Chinese

Cantonese Beef Steak

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 Cantonese Beef SteakSteak 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!

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Sticky Beef Short Ribs

If I had to pick a favourite cut of beef, it would simply have to be short ribs; cheap, tasty and meltingly tender, I just can’t get enough of them.

Sticky Beef Short RibsThe perfect marriage between meat, bone and fat, short rib is my go-to cut of beef for whenever I am doing a long braise, as it is perfectly suited to being cooked for extended periods. Whether it’s for a spicy Mussaman Curry, a comforting bowl of Beef Phở or a simple cider braise beef, short ribs works a treat with just about any style of cooking, so long as it is afforded enough time to work its magic.

Which brings me to this delectable dish! Robustly flavoured and so tender you can literally suck the meat off the bone, Sticky Beef Short Ribs is a great way to prepare this special cut. Although the dish has all the hallmarks of a classic Chinese style braise, the addition of Korean Soybean Paste (doenjang) does muddle the waters somewhat, resulting in a dish that is equally suited to both a Chinese or Korean spread. If you can’t source any doenjang, regular Chinese Bean Sauce would suffice, or, if you wanted to add a Japanese twist to the dish, you can always try some miso. Personally, if you can, I would stick with the doenjang as it adds a distinctly earthy depth to the dish that neither miso nor Chinese Bean Sauce does.  

Note: As with most other Asian braises, this dish is always best if made the day before, but is still delicious if eaten immediately. If you are making the dish in advance then it is best not to reduce the sauce immediately, but rather wait until you are going to eat it to do so.

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Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄

Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄I love food that you can just gooi into a pot, forget about for a few hours and it still comes out tasting like heaven. Thankfully, Asian food is abound with such dishes, particularly so in Chinese cuisine.

Whilst synonymous with the much hackneyed “stir-fry”, Chinese food does love a jolly good braise. Beef ribs, pork belly, chicken feet – it would seem that the Chinese maxim is clear: if you have a pot big enough for it, then it’s good for a braise. Thankfully, it seems, pork hock fits both the maxim and the pot!

Richly flavoured, red-braised pork hock is an old school Chinese classic and is the perfect way to cook an otherwise troublesome cut of meat. Slowly simmered in what is essentially a classic master stock, the meat and fat is rendered meltingly soft – so much so, one can “cut” through it with just a chopstick. Stained a redish brown from the dark soya sauce, the silky sweet meat is tempered with depth, whilst the aromatic sauce is enriched with the rendered juices from the braised pork.

Admittedly, however, like most home-style Chinese cooking, braised pork hock isn’t the most aesthetically appealing dish. Resembling something of a gelatinous heap of meat, skin and bone, it is hardly a feast for the eyes. Rest assured, however, once you’ve taken your first bite you will quickly forget what it looks like.

Indeed, this dish is a triumph of flavour over style.

Note: the stock quantities may initially seem excessive, but the Master Stock can be kept indefinitely and develops depth of flavour each time it is reused. Simply strain the stock and store in the freezer until needed. Add a fresh set of aromatics to the stock and you are good to go.

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Sang Choi Bao 生菜包

Sung Choi Bao I have always been slightly obsessed with Sang Choi Bao, but in a world gripped by LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) & Banting diet fever, this classic Chinese dish has found a renewed appeal. Literally translated as “lettuce package”, Sang Choi Bao is made with fatty pork mince which is then eaten encased in crisp lettuce leaves, making it a great option for those of us who are avoiding traditional carbs like rice – something that is quite hard to do with Asian food!

Like most Asian recipes this one does have a few specialist ingredients, all of which are readily available from good Chinese supermarkets, but feel free to leave out whatever you can’t source. The key to the dish is actually in the sauce and the various vegetables, rather than the recipe’s more exotic inclusions. Okay, so this recipe does call for a small amount of sugar (not strictly Banting, I know), but you can just leave it out if you are so inclined.

Substantial and satisfying, this tasty dish scarcely feels like a meal that forgoes anything; and although it certainly isn’t conventional, Sang Choi Bao is also delicious when eaten with rice.

