Tuesday, July 28, 2009

JB's Beef and Leek with Homemade Noodles (Mian)

beef and leek chinese food with homemade noodles 刀削面 dao xiao mianThis dish is apparently pretty typical for home cooking in the Beijing area in China, although the noodles were supposed to be shaved noodles (刀削面, dao xiao mian) instead of what I made due to inexperience. Either way, the fresh pasta is approximately a billion times better than stuff that is dried in boxes, and it's easy enough to make from flour and water that there's not a lot of need to feel like it shouldn't be done. Now this dish is both very nice and reminiscent of what is frequently served in Chinese restaurants and called "Mongolia beef" although without all the pepperiness and with the mellow flavor of (a lot of) leek. It's quite excellent with lamb as well, as I can attest since I had it from JB's wok that way several times. Like essentially everything on here, it's also quite easy to make and a people-pleaser. My dish fed the four of us (both kids are girls, so if you have boys or are feeding adults, you'll probably need to make slightly more than this, particularly in the noodle department).

I used for the stir fry:

  • One and a half pounds of beef steak, cut very thin across the grain (like almost deli-meat thin);
  • Two leeks, washed thoroughly, washed again, peeled, cut, washed again, and then cut up into quarters lengthwise and into inch-long sections, using all but perhaps the last quarter of the green part (this is quite a pile of onions and looks intimidating), then rinsed again (leeks are sandy);
  • Two Nardello peppers, cut to match the pieces of leek in size;
  • Two cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • About an inch of ginger, finely chopped;
  • Two tablespoons soy sauce;
  • A half teaspoon or so of red pepper flake;
  • Two tablespoons of peanut or canola oil;
  • Salt to taste.
For the noodles:
  • About two cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour, sifted into a bowl;
  • a half teaspoon of salt;
  • Roughly 2/3 of a cup of water (enough to make a proper dough);
  • 11 gallons of elbow grease.
The first thing I did to make this was crush the garlic and chop it up (always do the garlic first to get more health out of it). Then I did the ginger and the leek, followed by the pepper. I transferred all of the veg except the garlic and ginger to a separate plate, started a pot of salted water to head toward boiling, and cut up the meat next, taking care to trim the fat and to slice very thin and as neatly across the grain as I could. Essentially, I wanted my pieces to come out roughly a half-inch wide, an inch or so long, and as thin as I could comfortably cut it. That took a little while, so the water was getting close. I set all of this aside next to start making the pasta dough. In hindsight, I maybe should have made the pasta dough first, but I'm not sure about that. Making the dough is easy: put the flour and salt in a bowl, make a depression in the middle, pour in most of the water, stick your hand in, and mix it up. It sticks to your hand, and then as the dough starts to come together, it starts to come off. If not, add more flour and keep going, rubbing it off your hand. You want this dough to be a little on the dry side. Mine was a little on the too-wet side, which had rather bad consequences later. Once the dough comes together, roll it out of the bowl and onto the counter and knead the heck out of it for about 5-10 minutes. You just want it to relax, not to be something you can pull into fancy pulled noodles (you have to knead that for over half an hour). Longer kneading times lead to chewier pasta, but it depends on how much time you have and are willing to invest. JB didn't knead his forever, so I didn't knead mine for very long either.

Set the ball of dough aside to rest while you start the stir fry: oil in the pan over high or medium-high heat until it's hot. Add the meat first and stir it around a little, adding the garlic and ginger soon after with a little salt. Stir that around a little and add the rest of the veg. Mix things together nicely, add some salt for the veggies, and pour in the soy sauce. I turned the heat down to medium-high at that point and covered it while I started to make the noodles.

Ideally, with shaved pasta, you take a sharp knife and shave chunks of dough off directly into the boiling water: easy as can be. When the noodles have cooked for a few minutes (sometimes they seem to float, sometimes not), strain them and they're done. The problem is that my dough was too wet, so the sharp knife (which I sharpened and which was therefore, indeed, very sharp) wouldn't finish the job; the noodles kept sticking to it or failing to cut all the way off the lump of dough. That was no good. I used JB's "finishing the dough" trick from the beginning to deal with that problem. Basically, I squeezed the dough thin and tore it off with my fingers, tossing it into the boiling water. Squeeze, tear, toss; squeeze, tear, toss; etc. After about two minutes, the whole lump of dough was in the water boiling away. After about two or three more minutes, it was cooked as lovely homemade pasta.

In China, it's typical to serve this stuff the Chinese way: all of the stir-fried stuff would have been uncovered, stirred, and adjusted for proper seasoning, and then it would be put into a large serving bowl in the middle of the table, possibly with a spoon in it for spooning up the greasy, delicious "gravy" at the bottom. Each person would get a bowl of noodles and add from the serving bowl according to their wants. I just dumped the drained pasta into the wok, turned off the heat, and stirred it around with the stir-fry (which is also acceptable, apparently). That seemed to work really well and is what you see pictured at the top of the page (there aren't more pictures of this exciting dish because the camera was otherwise employed while I was cooking it). It's way good and quite easy, so I hope everyone tries it out.

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