Until I had more properly explored Szechuan food through restaurants, FD's book and other sources the iconic dish to me always was (and still is to some extent) the giant bowl of hellish-red stock and oil strewn with chillies and Szechuan peppercorns. Having cooked and eaten a bit more now, I hope I have moved on from this perhaps slightly limited view of Szechuan food being hot-and-numbing above all else. This remains, though, a classic dish and something that needed to be tried at home. As ever, what I ended up with was a bit of an adapted version using the stuff I had to hand.
- 4/500g beef (go for a cheap braising steak type cut)
- dried chillies, Szechuan peppercorns, chilli-bean paste, Shaoxing wine
- ~1l stock
- crunchy veg (lots) - whole head of celery, Chinese lettuce or cabbage etc
- spring onions
Marinade the beef (sliced) in Shaoxing wine and a little salt.
Fry the chillies and SPs in plenty of oil and add a couple of tablespoons of chilli-bean paste. Fry for sixty seconds, stirring.
Add the stock and two teaspoons of dark soy sauce and bring to a simmer. (FD talks about 'everyday stock' in lots of the recipes which is made with chicken bones and all the relevant spices. I never bother with that if I don't have anything to hand and just use water and a fat pinch of trusty vegetable bouillon and it's all good.)
Add the beef and crunchy veg and cook until the rawness of the veg is broken and the beef has lost any pinkness in the centre. Be very wary of overcooking the beef as more than a few minutes will make it tough. Add spring onions very near the end so they have a minute of cooking but retain a a certain freshness.
Try serving with smashed cucumbers. Smash them and chop them and salt them before doing anything else. After twenty minutes or so pour off the liquid they have exuded, wipe off any mega salt patches and mix in a mixture of sesame oil, rice vinegar, a little sugar, finely chopped raw garlic and pickled chillies (shown at the top) according to your preference.
Enjoy! I cooked some noodles in the broth but obviously it would be great with white rice too. You really don't need a huge amount of meat in a dish like this. The counterpoint of the vegetables and the starch of the noodles we ate balance it perfectly.