Sunday, February 12, 2006

Asian telephone: second call

If I were the sort of person who booked plane tickets on a whim, last night's dinner would've led to a trip to Singapore. For my second installment of Asian telephone, I took oyster sauce and Shao Xing rice wine as my carryover ingredients from China to Singapore. I have a feeling that I'll be doing a lot of cooking from here in the upcoming months, as Singapore is a perfect link between the cuisine of China and the more tropical regions of southeast Asia. Not only that, I have an interesting recently-acquired cookbook (Shiok! by Terry Tan and Christopher Tan) filled with tempting recipes.

Last night's dinner was "Beef Hor Fun." This is one of those substantial beef and noodle dishes that can be found in many Asian places: beef yakisoba, Korean beef noodles and soy sauce noodles with beef and greens are other examples of the genre. I think the beef hor fun may have been the tastiest of all of them, however.

Hor fun are wide rice noodles; I only had narrower rice noodles on hand, so I did the best I could with them (I probably should have used rice flakes instead). The recipe does call for the widest rice noodles you can find, and the noodles were under-represented in the final dish, so that will have to be corrected next time around. The beef is sliced sirloin and is marinated in two tablespoons each of Shao Xing rice wine, sesame oil and oyster sauce, plus one and a half tablespoons of grated ginger and a teaspoon of black pepper. Marinate between half an hour and three hours; I probably let it sit for about two and a half hours. Add two teaspoons of cornstarch to the beef and marinade just before starting to cook.

Take your rice noodles (fresh or previously cooked) and stir-fry in three tablespoons of vegetable oil and two tablespoons of dark soy sauce for two minutes (I used Chinese mushroom soy, although it better fits the Tans' definition of "thick dark soy sauce"). Brown the noodles slightly and remove from the pan; my noodles were browned more than slightly, and left a brown crust on the pan surface, but they didn't actually burn. Add one more tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan and stir-fry the beef for two minutes (I added the marinade as well, though there are no specific instructions about this). Add 150 milliliters (2/3 of a cup minus a tablespoon) of water and the noodles to the pan and stir-fry for another minute, then add three sliced scallions and cook for 30 seconds (I omitted the scallions since the ones I have on hand are looking long in the tooth). Serve with pickled green chiles, if you have them on hand (not to worry, Shiok! has a recipe for them, too, though I didn't serve them last night).

It's hard to put my finger on it, but this was truly delicious. I stir-fried the beef a bit longer than was recommended, just to thicken the sauce some. The sauce was a wonderful beefy gravy with excellent flavor, thick but not so copious it drowned the other ingredients. The rice noodles (as befits their chameleon-like nature) soaked up the other ingredients and transformed themselves into more beefy goodness. The beef was done to medium, not medium-rare as is often the case in stir-fries like this. If you're a "meat and potatoes" kind of person, this might be a good Asian dish for you to try.

So, for our next episode of Asian telephone, potential ingredients include beef, rice noodles, ginger, sesame oil and Chinese mushroom soy. Since the carryover ingredients for this step were Shao Xing rice wine and oyster sauce, they probably should be disqualified for the next go-round. Ingredients like black pepper, cornstarch and vegetable oil (oh, and water too) seem generic enough that they should be disqualified as well. I expect the "rules" for Asian telephone will evolve as I play the game.

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