From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Colin the Hun..or Hunan? (in the style of cooking)


Kim just asked me "What are you going to blog about today? You didn't make anything interesting for dinner last night..."

After a semi-offended cough of disbelief, I replied "There is nothing that says that my blog entries have to be about what I have cooked the previous night."  (And plus, who says that I am the one that has to cook something interesting every night?) oh yeah, everyone did...

Thankfully, I am correct, although writing about the previous night's successes (or failures) is always a fun element of writing. Sadly, we only did ravioli with a 3 cheese sauce, as I felt that I simply could not cook a delicious Chinese foood meal 3 nights in a row. (Wait... it was only 2 nights in a row, because Monday's meal, while authentic Broccoli Beef, was not that good, because I used the wrong cut of beef.)

I am devising, in my head, a way to tackle the next region of flavors from China and get it on the next shopping list, and my primary goal is to come up with, or find, a recipe that the entire family will like.  The Hunan Cuisine is a flavor I know my family and many friends love, but they are not aware of the origin of the flavors that assault their senses. 

Hunan Style Cuisine

64 million residents of China call the Hunan province their home.  As one of the melting pots of the country, it receives cooking influences from far and wide. The agricultural areas produce rich harvests, resulting in additional variety. Credit must be given to one of the largest freshwater lakes in China, Lake Dongting,  which has also influenced the cuisine.  (We can't call it "Seafood" as the origin is a lake, but does "Lakefood" sound right?)  As one of the 8 major regions and cuisines of China, it is well known for its hot, spicy flavor, fresh aromas and deep colors.
All these ingredients from which to choose... So, it's no simple matter for Chinese chefs to simply throw some meat and vegetables into a stir fry and make a meal. Instead, the food in Hunan is prepared with great care, often taking hours to get the results just right.  There are many comparisons to Hunan Cuisine and that of the Szechuan province, but while the main similarity is the heat that the various spices add to the food, there are marked differences in the origins of the fire.  Known for its liberal use of chilli peppers, shallots and garlic, the Hunan cuisine is known for presenting a dry heat or purely hot, as opposed to the better known Szechuan cuisine,which is known for its distinctive (hot and numbing) seasoning, Szechuan cuisine frequently utilizes Szechuan peppercorns along with chilies which are often dried, and utilizes more dried or preserved ingredients and condiments. Hunan Cuisine, on the other hand, is often spicier by pure chili content, contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients, tends to be oilier, and is said to be purer and simpler in taste.  Another characteristic distinguishing Hunan cuisine from Szechuan cuisine is that, in general, Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes much more frequently.

Orange beef, a representative native dish and a local favorite, is a perfect example of this elaborate style. Made from beef marinated overnight in a mixture of egg whites, wine and white pepper, Hunan Orange Beef is world famous for its spicy, flavorful and delightful presentation, Hunan cooking at its peak.

Also typical of Hunan cuisine is the rich, strong spice that makes the dishes here hot, hot, hot. Hunan chefs use chiles liberally. With meals often containing ample slices of fresh chile peppers (and with skin and seeds thrown in to boot), be prepared for a mouth-watering, tear-producing nuclear event. A word to the wise: Taste your meal before automatically throwing on more sauce, such as the ever-present Chili Garlic Sauce, or even Sriracha, as you may be surprised by the amount of heat that is produced.  (And trying to chase the heat away with beer? not so much, as the oils produced by the chilis repel water.)
As with many Chinese dishes, Hunan style cuisine often makes use of rice. Not true everywhere in China, by the way. Mandarin cuisine relies much more on wheat, for example. But as one of China's largest beef and pork producers, meat is commonly part of the menu, as well.

Of course, because of the large lake that is so prominent a part of the province, seafood (or, more accurately, lake food) is often included, too. Hunan is renowned for its shellfish, which diners will often find dressed with shallots and garlic.

Hunan chefs love to simmer and fry chicken, duck and other fowl. Making ample use of oils is also a provincial custom. Meats are often seared before being simmered or fried, which gives them a crispness unique to this region of China.

Steaming and stewing are also frequently employed techniques. Both allow the meat to exude juices that blend with added chile-based spices, which then wend their way back on and into the meat. This makes for a delicious and healthy meal. Using smoked and cured pork is a regional specialty. That produces results that is often darker than those of its Szechuan neighbors.  One of my personal favorites that I can get at the drop of a hat, and only a 10 minute drive, are the Spare Ribs from Golden Wok, which are tiny pork ribs steamed in Chi Hou and a savory black bean sauce. 

As usual, I welcome all readers to feel free to contribute their favorite Hunan Style Cuisine recipes as we work to tasting the Perfect Meal.  Until then, Good Eating, Friends...

Colin's Hunan Spicy Orange Beef

Made with dried orange peel, this spicy and flavorful dish originates from the Hunan region. Best Practice: deep-fry the beef twice if desired to make it extra crispy.

Serves 3 - 4.

•3/4 pound flank steak

•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1 egg white
•1 ounce cornstarch slurry

•2 tablespoons water or low sodium chicken broth
•2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
•1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
•3 teaspoons Tomato Paste
(Ketchup will suffice if you don't have any tomato paste lying around the house)
 •sesame oil
•1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, or to taste
•1 fresh orange, including the peel
•1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

•2 slices ginger
•2 cloves garlic
•2 green onions
•2 medium celery ribs
•Oil for deep-frying and stir-frying
•6 dried red chili peppers


Cut the flank steak across the grain into thin strips. Add the salt, egg white and cornstarch. Marinate the beef in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Complete the next three steps while the beef is marinating.

To prepare the sauce, in a small bowl combine the water or chicken broth, dark soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, ketchup, sesame oil and white pepper. Squeeze the juice from the orange and add to the sauce, along with the sugar. Set aside.

Remove all white rind from the orange peel. Cut the peel into thin strips. Peel and mince the ginger and garlic. Wash the green onions and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. String the celery and cut into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal.

Heat the wok over high heat. Add oil for deep-frying and heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When the oil is ready, add the beef. Deep-fry on both sides until it changes color and is nearly cooked. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Add the celery and submerge briefly in the hot oil (the celery should not be in the hot oil for more than a few seconds). Remove and drain on paper towels.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons oil from the wok. Add the dried chili peppers and the orange peel. Stir-fry briefly until the chilies darken, then add the minced ginger and garlic. Stir-fry briefly until aromatic. Stir in the green onion.

Push the vegetables up to the side of the wok. Add the sauce in the middle. Add the beef back into the pan. Heat through and serve hot.
*this picture came from an old highschool friend - Steven Chen, with whom I spent many hours playing the violin as a member of the San Francisco Youth Symphony.

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