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Szechwan shredded beef

Ask me about my favorite cooking heritages and I'll likely answer "Italian" or "French," the traditional cuisines that set the standard for the Western world.

But catch me in a moment of culinary boredom, or satiation after a spell of fine French or Italian dining, and the chances are very good that when I'm ready to give my taste buds a break I'll turn to something Asian. Last week I mentioned heading straight for Melbourne's Chinatown after a long stretch of fine international fare Down Under; I've also been known to take a break for Chinese food in Italy ... Vietnamese or Indian in France.

From Japan around Southeast Asia to India and through all the regional cuisines of China, Asian fare delights with bright colors and equally bright flavors; and if it follows a different paradigm than Western fare, that makes it no less appealing.

Which brings us to today's recipe, a quick and reasonably simple dish from Szechwan in Western China. A pretty mix of beef, carrots and celery stir-fried together in long shreds, it's easy to modify to your liking, and looks as good as it tastes.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

8 ounces (250 grams) beef (see note)
2 tablespoons (30 grams) light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sherry
2 or 3 medium carrots
3 stalks celery
Fresh ginger, enough to yield 1 tablespoon minced
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
Dried red pepper flakes or whole dried red chile peppers to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
1/2 cup (125 grams) chicken broth or beef broth (optional)


1. This dish offers an excellent use for leftover roast beef, although it's just as good with fresh beef. Just about any cut will do, although I recommend lean, tender cuts like sirloin rather than flank (too stringy) or chuck (too fatty). In any case, cut the beef into thin, matchstick-size pieces, a chore that may be easier if you pop it into the freezer for an hour or two before cutting, just long enough to make it firm. Put the beef shreds in a bowl, toss them with the soy sauce and Sherry, and set aside to marinate at room temperature while you attend to the other preparations.

2. Peel the carrots and trim the celery. Cut both into long shreds roughly similar in size and shape to the shreds of beef. I generally use the food processor's shredding attachment to save time on this step. Peel the fresh ginger and garlic cloves and mince them fine.

3. Heat your wok screeching hot over a high flame. Put in the oil, swirl it around, and quickly stir-fry the minced ginger and garlic with dried red-pepper flakes or small red chile peppers to taste. If I'm serving this dish with wine, I'll hold back on the hot peppers, offering extra red peppers or hot sauce at the table for those who want more fire. As soon as the garlic and ginger start to brown, put in the beef shreds (if raw) and toss just until they start to sear. Then add the shredded carrots and celery and stir-fry until they're crisp-tender. (If you're using leftover cooked beef, reverse this order, starting with the vegetables and then adding the beef just long enough to warm through.)

4. At this point, the dish is ready to serve in its traditional Szechwanese "dry-fried" form. However, if you prefer a little sauce for your rice, feel free to add the optional broth, thickening it with the cornstarch, using a little at a time until it's the way you like it.

Mounds of steaming white rice and perhaps a salad are all the accompaniments you'll need to make this a meal.

WINE MATCH: Asian dishes are not traditionally associated with wine, but I find little difficulty making a match, using traditional pairing rules to come up with a match for the main meat or protein ingredient in a stir-fry, then considering whether ingredients in the sauce alter the equation. In this case, with the spicy heat held back as noted, a fruity, not-too-complex Merlot seemed right, and the "international-style" Languedoc Merlot featured in yesterday's tasting report, J et F Lurton 2000 "Les Salices" Merlot Vin de Pays d'Oc, served well. You'll find my tasting note at

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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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