It’s been a month since my last post (Red Braised Beef) in my effort to cook my way through the Land of Plenty cookbook, but I’ve been crazy busy between work and travel. I had an amazing trip to Napa/Sonoma, and tonight I head out to Washington State for 10 days of hiking around Olympic, Rainier, and Cascades National Park. There should be some stunning views, and I’m also looking forward to some good eats in Seattle on the days between our backcountry excursions. I will try to post a few photos and such while I’m out there, but my time will be limited.
Hopefully this post will hold you over for a few days; I’ve been catching flack for not posting frequently enough.
The three new recipes I cooked for this meal are officially titled Chicken Slices in Sichuan Pepper and Sesame Oil Sauce, Hot-and-Numbing Dried Beef, and Lotus Root in Sweet-and-Sour Sauce.
I started with the chicken dish as that’s a cold appetizer that can easily be prepared ahead of time. To create the sauce, you start by violently chopping scallions, salt, and Sichuan peppercorn with a cleaver until it goes from this…
…to this. You can puree it in a blender/food processor, but the cleaver is the traditional method and it’s quite effective.
Then I grilled some chicken, which I purchased as already-thin filets. It’s a time saver, and we’re going to grill and shred it, so I don’t think there’s much flavor lost compared to using full breasts of chicken. You may recall a quick tip from the Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers post – if you’re going to shred the chicken, firmly smack the chicken with the flat side of your cleaver (or a mallet), and the chicken fibers will loosen up and it becomes easier to shred with a fork.
I assembled the rest of the sauce for the chicken, which consists of 3T of chicken stock, 2T of soy sauce, and 1.5T of sesame oil, and set it aside. Then I scrubbed and sliced my lotus root and placed the slices in water.
While the lotus was soaking, I blanched the moderately thin slices of ribeye. I’ve mentioned this before, but blanching meats is very common in Sichuan cooking. It is the attempt to remove the yi wei, or “peculiar smells” of the meat.
I cut the beef with the grain into strips, then across the grain into bite size pieces, which then went into a marinade of ginger, scallions, and Shaoxing rice wine.
Next up, frying the lotus root. I didn’t cut them into uniform slices, so some cooked better than others. In general, I should have fried them longer.
The beef gets dry fried in the wok for 4-5 minutes, until each piece gets a crispy exterior. I then removed the beef from the wok, added some oil, ginger, scallions, sugar, salt, soy sauce, and my reserved stock and brought it all to a boil. Then the beef is added back to the liquid and I simmered for about 30 minutes until the liquid had totally reduced and I was ready to serve.
While the beef sauce reduced I prepared the rest of the dishes. The chicken and sauce was assembled.
Then I prepared the sweet and sour sauce for the lotus. I stir fried some ginger and ginger, then added a combination of chicken stock, salt, sugar, rice vinegar, and corn starch, and brought it to a boil. Then I added the tomatoes, cooked for just a minute or so, added the scallions, and plated the dish.
And finally I plated the beef with some sesame seeds and cilantro.
I highly recommend the cold chicken dish. It had such a clean, simple chicken flavor, with the light scallion element, and a generous kick of Sichuan pepper that made it quite distinct. The lotus was good, not great. If I had fried it better that would have helped, but the sweet and sour tomato sauce wasn’t really doing it for me. But it’s a very unique dish and worth a try if you want to cook with lotus. There haven’t been many dishes so far in this cookbook that involve tomatoes either.
Everyone was giving the chicken high accolades until the beef dish came along. The hot and numbing beef was fantastic – it had the great fried dry fried beef exterior, but with loads of additional flavor and textural complexity from the reduced sauce. Just typing this sentence is difficult, because now I can’t stop thinking about how I wish I had some right now.
Is there anyone out there who isn’t convinced yet that you need to take up cooking Sichuan at home? What are you waiting for?