I was introduced to this dish by a visiting chef from Hong Kong, who produced an overelaborate banquet of which I found this dish the most memorable (never having been an enthusiast of the carved-carrot school of presentation so loved by the Chinese).
The Chinese do not share our concern with serving meat hot On the contrary, many dishes like crispy roast pork and Cantonese duck would be ruined by reheating and are supposed to be eaten at room temperature. This is worth remembering when eating in Chinatown, where it is generally assumed that ignorant gwailo will complain if their roast meats are not hot and it is therefore a wise precaution to say 'cold meat' loudly several times to avoid a microwaved mess being brought steaming to the table. For a spectacular row, try sending this back.
The size of the cut of meat specified may seem rather large for four people, but you simply can't cook a small piece of meat in this way. However, these quantities provide lots of second helpings and sandwiches.
Of all Chinese spices, star anise is the most distinctive and powerful, so it should always be treated with respect.
The day before: put the stock ingredients into the saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. Then immerse the beef in the simmering stock and return to the boil. Skim, then simmer gently for 2½–3 hours. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the stock.
The next day: remove the beef from the pan and drain. With a very sharp knife cut it into the thinnest slices you can, slicing downwards through the round.
Prepare the other ingredients: using a potato peeler, cut strips of skin off the cucumber lengthwise to produce a striped effect Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and slice it into julienne • Wash and trim the spring onions and slice these into julienne • Mix the sesame oil with the tiniest amount of chilli oil • Cut the lemons into wedges.
Arrange the beef slices overlapping on a large serving platter. Scatter the two juliennes on top. Strain a little of the soy stock around the edge of the fanned meat slices. Sprinkle with the oil mixture.
Arrange lemon wedges around the meat for people to squeeze over the dish at the table.
© 1993 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.