In the middle of winter this recipe is warm and comforting. In China, this dish, which is famous in the Sichuan province, is called 'Shui zhu niu rou' - yes I'm struggling to pronounce it too, but with Chinese New Year in freezing cold, wet January, it seems like a good moment to make it. This recipe is like a beef stew with the added benefit that it all comes together in less than 10 minutes (with about 20 minutes of prep).
The key flavours are Sichuan peppercorns and Chaotian dried chillies. These bright red chillies are sometimes referred to as 'heaven facing' chillies as they grow up towards the sky. They are not particularly hot, so don't be alarmed by the amount in this recipe but reduce the number if you are concerned.
This is a one pot dish, but requires a number of separate cooking processes - the chillies and Sichuan peppercorns are fried in oil, removed from the pan and finely chopped. The vegetables are stir-fried in the oil that's been flavoured by the chillies and peppercorns. Finally, the broth is made, the beef dropped in to cook and then tipped over the fried vegetables. The dish is then topped with the chopped chillies and peppercorns. There is one final element that is a classic Sichuan technique - once you have your dish cooked and assembled, heat up 4 more tablespoons of oil until almost smoking and pour it over the dish. Everything will fizz and sizzle and release the flavours of the chillies and peppercorns.
Like many Asian dishes, get everything sliced and prepped ready for cooking. The vegetables I've listed are really interchangeable so go with whatever you like - bok choy, mushrooms thinly sliced, Chinese leaf cabbage, even Romain lettuce all work just as well.
350g Sirloin Beef, cut into very thin strips across the grain
1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon corn flour
1 tablespoon water
10 Chaotian dried chillies, torn in half, seeds removed
4 Chaotian dried chillies, blitzed to a powder (or finely chopped with a knife)
1½ teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
3 tablespoons chilli bean sauce
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 large thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 leek, cut into 2½'' lengths then sliced into strips
2 sticks celery, peeled to remove stringy part, sliced into 2½'' strips
½ sweetheart cabbage, core removed and cut into large chunks
100ml Fussels rapeseed oil
1. Start by thinly slicing the beef, do this across the grain at a 45 degree angle to the board. The beef cooks very quickly so trim away any large fatty pieces.
2. Marinade the beef in the salt, shaoxing wine and corn flour with a tablespoon of water. The corn flour will help tenderise the meat so that the short cooking method will result in soft, tender meat. Leave this for 20 minutes at room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, prep all the other ingredients as described above.
4. Once you are ready to cook, gently heat 5 tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a wok and fry the 10 chillies (the ones torn in half) and the Sichuan peppercorns for around a minute. They will become lovely and fragrant but make sure you don't burn them. Turn off the heat and remove them from the wok, leaving as much of the oil in the wok as you can.
5. Using a knife (or grind in a pestle and mortar) chop the chillies and peppercorns into a coarse paste. Keep to one side.
6. Reheat the wok and stir-fry the vegetables in the residual oil. This will only take a minute - you want them to stay crunchy. Remove from the wok and place in your serving dish.
7. Add a little more fresh oil and keeping the wok on a low heat, add in the chilli bean paste. Cook for a minute and then add in the blitzed dried chillies and the chopped ginger and garlic. Keep cooking gently for a further minute until the garlic and ginger have softened.
8. Pour in the chicken stock and increase the heat to bring to the boil, then turn the heat down.
9. Drop the marinated beef slices into the liquid, spreading them out to keep the slices separate. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes, don't overcook! You want the beef to have just turned from pink to brown. Once cooked, pour the beef and all the liquid over the fried vegetables.
10. Top the dish with the reserved fried chillies and peppercorns. Then heat 4 tablespoons of oil in the wok until almost smoking and pour over your finshed dish. There will be lots of fizzing and sizzling but all those wonderful flavours will be released into your pot. Finish by scattering some sliced spring onions over the top.
Serve with some plain cooked rice......yum. Don't forget to tag us when you make this at home and leave a review for our recipe below! Ben
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I keep reaching for our delicious Pickled Lemon Paste. It's intense lemon flavour provides a great lift to so many dishes whether it's a stew, sauce, dressing or marinade. This little salad is really quick and simple to prepare. The liquorice flavour of fennel is perfectly suited to carrying strong flavours...
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