Friday, March 02, 2007

cooking Chinese: beef with broad noodles

I don't think I've mentioned it, but in addition to being a fine martial artist and teacher, Sit is also a chef. He used to give classes in Chinese cooking but gave it up as too messy and expensive. But he and I are still trying to find some common ground over which to bond, because I think he's still a little bewildered by me. He loans me Jeffrey Deaver mysteries and just recently offered to teach me how to cook Chinese. Actually I asked, while we were at Lucky Wok, "Can you teach me how to make this?" and he responded enthusiastically. I was quite flattered.

So on Wednesday, I left work early, went to the Chinese grocery nearby and bought some rice noodles. That was an adventure. The place had the feel of a street market, even if it wasn't. Everything jumbled on top of itself and looming from shelves and racks above. Barely enough room in the aisles for one person to sidle through. Tanks of flowing water and semi-live aquatic creatures, everything smelling of bait, ginger, and bitter spices. For all the complaining I do about American diets, and how over-processed everything is, the Asians are far worse. Everything seemed to be dried, or powdered, or both. The produce wasn't bad, though. It looked as fresh and firm as the stock in the organic market we like.

Mostly it was just intimidating, because I barely knew what I was looking for and didn't know where to find it. So I spent some time wandering, and the clerks were looking at me a little suspiciously. I don't think they get many white girls in there.

Anyway. Here's the basic recipe/procedure, preserved here so I can remember it later.

Take a tri-tip beef roast, flank steak, or skirt steak. You'll probably have to ask for the tri-tip special from the butcher. Cut it into thick strips and then chop into thin stir-fry slivers. Put this in a big bowl; season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together about 1-1/2 tsp baking soda, 2-3 Tbs cornstarch, and enough water to make a thin gruel. Pour over beef. Add a couple generous dashes of sesame oil, and about 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Combine to coat all the beef and let sit. (This is a lot of meat--tri-tip cuts average about 2 lbs. You can easily prepare this and freeze part of it for later, which is what we did.)

We used a package of broad rice noodles, very fine, translucent-white, and essentially flavorless. They are about six inches wide by a couple of feet long and come partially dehydrated and oiled, folded together into a square shrink-wrapped package that is also refrigerated. Sit cut the block of noodles into strips, about 3/4 inch wide, and put them in the steamer for a few minutes, to soften them. When they are hot and loosened up, unfold the noodle strips and pull them apart. Put into a bowl.

Now, in a very hot large skillet or wok, stir-fry the beef with some chopped yellow onion, an inch or two of fresh minced ginger, and three cloves of fresh minced garlic. Use vegetable oil to keep it from sticking. Add a couple dashes of oyster sauce, and lots of soy sauce. Stir-fry until the beef is barely done. Turn out onto plate.

Put the steamed noodles and a couple cups of fresh bean sprouts into the skillet. Add more soy sauce and another dash of sesame oil, if desired. Stir until everything is coated. Add the beef back in; taste and add more soy sauce. "This is the only dish that's based on flavor of soy sauce," Sit said, adding, "Paul Prudhomme says to flavor at every stage."

That's basically it. Ours came out a little bland. Sit says it takes three tries to get a new dish right; the first time you over-season, the second time you under-season. This, he said, was his second time making beef with noodles.

"Next time I teach you make curry chicken," he said.

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