kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake
A deep bowl of sliced beef drowned in a thinnish, spicy sauce with a layer of deep red oil on the top.  Large quantities of chopped dried chillies and fresh chopped garlic are visible, and the dish is garnished with a single sprig of fresh coriander.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, one cooking method that appears frequently on Chinese menus is 水煮 (shuǐ zhǔ), or "water-cooked". It would be a mistake to translate this simply as "boiled", however. The "water" is actually a flavourful, fiery stock enhanced with chilli bean paste (豆瓣醬/dòu bàn jiàng), and the spice level is increased further just before serving with a generous sprinkling of sauteed dried chillies and Sichuan pepper (花椒/huā jiāo).

The main ingredient of the dish might be beef (牛肉/niú ròu), rabbit (兔/tù), sliced pork (肉/ròu piàn), tripe (肚/dǔ), or fish (魚/yú). Because it will be cooked only very briefly (a minute or so), the flesh is sliced thinly, against the grain where applicable. This, along with the choice of simmering rather than stirfrying, helps it stay nice and tender.

Appetite For China has a version of Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe for 水煮牛肉 which I tried out earlier this week. The recipe says to use flank steak. Because I learned to cook roughly a decade before I started eating meat, and hence still have some catching up to do in terms of expertise, I consulted my butcher — he told me that while he didn't have that cut on hand, rump would do nicely, so I bought a pound of that. It worked fine.

Where the recipe says to cut the celery into 2-inch lengths, I think it meant julienne, so that's what I did. It didn't say whether to crush the Sichuan pepper or not — I didn't, and I think I would have liked it a lot better if I had. The numbing flavour only really came out when I was lucky enough to crunch on a peppercorn, and I would have preferred it to be spread more throughout the dish. Also, I was concerned about too much saltiness, which I've found in the past can be a hazard of using chilli bean paste, so I skipped some of the salt in the recipe — I shouldn't have.

As shown in the photo at the top of this post, 水煮牛肉 is basically served as slices of beef swimming in copious amounts of oily, chilli-laded stock. You're not meant to drink all the stock, just lift the beef out and eat that. The recipe linked above uses 3 cups (700ml) of chicken stock for the liquid. I'm not entirely convinced that this much stock is absolutely necessary, and it feels a bit wasteful given that most of the liquid isn't eaten. Bob also mentioned that the flavours seemed to be a bit diluted, and the dish was less oily than when we've had it in restaurants. I may try using a little less stock next time.

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

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