Dry-Fried Beef

Ganshao Niurousi

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: UniqueMeal: Easy, Made in Advance

    This is one of the most famous Szechwanese dishes of all, and one of the few that actually require beef. We were first introduced to it by an ancient Chinese bookseller in Hong Kong who took us out to lunch at a marvelously old-fashioned Szechwanese restaurant that looked as shabby and worn as some of the secondhand books he was selling. Yellowing calligraphy covered the walls, and the waiters, genuine antiques themselves, treated the patrons with stylized irreverence and called out the dishes in the traditional manner reminiscent of Chinese opera. The whole meal, with its strong overtones of another era, remains unforgettable to this day. Somehow it seemed especially appropriate to receive our introduction to Dry-Fried Beef in such a place, for it is a dish totally unlike any other in flavor and texture.

    All too often, American Chinese restaurants produce what they call a Szechwanese Dry-Fried Beef covered with vegetables and swimming in gravy. Nothing could be farther from the genuine article, for this is a dish where dry really means dry. In a properly prepared Dry-Fried Beef, like Mrs. Chiang’s, everything has been cooked for so long that the meat has literally dried out and has become hard and crunchy. The shredded carrots and celery that cooked with the meat have all but melted away, leaving behind a few soft threads and a deep, savory flavor. The entire dish is transcendently perfumed with huajiao, or Szechwan pepper.

    According to Mrs. Chiang, the beef should cook, or rather dry out, over the tiniest possible flame for several hours. The procedure can be somewhat abbreviated by using a higher flame, but that requires more attention to keep the meat from burning. Although time consuming, this is a good dish for a dinner party; it can be made in advance and reheated quickly just before serving. As you plan your menu, take into account the fact that as the beef cooks, it shrinks; you will end up with about half the volume of food you had in the beginning.

    Method

    Preparation

    1 pound beef, preferably a very lean cut like top or bottom round Slice the beef into very thin slivers, about 3 inches long and ¼ inch wide. (It is easier to cut meat into little shreds if you first put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes, until it has stiffened slightly but is not yet frozen.)
    2 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop one of them, both green part and white, into 1-inch lengths. Cut the other scallion into very fine slivers, about 2 inches long.

    ½-inch piece fresh ginger

    (beef)

    (ginger)

    (scallion lengths)

    ½ teaspoon granulated sugar

    3 tablespoons soy sauce

    1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry

    1 teaspoon sesame oil

    ½ teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

    Peel the ginger and slice it into shreds, the size of a wooden matchstick.

    Put the beef shreds on a plate with the ginger and the scallion that has been cut into 1-inch lengths. Then add the sugar, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, and ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns. Combine very thoroughly, so every piece of the meat is coated with the marinade. Set the beef mixture aside and let it stand for about 30 minutes.

    3 carrots

    1 teaspoon salt

    Peel the carrots and slice them into shreds about the same size as the meat. Put them in a bowl, add the salt, and mix thoroughly. Let the carrot shreds stand in the salt for about 15 minutes, then pour the brine off.

    4 stalks celery

    ½ teaspoon salt

    Slice the celery into slivers the same size as the carrots. Put the celery shreds into yet another bowl; add the salt, mix, and let stand for about 5 minutes. Pour the brine off.
    5 dried red peppers Slice each dried red pepper lengthwise into 3 or 4 strips. (Removing the seeds from the inside of the peppers will make the dish somewhat less hot.)

    Cooking

    1-½ tablespoons peanut oil Heat your wok or pan over a fairly high flame for about 15 seconds, then pour in the oil. It will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
    (carrots) When the oil is ready, lower the heat slightly and add the carrot shreds. Stir-fry the carrots over a medium flame for about 1 minute, using your cooking shovel or spoon in a continuous scooping motion to toss the carrot shreds around in the pan so every bit is exposed to the hot oil.
    (celery)

    Now add the shredded celery. Continue to cook the carrots and celery, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes. When the carrot and celery shreds are slightly cooked but still crunchy, remove them from the pan and set them aside.

    Clean out the pan by wiping it out with a paper towel.

    (beef mixture) When you are ready to cook, carefully remove all the scallions from the beef mixture.

    1-½ tablespoons peanut oil

    (red peppers)

    (beef mixture)

    Reheat the pan and pour in the fresh peanut oil. When the oil is hot, add the sliced dried red peppers and the beef mixture. Stir-fry everything together over very high heat, using your cooking shovel or spoon to scoop the ingredients from the sides of the pan and then stir them around in the middle. Continue cooking the beef shreds in this way until all the liquid in which they were marinated has completely evaporated; this may take up to 10 minutes.

    Lower the heat and continue to cook the meat shreds for about 30 seconds more, until they become rather dry.

    (carrots and celery) Now add the partially cooked carrots and celery and stir-fry them, together with the beef, for another 30 seconds.
    (scallion slivers)

    Reduce the heat until the flame is barely flickering (or in the case of an electric stove, adjust the burner to the lowest setting or transfer to another burner set to low). Add the scallion slivers, mix them thoroughly, and continue cooking the meat and vegetable shreds together, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes, until the mixture has become quite dry and the beef has shrunk and turned dark brown. (Twenty minutes is the bare minimum for this dish; if you have the time and the patience, you can let it cook for up to 1 hour. The longer the meat cooks, the darker, drier, and crisper it becomes.)

    At this point, you can set the whole pan of meat shreds aside for several hours. The beef should be so thoroughly desiccated that a few hours’ rest will not affect it. (The only problem is that it tastes so good it will be hard to refrain from nibbling at it!)

    1 teaspoon sesame oil Just before you are ready to serve the dish, turn up the heat again and add the sesame oil. Stir-fry everything together for about 30 seconds, to allow the sesame oil to penetrate all the little pieces of beef, then serve.