red-cooked beef stew, sichuan-style

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I’ve been on a Chinese food kick lately.  Something about the numbing qualities of Sichuan peppercorns and hot flecks of chili and comforting, dramatic little cubes of highly seasoned vegetables is really satisfying my dreary soul in this last push of winter.

The recipe pictured above my rendition of Dunlop’s version of red-cooked beef, a stew made with deep red hot bean paste, star anise, ginger, garlic, and black cardamom.  The recipe links to Tigers & Strawberries, a great food blog that specializes in many kinds of Asian cooking.  Like T&S and most foodies in the English-speaking world who are desperate for good Chinese food, I’m enamored of Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, Land of Plenty.  It’s a regional cookbook from a British chef trained in China, so she aims for authenticity and navigates us through the sea of unfamiliar and mistranslated ingredients and techniques.  Plus, she writes well.

I have the British version of the cookbook, and I’m not sure how much it was revised for the U.S. version, but I do find that her marinades and sauces are quite mild, so I generally double the amount of soy, vinegar, etc., and let the marinating meat sit a bit longer.  For the red-cooked beef, I added double the spices and should have added less liquid.  Next time.

A Note on Daikon:

The beef and daikon radish I used are local.  I would strongly suggest using fresh, young daikon instead of turnips, since the daikon absorbs the color and flavor of the stew, making them juicy and translucent.  Turnips sort of do this, but daikon are much prettier and lend less musky flavor to the stew.  For my daikon method: slice daikon in rounds and cook them for about 45 minutes in the stew instead of merely a few minutes, as Dunlop suggests.  You’ll be happier that way, I promise.

A Note on Sichuan Bean Paste:

Sichuan bean paste (sometimes rendered in English as do ban jiang or toban djan) is made from chopped broad (fava) beans and chilis.  It is hard to find, as many of the bean pastes available are made from soybeans or black beans, and have garlic, etc., in them.

Kitchen Chick, a Michigan food blogger, offers a wonderful investigative glossary of some of the Sichuan chili bean paste options you can find in smaller markets in the U.S. (i.e., not San Francisco).  I think she may be my soul sister.  I have only been able to find Lee Kum Kee brand, the jar with the red lid in the second picture, alas.   (Also check out her entire repertoire of Sichuan dishes under her tag “Chinese” on the right-hand side of the blog.)

I’d love to make my own, but I can’t find a recipe.  I think the favas need to be fermented, which would add complications.  If you have a family recipe, please share it with me.

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