Some days you just wake up with a hankering for a really nice bit of steak, but if you are anything like me, that beefy craving is usually for steak of an altogether different variety: Cantonese beef steak!
Growing up in Penang in the early 80s the only time I really ate steak was at Chinese restaurants, where it was invariably prepared Cantonese-style. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate Western-style steak. Unnaturally tender and served with an addictively sweet soya-based pepper sauce, Chinese beef steak was undoubtedly the steak of my childhood! Of course, like all middle-class families in 80s Penang we occasionally ate at the Eden Steak House on Hutton Road, with its glorious coral décor and outlandish flourish of curly parsley (as children we were unconvinced that the parsley was, in fact, edible!). Looking back, we actually used to visit the Steak House quite often, but strangely enough I don’t recall ever actually ordering the steak. I’m pretty certain my father might have had it on occasion, but that was “dad food”. At any rate, who wanted steak when you could have lobster thermidor and prawn cocktail instead? This was, after all, the 80s…
So what makes a piece of steak Chinese?
The first thing that makes this dish such a Chinese classic is the sauce. Glossy and rich, this sauce is the perfect mix of sweet and peppery goodness – this isn’t a sauce for the faint of heart! The Worcestershire sauce adds spiced depth, whilst the tomato sauce imparts a hint of colour and extra body once everything has been reduced down to a sticky, gooey sauce.
Secondly (and most importantly) is the texture of the meat. Marinated in a batter made with corn flour, eggs and Bicarbonate of Soda, the beef is rendered meltingly tender – almost to the point that the texture of the steak no longer resembles meat. This might sound unappealing, but this technique of tenderising meat with Bicarbonate of Soda is fairly widespread in Chinese cooking where the quality of the meat is not always guaranteed. As unpalatable as it may seem, the use of Bicarb goes a long way in making the Chinese food you make at home actually taste like the cuisine you are striving to emulate. Authenticity isn’t always pretty, especially when making Chinese food!
For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.
For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here.
Cantonese Beef Steak: Serves 4 as part of a larger Chinese meal
- 4 pieces of minute steak (approx. 500g in total)
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. Bicarbonate of Soda
- 2 tsp. light soya sauce
- 2 tbsp. corn flour
- 1 egg
- 4 tbsp. water
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
For the Sauce:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 tsp. white sugar
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tbsp. tomato ketchup
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- A couple of twists of freshly ground black pepper
- Lightly pound the steak with a meat mallet to tenderise
- In a bowl combine the salt, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, corn flour, soya sauce and egg
- Add the meat to the bowl and massage the batter into the meat for a couple of minutes. As you knead the meat, gradually add the water. Finally add the Worcestershire Sauce and vegetable oil. Give everything a final mix and then cover the bowl with cling-wrap. Leave to marinate for at least 3 hours, but the longer the better
- When you are ready to cook, combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside
- In a large wok or frying pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil to just smoking
- Add the steak and fry for a minute per side. Remove the cooked steak and set aside
- Pour the sauce into the hot pan/wok and bring to a vigorous boil. Cook for about 3 minutes (don’t reduce the sauce too much at this stage)
- Return the steak to the pan/wok. Toss to combine, making sure that the all the meat is covered in the sauce. Continue to cook until the sauce becomes glossy – this should take no more than a minute
- Serve immediately