Traditionally eaten with your fingers, Sang Choi Bao is great fun to eat, making it a good dish for sharing. I suggest serving it up in a big bowl surrounded by the lettuce leaves and just let everybody tuck in. You can expect lots of sticky fingers after dinner!

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Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)

Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)There are two things in this world that sum up Chinese New Year for me – ang pow (red money envelopes) and bak kwa. Alas these days I’m precluded from receiving ang pow as I have the misfortune of being all grown up (and married), but that doesn’t stop me celebrating the New Year by stuffing my face with ill-advised quantities of bak kwa!

Sweet, sticky and bordering on the addictive, bak kwa is a very Chinese take on jerky. Available all year round, bak kwa is, however, largely considered a Chinese New Year must-have. I’m not sure if bak kwa‘s prosperous red hues ramp up its appeal for the New Year or whether the festivities are simply an excuse to indulge in copious amounts of this gooey treat. Either way, the queues at Bee Cheng Hiang stores in the build-up to the holiday are daunting and are a testament to bak kwa‘s enduring popularity as a Chinese New Year staple.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, making your own bak kwa isn’t something you’d do if you didn’t have to – it would be much easier to just join the long queues and buy yourself some. However, for those of us who find themselves far from home on Chinese New Year, we have little choice but to roll up our sleeves and make our own. After all, those bak kwa cravings are not going to quell themselves! Thankfully the recipe for making bak kwa isn’t actually that difficult, but it is quite involved; wire racks, rolling pins, wax paper and a blowtorch – I like to think of this as real Blue Peter-style cooking!

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Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

With the exception of the most amazing Peking Duck I’ve ever eaten, I was disappointed to discover that Chinese food in China is a rather dull affair. Roasted locust and the occasional snake-on-a-stick not withstanding, bland soups and mediocore dumplings seem to be the order of the day on the streets of Beijing.

After spending the best part of a week eating possibly the dullest Asian food on earth, we chanced upon a massive subterranean food-court that specialized in regional food from all over China. It was here, in this overcrowded and windowless basement, that we finally discovered some of that allusive “Chinese flavour” in China – we had found Sichuanese food or more specifically, mapo tofu! Little did I know that I stumbled upon what would possible become one of my favourite Chinese dishes of all time.

Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

Loosely translating to “grandmother’s pockmarked tofu”, this colorfully named dish has all the hallmarks of a true Sichuanese classic. Spicy, stastifiying and, above all, “numbing”, mapo tofu has got it all! Packed full of flavour, it is a great dish to introduce the uninitiated to the unsung delights of tofu. The soft, silky texture of the tofu plays beautifully against the fiery sauce, resulting in a “cooling” contrast to the intensity of the dish.

Easy to make and always tasty, mapo tofu is the epitome of Chinese home-style cooking and makes for fantastic meal on its own with just some rice. Equally, though, mapo tofu makes a great addition to a larger Chinese banquet as it can be made ahead of time and then gently reheated before serving (something of a rarity in Chinese cooking).

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Hainanese Chicken Rice 海南雞飯

As macabre as it may sound, the sight of cooked chickens and ducks dangling from gruesome hooks typifies the South East Asian food experience for many of us; often eliciting sympathy and hunger in equal measure. For me though, it gives me pangs of nostalgia for what is, perhaps, one of my favourite Malaysian dishes – Hainanese Chicken Rice. Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in my love for this dish either, as it appeared at number 45 on CNN’s World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods. Hainanese Chicken Rice’s enduring popularity is testament to the appeal of its uncomplicated nuances and its surprising depth of flavour.

IMG_6853 (600x800)Typically there are two types of chicken on offer at any given Chicken Rice stall in South East Asia; poached (white) or roasted (brown). Growing up, I always preferred the latter, as I was a bit put off by the opaque appearance of the poached variety – if only I’d been a more adventurous child! Whilst the roasted version is undoubtedly very tasty, the poached version is in fact superior in both flavour and texture. Not only does the poaching process have a transformative effect on the meat and skin of the chicken (making it impossibly silky), it also imparts a subtle depth of flavour that enhances the chicken, rather than overpowering it. In addition to being tastier than its roasted counterpart, the white version is also much easier to make!

