Do you ever find yourself in one of those situations where you put things off, and put them off again, finding the idea of them just too daunting? This was one of those times. Hot and numbing beef just sounded (and tasted) so complicated and different. I always wanted to make it but never quite dared. Until now.
And, like so many seemingly daunting tasks, it actually proved to be pretty straight forward to make. The result was more than pleasing, it was dammned delicious – ahem – if I say so myself. The meat was as tender as a soft pudding and made a dense meaty backdrop to a barrow load of zippy exciting flavours.
I never quite worked out how those restaurants managed to make the beef so tender and still slice it so thinly. Turns out cooling the meat down makes it very simple. And while we’re talking about cool meat, there is something so unctuous about room temperature beef, smoking hot chilli and tingly numbing sichuan pepper corns. It sent my poor brain into a numb opium fug highlighted with bright amphetamine fireworks. Who needs drugs when you have Sichuan pepper corns?
The various toppings and sauce ingredients lend both texture and flavour to the beef. The first mouthful starts with a meaty flavour quickly followed by an incipient tingling numbness that will build with each successive mouthful, the salty-sweet viscous sauce and that wonderfull toasty chilli heat that builds and dies, builds and dies like a series of every higher and hotter bonfires. All this is offset by cooling crisp celery and aromatic coriander. The nuts add depth and some crunch to everything. It’s a real melange of flavour that melds into something really quite special.
The recipe requires time but not much in the way of effort. You just have to ensure that you give yourself enough time to cook the beef for a couple of hours and still leave it to cool totally before eating. I spent an invalid day with a throat infection gently putting it all together. But hey, it certainly made me forget my misery in the evening.
Hot and numbing beef slices
Serves two to four as an appetiser
400-500g boneless beef shin in a single piece
A large thumb of ginger unpeeled and cut into thick rounds
2 spring onions, white sections only, crushed
2 star anise
Half a cinnamon stick
Half tsp whole sichuan pepper corn
1 tblsp Shaoxing wine
1 tsp salt
Quarter tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper
1 garlic clove – finely chopped
1 tsp light soy sauce
3-5 tblsp chilli oil
Quarter tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tblsp finely sliced spring onion greens
1 celery stick – finely diced
A handful of roasted peanuts, roughly chopped/crushed
Rinse the beef, place in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that floats to the surface then add the ginger, spring onion whites, spices, Shaoxing wine and salt and bring back to the boil. Cover, turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cook super slowly for at least two hours.
When the beef is cooked, set it aside to cool reserving 75ml of cooking liquid. I froze the rest to use in there cooking.
Gently toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until they start to turn gold and smell great. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Mix the sauce ingredients with the reserved cooking liquid and stir well to combine. Once the beef is totally cool, slice it thinly and lay out on a dish. Pour over the sauce and scatter over the garnish ingredients and serve.