Sichuan Red-Cooked Beef (紅燒牛肉)
I have discussed the Chinese cookery technique known as 紅燒, or ‘red-cooking’ in many previous posts, and have most notably illustrated it in my Red-Cooked Pork Hocks recipe. That particular example of red-cookery used a pre-prepared Master Sauce as the braising medium, but here the soy sauce enriched stewing medium will be an ad hoc preparation.
The name ‘Sichuan Red-Cooked Beef’, like the Western ‘Beef Stew’, is fairly generic, meaning that as long as you are stewing beef, you have a fair latitude as far as additional ingredients are concerned. This rendition follows no specific recipe, but it does cleave relatively closely to a basic Sichuan preparation both in terms of the aromatics (except as discussed a little further on) and the vegetables. The one main departure I have madeto my 紅燒牛肉 is that I have included potato in addition to Daikon and Carrot. Possibly, this is now becoming a more mainstream ingredient in China these days, but, in any event, I very much like the addition for this sort of dish.
In Sichuan cookery, the seasonings in red-cooked dishes are a bit different than in Cantonese cookery, and Sichuan Peppercorns and additional aromatic spices are frequently used. In addition the red-color imparted by the Soy Sauce is augmented with the use of or Chili Bean Paste, or Doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱) which also adds a lovely fire to the finished dish.
Red-cooked dishes are also 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, here I use a western yellow onion known, somewhat appropriately in China as 洋蔥, or ‘foreign onion’.
The Basic Method for 紅燒牛肉
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 your 紅燒牛肉 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.
Your Recipe Card:
Sichuan Red-Cooked Beef (紅燒牛肉)
- 1 lb. 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 quality Chinese Chicken Stock;
- 1 tsp. 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 Shaoxing Wine;
- ¼ cup Soy Sauce;
- 3 tbsp. Cornstarch optional.
- Blanch the beef for about a minute or so in boiling salted water then drain and rinse well.
- Fry the cumin seeds in a couple of tablespoons of oil over moderate heat, then stir in the garlic, ginger, and onion, and sauté until the onion is soft.
- Add the sugar, pepper oil, Chili Bean paste, and wine, and stir until a smooth sauce forms.
- Add the meat and potato chunks and sufficient stock to cover. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Add the carrot and daikon and continue to simmer until all the vegetables are tender.
- If desired, thicken the sauce over high heat with the cornstarch mixed with sufficient water to make a slurry.
- Serve immediately while hot, or chill overnight to allow the flavors to marry.