Beef Chow Mein

Beef Chow Mein

The thing about Chinese food is that, in the UK at least, it’s ubiquitous. Go to any small town or large village in the UK and there will be a Chinese takeaway, or restaurant. Or restaurant with takeout. You get the picture.

It’s popular then, but yet outside the swankier districts of the major cities, it’s fair to say the food never reaches the status of ‘gourmet’. I know a lot of you will have examples where I’m absolutely wrong, but I know of up-market restaurants doing French, Italian, Thai, Indian, Japanese and British food, but none doing Chinese.

The thing is that Chinese food uses some of the planet’s tastiest ingredients. Amazing dim sum, peking duck, char sui pork, stir fired noodles. Need I go on. So what gives?

It’s fair to say that most Chinese takeaways vary widly, but the same suspiciously vividly coloured sweet and sour sauces remain a constant and the ingredients are rarely, and I’m sticking my neck out here, high quality. It’s why I don’t really go to them.

And so, armed with my Ken Hom e-book, I’ve been setting out to try and make the Chinese food I know and love without the luminosity, MSG and hydrogenated fat.

First on my list, a simple Beef Chow Mein. I used some left over rare beef from a Sunday lunch (which I will be posting in a St. George’s Day special) but other than that the ingredients were cheap and beautifully quick to cook.

The beef is important here as cheap cuts will turn to rubber – this was from a well-aged piece of sirloin. But most recipes call for fillet. It seems sacrilege to use such a quality (and expensive) piece of meat this way, but at least you don’t need much! I dipped it in cornflour before cooking to get a nice crispness.

Prepare all the ingredients first, it’s essential otherwise you lose it halfway through. This was on the plate in 6 minutes tops once the wok is going, so you snooze – you lose in this case…

Serves 3-4

  • 200g medium egg noodles
  • 3 tbsp oil – seems a lot but worth it
  • 150g sliced beef – must be a decent cut, seasoned, oiled and dusted in cornflour
  • 2 handfuls of beansprouts
  • 1 small onion thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Oyster sauce – a good one, it’s worth it
  • 1 splash & 2 tsp Soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine or sherry. I used sherry
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 1 tsp Sesame oil

Prep all the ingredients. Cook the noodles as instructed until just done and not too soft. Rinse under a cold tap to cool and drain well.

Heat a wok with the oil until screaming hot and add the cornflour coated beef. Stand well back then get in there and stir! Add a splash of soy to colour the beef.

Add the onion and garlic and stir until coloured then the rest of the soy and rice wine/sherry. Evaporate off the liquid a bit then add green peppers, beansprouts and noodles.

Beef Chow Mein

Stir fry for a couple of minutes on a high, high heat. Pour in the Oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Serve it up! Phew

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Thai Beef Noodle Salad

Thai Beef Noodle Salad

I think a number of my fellow countrymen and women would admit the British don’t do salads. We’ve adopted other countries of late, sure, but when I grew up salads meant lettuce, quartered (and generally flavourless) tomatoes, some sliced cucumber and spring onion. And that was about it. This dry,  flavourless token gesture of healthiness sat amongst the crisps and sausage rolls at the back of the table at many a get-together, slowly going limp and brown.

It only was much later in life when I first went to Italy and was presented with my first decent salad – a neatly arranged pile of rocket, semi dried tomatoes, parmesan shavings and a dressing, yes a dressing, of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I had no idea what the ingredients were at the time, but it was delicious. It was as much part of the dish as the piece of steak sat next to it and it changed my view of salad ever since.

I’m probably being a bit deprecating of us Brits, the humble ‘Ploughmans’ is still a great pub lunch and we simply don’t have the climate for the likes of semi-dried tomatoes or olives. As I mentioned though, we are keen to try other cuisines and we can readily get the staples for many different types of salad – Greek, French Spanish and my favourite – Thai

We went to a Thai restaurant recently and Helen went for a salad there. Partly because it’s a nice healthy option and partly because I encouraged her so I could try it. I do that a lot 😉

Thai salad is the ultimate for me. I love Thai flavours anyway, but in a salad they are so much more prominent. I made this salad the other night although the very few who saw my first ever post may notice I did something very similar before….

I used a good steak from a local butchers (sliced thinly, you only need to buy one regular sized cut) and some rice noodles to give it a bit more substance.

I must admit I can’t really remember the dressing quantities, but I tend to add the juice of a whole lime to a bowl and adding and tweaking the rest as I go. I’ve tried to list them, but it’s from recolection.

  • 300g good quality steak, thinly sliced.
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • two handfuls of breansprouts
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced (I used a potato peeler)
  • About 2 savoy cabbage leaves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 a red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3 small spring onions or 2 larger ones, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp mixture of chopped fresh coriander/basil (thai basil if possible)
  • 100g rice noodles, cooked and cooled.

For the dressing (I think!):

  • Juice of one whole lime
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed or light olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 2 tsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • A splash of soy sauce to taste.

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Marinade the steak strips in some sesame oil and fish sauce for about 20 minutes.

Make up the noodles as instructed and rinse under the cold tap to cool. Flash fry the beef strips in a fiercely hot pan for a few second to brown and set aside.

Thoroughly wash and prepare the salad vegetables and mix together in a large bowl. Add the beef and resting juices one ready

Mix the dressing together, and taste/adjust as you see fit. Pour over the salad and toss well using tongues or a spaghetti spoon. Can’t get much quicker than that!

Thai Beef Noodle Salad