Stir-Fried Tangy Beef

醬爆牛肉片

This is a very simple, meat-and-vegetables stir-fry, the sort of dish one finds in a northern Chinese home or in a simple restaurant or stall by the roadside. Its charm is the mixture of tender beef, crisp vegetables, and a mildly spicy sauce with an undertone of sweetness.

  • Chinese longbeans, sometimes called “yard-long beans,” are sold in bunches of about 2 pounds in Chinese markets and specialty produce stores, tied together at one end like a lively ponytail. They should be slender, crisp, and green, not bumpy and thick-skinned, bitter, or yellow. I always break off a bit and chew on it to check whether it is properly sweet and young. When longbeans are not in season, I use shredded broccoli stems or snow peas or any flavorful, young green bean (the Jersey-grown sort is my favorite, even above the fancy haricots verts).
  • Preparations are quick and easy. The beef may be marinated overnight, if you like, but the whole dish can be put together and served within 20 minutes.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound round steak or flank steak, all fat and tough sinew removed (weight after trimming)

To marinate the beef

  • 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • teaspoons corn or peanut oil
  • ½ pound Chinese longbeans or other sweet tender,green bean
  • ½ pound carrots, trimmed and peeled

Sauce ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • teaspoons hoisin sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil

For stir-frying

  • about 6 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • tablespoons water

Aromatics

  • 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
  • ⅛–¼ teaspoon dried red chili flakes

Method

Preparations

Slice the meat crosswise against the grain into long strips ⅛ inch thick, holding the knife on a diagonal to broaden the slices. Cut the slices into pieces about 1½ inches long, to form domino-size rectangles. Mix the soy, sugar, cornstarch, and oil until smooth, add the beef, and toss well with your fingers to coat each slice. Seal airtight, then put aside to marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature or up to a day in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.

Cut the tips off the longbeans or green beans, then cut into 2-inch lengths. If the beans are not perfectly sweet, blanch them in plain boiling water to cover for 15–30 seconds depending upon thickness, then drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. (I almost always do this preliminary blanching. It removes the acrid taste that is a sure feature of most beans and tenderizes the skin if it has any tendency to toughness.)

Cut the carrots on the diagonal into elongated coins a scant ¼ inch thick. Arrange the coins like an overlapping deck of cards, then sliver them lengthwise into long strips a scant ¼ inch thick.

The carrots and beans may be prepared hours in advance, sealed airtight, and refrigerated until use. Mist the carrots lightly or cover them with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying.

Mix the sauce ingredients until smooth, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Leave a spoon in the bowl so you can stir it again just before adding it to the pot.

Stir-frying the dish

Have all the ingredients and a plate or bowl to hold the vegetables within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a serving platter in a low oven to warm.

About 5–10 minutes before serving, put a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 2½–3 tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bean, add the beans to the pan. Stir-fry briskly to sear and coat with oil, adjusting the heat so they sizzle merrily without scorching. Add the carrots, stir-fry quickly to combine, then sprinkle with salt and sugar. Toss to combine, adjusting the heat if necessary to maintain a lively sizzle, then sprinkle the wine into the pan. Wait a split second for it to “explode” in a fragrant hiss, then stir briskly for several seconds to mix. Add the water to the pan, stir to combine, then raise the heat if needed to bring the liquids to a steaming simmer. Shake the pan to even the contents, cover the pot, and steam-cook the vegetables vigorously for 15–20 seconds. Remove the cover, raise the heat if necessary to evaporate the water, then scrape the vegetables onto the waiting plate or bowl. The whole operation should take about 2 minutes, and the vegetables should still be crisp when they are removed from the pan.

Quickly wipe the pan clean, then return to high heat until hot enough to sizzle a bead of water on contact. Add 3 tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bit of ginger, add the ginger to the pan, adjusting the heat so it sizzles merrily without browning. Add the red chili flakes and stir to combine until foamy and fully fragrant, 5–10 seconds. Stir the beef quickly to separate the slices, then add it to the pan, adjusting the heat to maintain a lively sizzle. Stir-fry briskly until 90 percent gray, dribbling in a bit more oil from the side of the pan if needed to prevent sticking. Give the sauce ingredients a stir then add them to the pan. Stir-fry several seconds to blend, return the vegetables to the pot, then stir several seconds more to combine. Scrape the contents onto the heated platter, arrange the longbeans here and there for a pretty effect, and serve at once.

Leftovers, if there are any, keep nicely for several days sealed airtight and refrigerated. I like them best at room temperature, but you may also resteam them in a covered bowl until hot.

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