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Spicy Beef Slices with Tangerine Peel

I just purchased a copy of Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuschia Dunlop. It came very highly recommended, and rumor has it that this is the best text on Sichuan cooking available in English today. I’m very excited and looking forward to trying out a whole lot of Dunlop’s recipes.

For my first attempt at one of the recipes from this book, we made spicy beef slices with tangerine peel for dinner. Our kitchen has never smelled so thrillingly similar to a Chinatown restaurant before.

The flavor is rich, hot and fruity and almost floral (in a meaty sort of way), and the first deep frying of the beef looked like it added a wonderful textural component. The Sichuan peppers actually help with the heat, because the slight tingly numbness makes it easier for me to handle more than I otherwise could. I would definitely make this again, with the changes described below.

I am posting about this not-yet-perfected recipe now to let you share in my excitement, and to show how the process of adapting recipes tends to begin around these here parts.

A note to anyone new to Sichuan cooking: I know the idea of buying a whole set of ingredients for a new cuisine can be intimidating. They may be hard to find, and developing a thorough pantry can get expensive. Let me reassure you, developing a Sichuanese pantry is not actually all that pricy or difficult after all.

I went to the first Chinatown supermarket that came to mind (the one on the corner of Elizabeth and Hester). Armed only with a handwritten shopping list and a digital camera containing photos of the kanji, and spending a total of $18.04, I was able to purchase almost everything I need to stock up on right now to make a lot of the recipes I want to try out from the book.

Spicy Beef Slices with Tangerine Peel
1 lb. lean beef
Oil for frying (I used corn oil; peanut oil is more traditional)
For the marinade
1 1/2″ piece fresh ginger
1 scallion
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (I used 2 tbsp)
For the sauce
3/8 C dried tangerine peel
A handful of dried Sichuanese chiles (I would use a child’s hand instead of a man’s, next time)
2 tsp Sichuan peppers
1 C chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
For drizzling at the end
1 tsp sesame oil
Salt to taste

Set the tangerine peel to soak in enough cold water to cover it. If you start it soaking right before you run out to get your meat, it should be just enough time.

(I am told that if you dry your own tangerine peel instead of using the store-bought kind, it is more flavorful, more fragrant, and more brightly colored. Me, I’m going to start drying lime peels so I can make a lime version of this dish next.)

Cut the beef across the grain into equal-size pieces, about 2 1/2″ square and 1/8″ thick. Crush the ginger and scallion, then chop. Put the beef in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients and let sit for about half an hour.

Cut the chiles in half (if you are using the short kind) or into 1 1/2″ sections (if the long kind) and discard the seeds.

Heat oil for deep-frying to 325º-375º. Add 2 tbsp oil to the beef to help separate the pieces. Deep fry for just a minute or two, or until done. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Reheat the oil and deep fry again until crispy. Discard the rest of the marinade.

(Next time, we intend to deep fry the beef only once, not twice. We found that it looked perfect after the first dip, cooked and juicy and just fried enough to hold the moisture in, but after the second dip, the beef became a bit too crispy and tough for both our tastes.)

With just 1/3 C cooking oil in the wok, set it over a medium flame and add the chiles and the Sichuan peppers, stir-frying for 10-20 seconds until fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn. Add the tangerine peel (reserve the drained steeping liquid) and stir-fry for until you can smell it fairly strongly, too.

(Dave wants to strain the oil at this point next time, or perhaps make flavored oil in advance, because he found it difficult to pick and eat around the Sichuan peppers in particular. They can be distractingly numbing instead of pleasantly tingly if you chew on them too long, it’s true. I didn’t mind picking around them, but then, I also delight in picking the flesh from whole bony fish.)

Add the beef and the rest of the sauce ingredients, including the reserved tangerine peel steeping liquid, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until most of the liquids have evaporated. The sauce will be thick and oily.

Drizzle on the sesame oil, and add extra salt to taste.

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4 Responses to “Spicy Beef Slices with Tangerine Peel”

  1. novalis says:

    Holy fuck, this was good. I was also thinking maybe we’ll just grind the sichuan peppers instead.

  2. tw says:

    Dunlop’s book really is the best one out there. Light years ahead of anything else I’ve seen.

    The other really good book on Chinese cooking is almost 20 years old now – I forget the exact permutation of words in the title, but it’s by Barbara Tropp.

  3. Danielle says:

    novalis – Well, I was skeptical of this plan, but then Young’s book okayed it. We can give it a try.

    tw – I looked, and a bunch of her books look good. Any hint of which one is the one to buy?

    I also recently bought Breath of the Wok by Grace Young, and if anything, I think it is even better and more useful than the Dunlop book.

  4. [...] Main Courses: Meat Crypto-Jewish Brazilian Yellow Stew Finnish Meatballs with Squid Ink Pasta Hortobágyi Palacsintak (Pancakes Stuffed with Meat Stew) Kabocha Beef Tagine with Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon Lamb Tagine with Apricots, Dates, and Yams Lamb Tagine with Pearl Onions, Dates, and Sugar Snap Peas Malaysian Beef Curry with Thick Onion Sauce (Daging Nasi Kandar) Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce and Baby Back Ribs Spicy Beef Slices with Tangerine Peel Stewed Garlicky Black Bean Spare Ribs Stir-Fried String Beans with Pork and Pork Töltött Káposzta (Stuffed Cabbage) [...]

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