Sichuan Red-Cooked Beef (紅燒牛肉)
I have made mention of the Chinese cookery technique known as 紅燒, or ‘red-cooking’ in previous posts, and have even illustrated it in my Red-Cooked Pork Hocks recipe. That particular dish was more in keeping with the Southern and Eastern interpretations of the idea in which meats are braised in a seasoned liquid (basically a Master Sauce) and given a reddish color from the included soy sauce and, in some cases, from caramelized sugar.
In Sichuanese cookery, the seasonings are a bit different (often including Sichuan Peppercorns and additional aromatic spices) and the red-color is augmented with the use of 辣豆瓣酱, or Chili Bean Paste. Today’s dish does not follow any particular recipe (and for an excellent example of a traditional version see Fuchsia Dunlop’s rendering in Land of Plenty) but it does represent the basic idea…
My dish today will depart from tradition in a few ways… First, in addition to carrot and daikon, which are pretty common root vegetable additions to Sichuan style red-braised beef preparations, I will be adding potato. In the past, I have served this dish over rice, or with noodles, but I think the potato will help make a nice ‘one-pot’ meal without altering the character of the basic dish.
Secondly, red-cooked dishes are often seasoned with what I call ‘sweet aromatic’ spices. Star Anise and Cinnamon are often used, and the Sichuan varieties frequently employ Fennel Seed, Galanga and Black Cardamom. Unfortunately, I do not care for Star Anise and I have also found that I don’t much like daikon when it is cooked in the presence of the sweeter spices. Accordingly, beyond the chili, and some Sichuan Peppercorn Oil, I am replacing the other more commonly used spices with Cumin. Cumin is not unknown in China (and does appear in Sichuan cookery) but it is more typically found in the far western regions of the country. Still, I think it will work nicely here.
Lastly, rather than scallion or leek, I am going to use a western yellow onion known, somewhat appropriately in China as 洋蔥, or ‘foreign onion’.
- 1lb. Beef, cut into bite-size chunks;
- 1lb. Beef, cut into bite-size chunks;
- 1 to 1 ½ cups Daikon, cut into small, irregular chunks;
- 1 to 1 ½ cups Carrot, cut into small, irregular chunks;
- 1 cup chopped Onion;
- 2 – 3 small Potatoes, cut into large chunks;
- 2 – 3 cups good Chicken Stock;
- 1 tbsp. Cumin Seed;
- 1 tbsp. minced Garlic;
- 1 tbsp. minced Ginger;
- 4 tbsp. Sichuan Chili Bean Paste;
- 1 tbsp. Sichuan Pepper Oil;
- 2 tbsp. Sugar;
- ¼ cup Shoaxing Wine;
- ¼ cup Soy Sauce;
- 3 tbsp. Cornstarch (optional).
First, blanch the beef for about a minute or so in boiling salted water then drain and rinse well. In Chinese cookery, blood or a taste of blood is not much appreciated and this step ‘cleans’ the meat. You may omit it if you wish.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a pot over moderate heat and add the cumin seeds. When they give off their aroma, stir in the garlic and ginger followed by the onion. Sauté until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the sugar, pepper oil, Chili Bean paste and wine. Stir until a smooth sauce forms and the aroma fills the kitchen.
Now add the meat and potato chunks and sufficient stock to cover. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes or so.
Add the carrot and daikon and continue to simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Turn up the heat to a moderate bubble and then, if you wish, thicken the sauce with the cornstarch mixed with sufficient water to make a slurry.
At this point, you could serve the meal immediately but the dish will be much improved if you transfer it to a casserole type dish and leave to cool and mature overnight in the fridge. When you are ready, reheat gently in the oven and serve.
For those wishing to try this recipe, I would note a few caveats: First, the brand of Sichuan Chili paste I used was exceedingly salty and had some very tough bits of chili skin so you may wish to pick your brand very carefully. Secondly, the cumin taste here was very assertive and you may wish to consider reducing the amount a little.
Beyond this, however, this was one of my best renditions of this sort of dish and my wife and I very much enjoyed it…