published Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Chinese beef dish leaves a spicy bite

You can call it a peppercorn all you like, but the peppery ingredient that puts the buzz in Szechuan-style cooking actually isn’t one.

Though it resembles and is used similar to black peppercorns, Szechuan pepper isn’t a peppercorn at all. Rather, it is the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the prickly ash tree. And you don’t need to be a heat fiend to love it. Because while it does have a peppery bite, its real power is in the tingling, zingly feeling it leaves on your tongue, rather than a true heat.

In Chinese cooking, the Szechuan pepper often is used with meats and is a basic component of five-spice powder. In this weeknight-friendly beef recipe, we combine the Szechuan pepper with spicy chili garlic paste for a dish that will jumpstart your mouth. Serve it over rice or noodles.

Szechuan Beef

Start to finish: 30 minutes (plus marinating)

Servings: 4

1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain

3 tablespoons chili garlic paste

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper, crushed

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons mirin or rice wine

3 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal

2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal

3 scallions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Rice or noodles, to serve

Place the flank steak slices in a zip-close plastic bag. Add the chili garlic paste, ginger and Sichuan pepper. Seal the bag, then massage the seasonings into the meat. Refrigerate and allow to marinate at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

When ready to cook, in a large, deep skillet or a wok over high, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the beef and sauté for 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned and starting to dry. Add the soy sauce, mirin, celery, carrots and scallions. Cook for another 4 minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp tender. Serve over noodles or rice.

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