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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Where's the Beef?

So after an entire day of Eleyna  pondering her options for dinner yesterday, we decided to just wing it and go out.  First choice?  Freddy's Custard.  Not a personal favorite of mine, but why not.  It was going to be a rare moment for some valuable Father-Daughter bonding, and if she wanted to go there, then so be it.  While driving north up Interstate 35, we saw Buffalo Wild Wings, and Eleyna perked up.  "Can we go there?" 

"Do you want to?"  Her excited grin was enough to convince me to swerve across 3 lanes of traffic and catch the last exit before having to do the turnaround.  We found parking about a mile away (okay, maybe it wasn't that far...) and made it into the restaurant.  We were promply seated by a smiling hostess, and that was where the positive elements of the visit ended.  After waiting 7 minutes to be greeted, and after having fully perused the menu, I said, "We should have gone to Genghis Grill."

Eleyna looked at me in surprise and said,"Can we?" At my nod, she said, "What do we do, just get up and go?"  And we did.

Genghis Grill ended up being the visit we expected, with Eleyna creating a teriyaki chicken bowl served on their fried rice (which is one of the worst I have ever tasted) and then polishing off dessert while I plowed through my bowl.  I built mine with the ever-present chicken, beef, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, beansprouts, tomatoes and garlic.  It was DIY mastery.  In a perfect world, the beef would have been shredded, and while Genghis Grill does offer a sliced beef, it is not as flavorful as their marinated stew meat.

I remember just what a rarity eating beef at home was.  Mom always used to make us Chinese food with seafood or chicken.  While I never complained, probably because I did not really know better, I often wonder what marvelous creation would have come to fruition had she made a beef recipe.  I asked her once, many years ago, why we did few recipes utilizing beef, and the response I got made perfect sense.

Years ago beef was a luxury in the average Chinese kitchen because of its short supply and high cost, and Mom wanted to make sure that we understood the significance of that kind of scenario.  As a result, it was rarely seen on dinner tables when I was growing up.  Thankfully, 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 a crunch and 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 try to find flank steak as often as possible 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.  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.
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.  (This recollection brings to mind the gross potstickers I had at Asian Buffet a couple of days ago, and in their defense, I will allow myself to believe that they were TRYING to replicate that recipe.)  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 Szechuan 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, when made properly, are a tasty beef snack made from ground beef, have a better taste than egg rolls. These dumplings are juicy and flavorful on the inside, aromatic and crusty on the outside.
One advantage of Chinese cooking is that everybody, even the novice cook, can discover the ability to transform 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.

While I am bound to the flavor profiles that the family enjoys when cooking a meal, I do enjoy the ability to throw a meal together and call it my own.  As long as it is tasty and the kids eat it, I consider it a success.  So now, comes the question:  What is for dinner tonight?

Until then, Good Eating, Friends...

Tomato Beef

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.  Remove and set aside.

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.  Serve with steamed rice.

Genghis Grill, The Mongolian Stir Fry on Urbanspoon

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