Thursday, August 24, 2006

Things they don't teach you

File it under ‘Not having an Einstein moment’.

A long day. Hotter that it had been recently, as well. Which adds to the brain drain. Maybe a little tired. Sort of getting things ready on auto pilot. Because, even though this is a new recipe, which, of course I’m not following exactly anyways, I had read it through last night. And I think I have the idea. I have already planned how I’m intend to modify it.

Chopping up some long beans. Chinese style.

Mixing up some marinade.

Slicing some flank steak – super thin and against the grain of course.

We’re going to try some Orange Beef. Hunan style. Sounds like fun. And I’ve never tried it before.

So after mixing, and chopping, and assembling for a while, nature called. As sometimes happens. No problems. I’m a pretty clean person.

But it was afterwards. Immediately afterwards. As I was taking out my contact lenses.

Everything started to burn.

And, of course, I knew I had unthinkingly handled Thai chili peppers shortly before nature so rudely interrupted. They were in the marinade. It’s actually spicy orange beef. And of course the capsicum from the chili peppers was still all over my fingers. And being an oily thing, had soaked in and was not going away soon.

Blame it on the long day and the cooking on auto-pilot. Something I try to avoid.

First the eyes. Which was bad enough. But as the immediate and intense pain there began to subside, I knew I was in trouble.

Other – areas – began to burn as well.

Man, talk about a mindless moment. And, yes, I know I could have used gloves. But I usually don’t, because I’m usually involved in the cooking and don’t make such mistakes. They can teach you everything about sauces and handling food and techniques, but they can’t teach you about staying awake.

Well, I knew it would go away eventually.

But, even though I was somewhat more alert now, the constant burn kind of put me off my game. It distracted me. That, plus the usual people yelling about something, and the clock ticking away.

And then I screwed up the recipe. Because I was distracted by the burn and the noise and started cooking along in sort of auto pilot mode again. And by the time I realized it, it was too late. I had already sautéed the beef, just like I’ve done a million times before. When I realized that this recipe called for the strips of beef to be deep fried. Actually deep fried twice, for that super crisp effect (like they do with French fries).

So that evening, we ate lesser spicy Hunan orange beef. Not the way it was intended. It tasted fine. But unimpressive.

The next morning, I took all the remaining beef out of the leftovers, and deep fried it per the original recipe concept. And tossed it lightly in a fresh batch of clear sauce, as was originally intended. And naturally used the more correct preparation for the pictures. I figured cooking once and deep frying once was almost the same as deep frying twice.

And it was really good! I think the crisp effect was 90% there. Way better than the one I served for dinner, which wasn’t half bad, by the way. But it lacked the crunch and crisp finish of the intended recipe.

Hunan Spicy Orange Beef
Recipe from The FoodNetwork, adapted by surfindaave

For the beef:
2 pounds thick flank steak, weighed after trimming, cut into strips 2 1/2 inches by 1/4 inch
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 teaspoon Shao-Hsing wine or dry sherry
Pinch freshly ground white pepper
4 tablespoon peanut oil
8 tablespoons cornstarch

For the sauce:
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tablespoon sugar (we used 2 tbsp agava nectar)
4 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoon Chinese white rice vinegar or distilled vinegar
½ cup Chicken Stock
Pinch freshly ground white pepper

3 1/2 cups peanut oil, to deep-fry the beef
5 small dried chilies
3 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 fresh Thai chili, minced
4 tablespoons 1/2- by 1/8-inch pieces fresh orange peel, most of pith removed
6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch sections
2 oranges, separated into sections

Marinate the beef with baking soda in the refrigerator for 8 hours or, preferably, overnight. After marinating, wash thoroughly, twice, with cold water. Drain and dry with paper towels.

Place the beef in a bowl, add the egg white, and mix well until the beef is coated. Add the wine, white pepper, 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and cornstarch, mixing with your hand each time and ingredient is added. Allow to rest for 1 hour, refrigerated. There should be no residue.

In a bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat for 1 minute. Add the 3 1/2 cups peanut oil and heat to 400 degrees F (I chickened out and only got my oil to 380ºF). Place the beef strips, one at a time, in the oil and cook for 1 1/2 minutes, loosening the beef with a spatula. Remove with a strainer and drain. Heat the oil again to 425 degrees F. Place the beef strips again in the oil and cook for 2 minutes, until the beef becomes crisp. Remove and allow to drain.
Drain off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the wok and heat over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the dried chilies, stir, and cook until darkened. Add the ginger and garlic and stir briefly. Add the fresh chili and orange peel and stir briefly. Add the scallions, and mix well. Add the beef and cook, stirring, for 45 seconds. Make a well in the center of the mixture, stir the sauce mixture, and pour in. Mix well until the sauce is absorbed and the beef acquires a shiny coating. Remove to a serving dish and serve, garnished with the orange slices.

Serve with a vegetable, such as stir fried Chinese long beans, and steamed rice. Enjoy!

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