With a name like Chicken Rice, it should come as no surprise that the rice plays an equally important role in the dish! The good news is that the chicken’s poaching broth doubles-up as the stock used in making the rice. So getting the rice just right isn’t much of a chore – simply use the stock instead of water when making your rice. The stock can also be frozen and reused indefinitely, creating a depth of flavour that only gets better with each chicken poached.

A third, and equally important, element to Chicken Rice is its unique chilli sauce. This light, zesty sauce is both fragrant and hot – the prefect accompaniment to the “clean-tasting” chicken; it is an absolute must!

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Steamed Pork Ribs with Black Beans 豉汁蒸排骨

An omnipresent dim sum classic, Steamed Pork Ribs with Black Beans is surprisingly easy enough recreate at home. Whether served with other dim sum, or as part of a larger Chinese meal, this dish is always a crowd pleaser!

Sourcing the right kind of pork rib is essential when making this dish, you want to buy ribs that have plenty of meat on the bone and you don’t want them larger than 3cm (the ribs should be small enough so that they’re chopstick-friendly). Cutting through rib bones at home is always a nightmare, so I would ask your butcher to cut them to size for you.

Steamed Pork Ribs with Black Beans 豉汁蒸排骨There are a couple of elements in this dish that come down to personal preference. Firstly, the amount of chilli added. Whilst this always comes down to your own personal tolerance, but even if you don’t have a Teflon gullet like me, a subtle hint of chilli is an absolute must for this dish. Secondly, the consistency of the sauce. My recipe calls for the sauce to be thicken with cornflour however, it is not uncommon for this ingredient to be omitted, resulting in a lighter sauce. I prefer a thicker sauce as it binds to the ribs, giving each bite an extra punch of flavour, but it’s entirely up to you.

Whilst this recipe makes enough for two people (eating it as part of a larger meal), it would probably stretch to feed another – if not for the fact that they are simply irresistible! I must confess that I cannot help but scoff down my “chef’s share” before it leaves the kitchen! So if you are weak-willed like me, please consider your own susceptibility to temptation when making this dish. Otherwise, your guests may go home hungry.

For more Chinese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Chinese Pantry, please click HERE

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Twice-Cooked Pork 回鍋肉

Twice-Cooked Pork 回鍋肉A true classic, Twice-Cooked Pork is everything you’d expect from Sichuanese cuisine: fragrant, spicy and utterly moreish! Served as part of a banquet or with just some plain rice and a fried egg, this is simple Chinese cooking at its best.

Pre-cooking the pork may initially seem like a bit of a faf, but don’t let this put you off. It’s definitely worth the effort, as the resulting pork is meltingly tender! Once the pork has been cooked and cooled, the dish takes mere minutes to put together – from wok to mouth in a matter of minutes!

For more Chinese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Chinese Pantry, please click HERE

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Sichuan Chilli Oil 四川辣油

Sichuan Chilli Oil (makes 250ml)

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 spring onion, cut into segments
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, approximately 3cm long
  • 4 tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted and crushed
  • 3 tbsp. chilli flakes (preferably Sichuan or Korean)
  • 1/8 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cumin

Method:

  1. Combine vegetable oil, spring onion, ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon and Sichuan peppercorn in a small sauce pot
  2. On a medium heat, let the ingredients fry in the oil for a couple of minutes, or until the garlic and spring onion just start to colour
  3. Add the chilli flakes, ground coriander and cumin
  4. Fry for another minute until the chilli flakes slightly darken in colour
  5. Turn off the heat and set it aside
  6. Pick out the spring onion, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and star anise

The chilli oil will last indefinitely; the longer it sits, the better the flavour

For more Chinese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Chinese Pantry, please click HERE