Chili Pepper Steak

Dear Friends,

When you see a sale on beef, I recommend loading up. The breeding herds  continue to shrink nationwide as ranchers send their cows and steers to slaughter rather than pay the rising cost of feed. Wholesale beef prices are up and supplies are down according to the latest reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economists expect beef prices to climb steadily through next year.

I beefed up my supply last week when I saw flat iron steak on sale in one store and sirloin on sale in another. Tony and I had two steak dinners and have four more on ice. Our steak dinners were not typical. One was a steak salad and the other was  my version of Chinese pepper steak, dreamed up because of the glut of produce ripening in my garden.

I used the top sirloin for the stir fry. Sirloin is probably my favorite cut of steak because it has more flavor than pricier cuts such as ribeye, strip and filet mignon. That’s because sirloin comes from a muscle that gets more use than the others. However, when buying sirloin to serve as steak, always choose top sirloin. Bottom sirloin and sirloin tip, although advertised as steaks, are tougher cuts that should be braised rather than grilled. And don’t even get me started on round steak, which is roughly as tender as shoe leather. I laugh when I see ads featuring round roasts sliced to show a rosy-red interior. Either braise that roast for a couple of hours or plan on chewing each bite for about that long.

Top sirloin was a good choice for my unconventional pepper steak, based on a recipe for shredded Chili-Pepper Beef in “The Key to Chinese Cooking” by Irene Kuo. I used Kuo’s sauce recipe (slightly modified) and her technique for cutting the meat and vegetables into julienne (she calls it “shredding”), but used  lots of fresh bell and medium-hot peppers instead of dried.

Kuo slippery-coats the beef, a process that involves marinating the shreds, stirring them very briefly in hot oil and then draining. Slippery-coating tenderizes the beef, she says. It also flavors the beef and allows it to be stir fried in a flash when the dish is put together.

Kuo heats a cup of oil in the wok or frying pan, stirs in the coated beef shreds and drains through a sieve. I cheated and used a ladle-type strainer to retrieve the beef from the oil (a large slotted spoon would work, too), then poured the oil into another pan. This was easier than juggling a pan of  hot oil and a sieve. If you use my method, be quick, though, or the beef will cook.

Cutting all of the ingredients into the same size julienne not only is visually appealing, it gives the stir fry a pleasing mouth feel. I think it somehow contributes to the flavor, too.

This recipe was developed to showcase fresh peppers, so use any variety in any combination you want – red and green bell, hot green, hot yellow Hungarian, poblano, anaheim, etc. Let supplies and your heat tolerance be your guide. I used green bell, green medium-hot Nu-Mex and yellow medium-hot Hungarian peppers. The peppers you choose should be large enough to cut into shreds the same size as the beef.

The recipe that follows served two at my house. It may serve four at your house, as Kuo says, but I doubt it. It just tastes too good.

CHILI PEPPER STEAK

shreddedstirfry13 009.jpg

  • 1 lb. boneless top sirloin steak
  • 2 large celery ribs
  • 3 cups julienned fresh peppers, a mixture of sweet and hot
  • 1/2 cup julienned white or yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Slippery-coating:

  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. dry sherry or white wine
  • 4 tsp. red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. roasted and ground Szechuan peppercorns (see note)
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp. water
  • 4 tsp. sesame oil

Trim any fat from beef and cut meat across the grain into strips about 3 inches long and 1/4-inch wide. Place in 1-gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. In a small bowl, combine ingredients for slippery coating and pour over meat, squishing bag with hands to coat evenly. Close bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the celery, peppers and onion, discarding pepper seeds and stem. Cut vegetables into slivers the length and width of the meat strips. Place near stove. Measure out 1 cup oil and place near stove.

Combine sauce ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Set aside.

When ready to cook, place a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Next to the skillet, place a  ladle-type strainer or large slotted spoon and a pot or container that will hold 1 cup of hot oil. When the skillet is hot, add oil and heat until oil shimmers. Working quickly but carefully, add meat to oil and stir briskly in fast circular motions 5 or 6 times to separate the meat strips. Turn off heat and quickly transfer meat to a bowl using the strainer or slotted spoon. Pour oil into the nearby  pot or container.

Return skillet to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil from the nearby pot. Add garlic and stir a few times. Turn heat to high and add celery, peppers and onions. Toss and stir for about 1 1/2 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften. Add beef and stir fry 1 minute  longer. Shake sauce again and pour into pan, stirring rapidly to coat ingredients evenly.  Cook and stir for about one minute. Remove from heat. Serve over steamed rice. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Note: Dried Szechuan peppercorns are sold in Asian food stores. Toast them in a dry skillet until they begin to darken, then grind in a spice grinder.

TIDBITS

Finding fresh local corn is easy, but where do  you go for home-grown melons? Not every farmer grows melons because they require lots of attention to stave off diseases such as powdery mildew. Local melons are worth the search because they’re usually much sweeter than those shipped in, which are picked prematurely and do not sweeten once they are cut from the vines.

I found a great source for home-grown seeded watermelons, candy-sweet cantaloupes and honeydews. Check out Seiberling Farm http://www.seiberlingfarm.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=57, where melons, just-picked corn, tomatoes and whatever else is ripe that day are sold from a tent that’s practically in the farmer’s field.

Seiberling Farm is located at 1147 Greenwich Road in Norton. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily including Sundays.

I’LL BE COOKING Thursday at the Copley Creekside Farmers’ Market. If all goes well I plan to make both grilled ratatouille and grilled peach pie for sampling. The demo is free, and I’ll have recipes to pass out. Join me from about 3 to 6 p.m. at 1245 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road just north of Copley Circle in Copley.

THE MAILBAG

From Jan Cramer:
I got this recipe from a friend in Texas. At this time of year with the corn at its best, it is a great dish.
I cooked the corn about 10 minutes on the cobb, let it cool, and then cut it off
to use it.

DYNASTY CORN PUDDING

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 to 4 cups fresh corn kernels (may use frozen if necessary but not canned)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 can (4 oz.) chopped mild green chilies
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole with butter or cooking spray.

In a food processor or blender, puree 1 cup of the corn. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in butter, eggs, and sour cream until well blended. Stir in remaining 3 cups corn kernels.
Stir in the Monterey jack and the chilies.

Pour into prepared casserole.  Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Dear Jan: Yum. Adding Tex-Mex touches to corn pudding is a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

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