Last night I made something really fantastic. I got it from Grace Young’s The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. It is not only a book of recipes, but is also filled with discussions of how food plays a role in Chinese culture. Young talks about this by way of stories of her family’s immigrant experience and her own re-discovery of Chinese cuisine as an adult.
One of the recipes that piqued my interest was one she describes as her brother’s and her very favorite dish growing up. It was simple weeknight fare, but the kind that gets etched in your memory forever. This was the one I wanted to try first. The recipe is simply named Tomato Beef and, aside from a couple of basic Asian sauces, involves quite simple ingredients including… you guessed it, tomato and beef. I did some quick research on this recipe and it seems that it is a common Cantonese homestyle dish, although I personally have never noticed it on American Chinese restaurant menus. It is a bit different from what you might normally think of as Chinese food since it has a bright, tangy sauce and only a very subtle soy flavor. I LOVED it, and it will be immediately going into the usual dinner rotation. I’m wondering how it would taste with a different protein, although for some reason the only one I can really imagine with it is fish.
For my first try, I scrupulously followed the recipe, which is unusual for me, but I do try to do it when the technique or style of cooking is a departure from what I typically would make. Then I found a recipe for the same dish, also by Grace Young, online with modified quantities and order. This threw me off, since after making it and loving it, I had decided that the recipe as printed was gospel. I’m going to stick with the original except for one thing. A couple of the liquids are called for in absurdly small quantities (1/4 tsp of sesame oil??) that I rounded up to simplify. I don’t think this will change anything except spare you the search for your quarter teaspoon.
The magic of this recipe happens when the seared beef is coated in the bright ginger tomato broth. The oyster sauce and other Asian flavors just add a sweetness and a hint of umami (umami is that mysterious, earthy savoriness that the Japanese described and that is so prevalent in Asian cooking). The flank steak is both lean and tender, and works very well for this cooking method. I recommend using a cast iron skillet if you don’t have a wok. Cast iron skillets are fantastic for high heat cooking and they brown foods in a way that is very difficult to achieve with a non-stick.
- 12 ounces lean flank steak
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shao Hsing rice wine (or mirin)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus 1 teaspoon
- 2 lbs of tomatoes or one 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in juice
- 4 scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch section
1. Cut the beef with the grain into 2-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a medium bowl combine the beef, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir to combine and set aside.
2. To prepare the fresh tomatoes, plunge into boiling water until the skins break. Peel skins, core, and slice tomatoes into wedges.
3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil, carefully add the beef, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1-2 minutes, letting the beef begin to sear. Then stir-fry 1 minute, or until the beef is lightly browned but not cooked through. Transfer the beef to a plate.
4. Add the tomatoes with their juice to the wok, sprinkle on the remaining sugar, and bring to a boil. Add the oyster sauce and cook 2-3 minutes. Return the beef with any juices that have accumulated to the wok, add the scallions, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the beef is just cooked through and the sauce is slightly thickened.
MUST be served with rice, as the sauce is so delicious that you wouldn’t want to leave it. Young says that delicious sauces are a way that Chinese parents get their children to eat rice, which is considered very important. She explains that children eating their rice is a happy sight for Chinese parents. My little guy, however, was happy to just slurp up spoonfuls of the broth on its own!
I hope you try it!