Stir Fried Beef with Leeks

Stir Fried Beef with Leeks

Cook time: 5 minutes  |  Total time: 35 min |  Serves: 4

Stir Fried Beef with Leeks (or spring onions) is one of the easiest Chinese dishes that really anyone can make. 葱爆牛肉 (Cōng bào niúròu) in Chinese translates as Onions Quick-Fried with Beef. It's one of the first dishes that I learned how to properly order at a restaurant using Mandarin when I studied in Beijing back in 1999. Being able to read a menu in Chinese as a foreign language student requires a slightly advanced level—as a beginner or intermediate student you don’t learn the characters for Kung Pao Chicken right off the bat. You focus on basic social phrases such as “I am tired and want to go home” and sentence patterns such as “A is much more (adjective) than B." So when we’d go to restaurants we’d often just ask “hey do you have this lamb or tofu dish?” and just kinda cross our fingers. Sometimes something more esoteric would come back. The most dreaded was this cold loaf of tofu doused with spring onions and soy sauce. Gradually, with the help of our native Beijing roommates we were able to navigate restaurant ordering at a more sophisticated (and less embarrassing) level. The last month of my study abroad semester, I could actually read with proficiency the menu at a hotpot restaurant. I was so proud. Ok back to the dish...

A variant of this dish using lamb is very popular in Beijing, although I think the taste is more Jiangsu—light with a hint of soy. Lamb is more affordable in China, hence the preference of lamb over beef, especially in the north of China. In this recipe I’ve used beef as I found a nice sirloin steak at a local high-end butcher here in London. In the west, Chinese restaurants market this dish under the name Mongolian Beef even though this dish is not Mongolian at all. It probably acquired the name as it sounds a whole lot more exotic than stir fried beef with onions.

Let's talk about the technique of stir frying for a second though… stir frying can probably be more accurately called quick frying. It’s a technique where you quickly fry chopped up pieces of meat and/or vegetables in a wok at a very high heat. This requires split second timing—you can’t be slow or you’ll over cook something and then there goes the dish. As you can imagine, this somewhat extreme technique is not conducive to western domestic kitchens with an electric stove and a smoke alarm. However, if you stir fry on a low heat, you’ll end up with a soup and the ingredients in a stir fry should be somewhat crisp and not mushy. I recommend in a western kitchen to first heat the wok on high heat and just as it starts to slightly smoke—so that you don't set off the smoke alarm—then drop in your ingredients and keep the heat at high to medium high the entire duration. Stir frying is fun though. You need to literally be on top of the wok the entire time, stirring the ingredients vigorously while holding the handle of the wok. It is not a passive way of cooking.

In this recipe, the beef is first velveted and then quick fried in a moderate amount of oil. Leeks and some flavours are added and voila, that’s it. The two things to pay attention to are the slicing of the red meat—don’t slice it too thick—and making sure the oil in the wok is hot before you start dropping things in. In some other meat stir fry dishes, the meat is first fried in a liberal amount of oil and then drained, however, in this dish I’ve opted to use less oil, which doesn’t require the annoying oil drain.

What you'll need and how much:

— 1 sirloin or ribeye steak (roughly 250g)
— 1 leek
— 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
— 5 slices of ginger
— 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine (or white wine)
— 1 tablespoon of corn flour (corn starch)
— 3 tablespoons of water
— 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce
— 1 teaspoon of sugar
— 1 teaspoon of black pepper
— dash of sesame oil
— 3 tablespoons of oil

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Trim any excessive fat off the steak and slice in thin slices against the grain. It's best to cut from roughly a 45 degree angle from the cutting board. It doesn't need to be wafer thin, but it should roughly be 2mm in thickness.

The Velveting Process: put the slices of beef in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon of corn flour, 3 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, and a dash of sesame oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside for 30 minutes to marinate at room temperature.

Slice the leeks at a cross angle about 1 cm thick and set on a plate along with the garlic and ginger.

Heat a wok with the oil until it's hot—it will just start to barely smoke. Drop the beef in and stir vigorously. Don't be shy to toss the wok around with the handle.

After 1 minute, right after the beef color turns from pink to brown, add the garlic and continue to stir vigorously for 30 seconds. Then add the 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon shaoxing wine and stir fy for 2 more minutes on high heat. 

Top off by adding the leeks and stir fry for about another 1 to 2 minutes until the leek turn a nice bright green. Remove and serve immediately.

Ingredients

— 1 sirloin or ribeye steak (roughly 250g)
— 1 leek
— 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
— 5 slices of ginger
— 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine (or white wine)
— 1 tablespoon of corn flour (corn starch)
— 3 tablespoons of water
— 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce
— 1 teaspoon of sugar
— 1 teaspoon of black pepper
— dash of sesame oil
— 3 tablespoons of oil

Recipe

  1. Trim any excessive fat off the steak and slice in thin slices against the grain.
  2. Put the slices of beef in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon of corn flour, 3 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, and the dash of sesame oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside for 30 minutes to marinate at room temperature.
  3. Slice the leeks at a cross angle and set on a plate along with the garlic and ginger.
  4. Heat a wok with the oil until it's hot—it will just start to barely smoke. Drop the beef in and stir vigorously.
  5. After 1 minute, right after the beef color turns from pink to brown, add the garlic and continue to stir vigorously for 30 seconds. Then add the 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon shaoxing wine and stir fy for 2 more minutes on high heat. 
  6. Top off by adding the leeks and stir fry for about another 1 to 2 minutes until the leek turn a nice bright green. Remove and serve immediately.

Photo Credits: Jenny Smart

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