Dear Reader, today I am so excited to be sharing one of the BEST Chinese recipes ever! This Chinese Imperial Beef is a firm family favourite that is perfect for Chinese New Year coming up or just for a delicious dinner. Beef strips are marinated until melt in the mouth tender and then fried and served with one of the most versatile, easy Chinese sauces. This is a really, REALLY pushy recipe Dear Reader!
This Imperial beef is a restaurant dish that my mother loved so much that she hunted down a recipe for it and it became a family favourite. If you search for "Imperial beef" nothing really comes up but whenever we would go to this one particular restaurant she would always insist on ordering it. We asked them how they made it and the waiter briefly explained it. Then as time went on perhaps the chef changed and the beef became really dry so that it wasn't as enjoyable (I think they skipped the velveting step which is so important for a restaurant quality result). So we started making this Chinese Imperial Beef at home. My mother gave me her recipe folder to look through when they were moving and this brought back memories and I thought that Chinese New Year (which starts on the 1st of February this year) would be the best time to share this recipe with you.
It starts with beef strips that have been "velveted" in bi carb so that they're super tender which takes all of 5 minutes yet pays dividends. They are then marinated in a tight marinade (not overly soupy) for as brief a time as you have, I did it for an hour. The beef strips are dredged in cornflour and fried and then it is coated in the glossy, mouth watering sauce. The beef is meltingly tender and the sauce is wonderful melange of sweet, sour and intense without being sweet and sour sauce.
Bicarb makes beef brighter red in colour. The browner coloured beef is the beef that hasn't come into contact with bi-carb
Bicarb is the key to Velveting Beef (aka make it tender like at a Chinese restaurant!). Bicarb alkalises the meat making it harder for the proteins to bond so that it becomes more tender. All you have to do is add 1.5 teaspoons of bicarb to around 500g or a pound of meat and mix it. What happens is really interesting. The beef will turn bright red and you can hear it crackle lightly if you listen closely. Then after 5 minutes rinse it through a sieve to get rid of all of the bicarb and it's ready (the meat loses the bright red colour too somewhat but don't worry)! You can do this with chicken too.
Bean Chilli Condiment is another handy Chinese condiment: this is the brand I use and it is available at most supermarkets and Asian supermarkets. You only need a bit but the flavour that it imparts a real depth of flavour and gives a dish a restaurant quality flavour.
This is a Super Versatile Sauce: Keep this sauce recipe up your sleeve. It only needs a few ingredients and goes well with chicken, fish, pork, lamb and beef and even eggplant cubes!. Trust me, it's SO good!
I type this as we are in the midst of moving and I'm afraid that I underestimated what an onerous task this would be. Whoever thought it was a grand idea to move house during a pandemic while not taking into account Australia Day, Chinese New Year and Valentines Day was out of their mind. So I've been trying to cook up some recipes to share with you Dear Reader.
This Imperial Beef is slightly smaller in the picture than what you will make and that's because I was interrupted while making it and it's related to our move. A few weeks ago I put a whole lot of clothes on facebook marketplace. A girl was coming by in the afternoon to pick up a dress which was fine and would give me enough time to make, photograph and write up this recipe.
While I was in the middle of frying one lot of the beef there was a knock at the door. She was early. Like really, really early. "Yeah I sent you a message asking if I could come earlier but I didn't hear back so I came," she said.
I had the dress in a bag ready for her and handed it to her. "There aren't any marks or rips are there?" she said.
"No but feel free to inspect it, I've just got something on the stove cooking," I said slightly panicked. Normally pre-COVID I would have just asked her in but it is weird times.
"Wow it's really beautiful. Hey do you have anything else while I'm here?" she said looking around.
I was torn, the beef was overcooking but I had someone that was interested in taking some more clothes off my hands. "Hang on! I'll be right back!" I said running into the bedroom. I grabbed the other clothes and took them out and she asked me some questions. Then after quite a while I remembered the beef cooking that I had forgotten to take off the heat. I could smell the impending ruin of that batch. Even with the interruption and the overcooked portion the end result is so delicious that it is absolutely worth making. And if you're not ready for Chinese New Year then neither am I!
So tell me Dear Reader, are you doing or eating anything for Chinese New Year? Do you try and recreate food that you've eaten at restaurants?
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 30 minutes plus 1 hour marinating time
Cooking time: 15 minutes
- 600g/21o.zs beef (around 4 rump steaks)
- 1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 egg white
- 1/3 cup cornflour/fine cornstarch
- 1 carrot, peeled cut into matchsticks
- 1 litre/33flozs. oil for deep frying (can also be shallow fried)
- 1/2 cup/120ml/4flozs tomato sauce or ketchup
- 2 tablespoons Hoi Sin Sauce
- 1 tablespoon bean chilli condiment
- 1/2 cup/110g/3.9ozs. sugar
- 1 red chilli, sliced
Slicing steak in half horizontally and then into thin strips
Step 1 - Slice the beef into very thin strips. I slice the steak in half horizontally and then cut it into thin strips. Place in a bowl and mix with bicarb and let sit for 5 minutes.
Velveting intensifies the red colour of beef
Step 2 -Meanwhile mix the Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, salt, ginger, white pepper and egg white together in a bowl. Use a fork to break up the egg white if there are large jellied clumps of egg white. When the beef has had its time rinse the beef in a sieve well making sure to rinse off all the bicarb and then drain. Mix with the wine marinate and coat all of the beef. Cover and set aside in the fridge for 1 hour.
Step 3 -While it is marinating you can also get the sauce ready by measuring all the ingredients (tomato sauce, hoi sin sauce, bean sauce, sugar and chilli) and placing it in a large saucepan ready to heat up.
Step 4 -Add the cornflour to the beef and mix well to coat the strips. Heat the oil in a large pot to 180C/350F and have a plate lined with paper towels ready. Add the beef in 3-4 lots being careful not to overcrowd the pan and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes or until browned. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on the paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the beef and then add the carrot strips to the oil and cook until soft.
Step 5 -While the beef is cooking heat up the sauce on low to medium heat for 3-4 minutes, just to dissolve the sugar. When the beef and carrots are fried add these to the sauce (I reserve a bit of carrot to add to the top). Coat the beef and carrot with the sauce and serve with steamed rice.