Here is a Szechwanese wolf in sheep’s clothing—a dish of chili-marinated beef slices steamed in a coating of toasted rice. It is easy and impressive, ideal for the occasional cook, the busy one, or someone new to Chinese cooking.
Trim the steak carefully, as described in TECHNIQUE NOTES.
With a Chinese cleaver or chef’s knife cut the meat lengthwise into strips about 2 inches wide. Holding the knife on a diagonal to the board, cut the strips crosswise into slices ¼ inch thick. Cutting on the diagonal broadens the slice. With the broad side of the knife, spank each slice gently to even and tenderize it.
Mash the garlic and salt to a paste, then combine with the remaining marinade ingredients. If you are doubling or tripling the recipe, mince the garlic and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel knife, add the remaining marinade ingredients, and process until blended.
Scrape the marinade over the beef, and toss well to combine. Seal airtight and marinate 1–3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
Put the rice in a wok or heavy skillet and set over medium heat. Stir constantly until it turns pale gold, about 5 minutes, lowering the heat if the rice begins to scorch. Add the rice, pepper-salt, and five-spice powder to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, then process for about 4 loud minutes, until the grains are reduced to ¼ their original size. Alternatively, pulverize the mixture until coarse in a blender or a mortar.
Pour the rice over the beef, then toss well to mix. Seal airtight and marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or up to 1½ days in the refrigerator. Toss once or twice while marinating to redistribute the rice crumbs.
(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)
Arrange the slices close together in a single layer on a heatproof serving plate or Pyrex pie plate at least 1 inch smaller than the diameter of your steamer. Sprinkle any loose rice over the beef and press it into place lightly with your fingers. If most of the rice is loose, sprinkle ⅓ of it on the plate before arranging the beef on top, then cover with the remainder.
Bring the water to a gushing boil, then steam the beef over medium-high heat for 40 minutes, until the rice is fully cooked and the meat is very tender. If you are steaming in advance, steam the beef initially for 30 minutes, and resteam for 10 minutes just before serving. The partially steamed beef may be left at room temperature for 1 hour or sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight.
Serve the beef piping hot, directly in the steamer basket or transferred carefully with a spatula to a hot serving plate.
Leftovers keep 1–2 days. They are delicious at room temperature or resteamed until hot, and will grow spicier.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.