meat in hot water (with wine and ginger root) until almost tender. Then cook it in a soy-based liquid with some or all of these items: star anise, a stick or two of cinnamon, diced orange peel, sugar (preferably brown rock sugar), ginger root, garlic, and chili bean paste until flavorful.
Skewered Beef with Sa Cha Sauce
1 and 1/2 pounds stewing beef
2 large green peppers
2 medium onions
Marinating sauce:
2 Tablespoons Sha Cha sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sherry
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 medium onion cut in wedges
6 slices ginger root
Wooden skewers
1. Rinse the beef and drain well then put it into the marinating sauce and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
2. Drain the beef and reserve the marinade.
3. Cut peppers and onions into cubes, their size to match the size of the beef cubes. Then put the vegetables in a bowl and pour in the reserved marinade and let stand for twenty to thirty minutes stirring them once or twice.
4. Put the beef and vegetables on skewers, about three pieces of meat and twice that many of vegetables, skewering them alternately or together, as you prefer.
5. Bake, broil or saute until the meat turns light brown and is cooked to your desired doneness. Serve hot.
Stir-fried Beef with Tomatoes
1/2 pound flank steak
4 Tablespoons oil
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 Tablespoon chopped scallions
1 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
Marinating sauce:
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dry sherry
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1. Cut beef into thin slices, and mix with the marinating sauce, and allow to stand for at least fifteen minutes.
2. Heat two Tablespoon oil until very hot and saute scallions until they are light brown. Add the tomatoes and while stirring, add the salt and sugar. Cook about two minutes until the tomatoes are barely limp.
3. Rinse and dry the wok or pan and heat the rest of the oil. Saute the garlic half a minute then fry the beef until no longer red. Return the tomato mixture to the pan, mix well, and cook one minute longer then remove to a serving platter.

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