Like many of my generation who were exposed to poor quality Chinese takeaway in our youth, I abstained for quite some time from eating or cooking Chinese meals. This was not totally the fault of those who were trying to expand our experience; they had to change things to suit a far different to their own Western palate. Far more exciting at the time were the fresh and aromatic dishes from the “newer wave” of Asian cuisines: Thai, Vietnamese, even Malaysian and Burmese.
However, in a classic example of never say never, I have gladly brought Chinese cooking into my repertoire. I cannot say exactly when it began to sneak back in, but it was certainly solidified by a trip to China a few years back that had me in raptures over what I was eating. Food and eating is an incredibly important part of culture and family in China. I feel that this is reflected in the food, and that too is part of the appeal. The Last Chinese Chef is a book that captures this perfectly. I read it recently and was entertained and inspired. It was as though I could taste every dish that was captured on the pages.
So here, after some inspiration, is my homage to a 1970s suburban Chinese restaurant classic – beef and blackbean. You will notice some South East Asian influences, but I think they work well.
¼ cup peanut oil
1 teaspoon ginger finely chopped
½ teaspoon garlic finely chopped
200g beef fillet sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon fermented black beans (most asian grocers will have these)
6-8 oyster mushrooms sliced
6-8 shiitake mushrooms stalks removed and sliced
2 tblsp palm sugar
2 tblsp light soy sauce
2 tblsp shao xing
4 tblsp oyster sauce
¼ cup fresh chicken stock
200g rice noodle sheets cut into 2cm strips
½ bunch gai larn leaves and stalks chopped separately
2 spring onions cut into 3cm lengths
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ cup sweet thai basil leaves
pinch of ground white pepper
I have discovered that you need to have a good kitchen exhaust fan/rangehood if you are me and cook lots of things at high temperatures! This is another example.
Heat the oil in a wok until just smoking and add the ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant – you will know when this is!
Add the beef slices and stir-fry for 1 minute and remove. Next reduce the heat (this is so everything doesn’t evaporate as soon as it hits the wok) add the gai larn stalks, black beans, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, shao xing, palm sugar, soy and oyster sauces and the chicken stock. Stir-fry for a further minute by which time the palm sugar should have melted.
Add the rice noodles, gai larn leaves and shallots, return the meat and cook for one last minute, returning the heat to high. Keep everything moving so that the rice noodles are well separated. Finally, add the sesame oil toss through and remove from the heat
Spoon into the centre of a large bowl or platter (or individual bowls), then sprinkle over the basil leaves and pepper.