17 February 2012

Steamed beef with rice meal (fen zheng niu rou)

The idea of steaming meat in a coat of rice flour is one that caught my eye a year or two, before I had even started cooking Sichuan or Hunanese food at home. It was in the form of the excellent Eating Asia's Mizheng Rou. Basically you slow steam meat with a load of spices and smashed up rice and the rice gradually cooks - absorbing the steam, the meat juice and your favoured exciting mix of spices. Meat and rice integrated, prepared together as one like in the great European dishes of risotto of paella.

Having never got around to doing something based on EA's version I ended up doing a version with beef from Land of Plenty. It's a bit more fiddly than, say a mapo tofu, or a braised fish in chilli bean sauce, but ultimately pretty interesting given the new textures brought by the rice and by the steaming.

  • 500g beef
  • ginger, garlic, chilli bean paste, soy, Shaoxing wine, veg oil, dash of water or stock - for the marinate
  • dried chillies, Sichuan pepper, sesame oil, raw garlic, spring onions
  • 75g raw rice

Cut the beef into largish, thin squares. Combine with the marinade ingredients and leave for half an hour.

Toast the rice until brittle. When it's cool grind down in a mortar and pestle - half way to a meal like state is fine, so there's still some texture. Add this to the beef and steam it for two hours. The rice will start to fluff up and increase in size. This dish should not be cooked by anyone in a rush as the steaming really does take quite a while.

When its looking ready remove from the steamer and season with all the other ingredients (mash the raw garlic and thin with a little cold water) to your taste. I served this with some more white rice on the side which, looking back on it, was possibly a massive gastro-cultural faux pas.

A load of your favourite greens stir-fried with garlic and dressed with sesame oil and Chinkiang vinegar is more or less obligatory here in my opinion. Sprouts, courgette and cavalo nero in this case but obviously grab whatever's in your fridge.

So - does it cut the mustard? I don't rate this one quite as highly as some of the other Sichuan dishes I've got to say. I love the idea of it - cooking meat with veg makes perfect sense in a rice heavy Chinese cuisine and clearly works fantastically with congee. The rice makes it all a bit heavy and slightly claggy, somehow lacking the clean hit of a high-powered spiced and peppered stir-fry. Eating Asia suggest putting some root vegetable or pumpkin in with the meat which I think could act as a useful counterpoint. One to retry then, with some belly pork and pumpkin perhaps...


  1. I was so disappointed when I got to the end of this post to find out you weren't so keen on it. It looks delicious in the pictures and I'm intrigued by the cooking method. I might have to try it anyway, maybe with a few alterations.

  2. Ha, please don't let me put you off Corina! I am also intrigued by the cooking method and am going to try it again with some carrot or pumpkin. Let me know how yours goes.