I made this for dinner early last week. By the time Jacob and I were halfway done, we were already sniffling, with sweat beads ready to form. Even in the pantheon of Sichuan cuisine, this is one helluva spicy dish.
Shuizhu niurou (水煮牛肉) is translated literally into English as "water-boiled beef", a rather benign name for such a potent tongue-burning dish. Restaurant versions usually come in a clay or iron pot, with about 100 chilis foating on the surface of the bright red broth, and a few pieces of beef poking through. It could more aptly be named "water-boiled chilis with beef garnish." The fish version can be equally alarming. But for spice fiends and native Sichuanese, this fiery dish is pure delicious comfort food.
Fortunately, the version I made at home is manageable, though just barely. The nice part is that if you don't care about how impressively red the broth is, you can adjust the spiciness to your tolerance level, by 1) using less chili bean sauce, or 2) leaving the dried chili peppers whole instead of chopping them up and unleashing the beastly seeds.
Bonus impressive ending (stricly optional): after plating the finished beef and sauce, reheat some oil in your wok until just smoking. Pour the oil over your dish so the beef and chilis crackle. If you hurry your dish to the table, it will still be crackling in front of your guests.
Whether you can stand the full heat or adjust the spiciness, this nice soupy meat dish will warm you up before central heating starts.
What is the most tongue-numbing, sweat-inducing, sinus-clearing cooked dish you've ever tasted?
Sichuan Water-Boiled Beef in Chili Sauce
Serves 4 as part of multi-course meal
- 1 stalk of celery, stems only
- 4 scallions, white parts only
- 1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain
- 1 tablespoon yellow rice wine
- 5 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, plus more if needed
- 8 to 10 dried red chilies
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn
- 3 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
- Allow the beef to marinate in rice wine and salt mixture for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare other ingredients.
- Slice the celery and scallions to 2-inch lengths.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok until just smoking. Stir-fry the chillis and Sichuan peppercorn until fragrant and the chillis begin to blister, about 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately remove the spices and set aside in a small bowl, leaving oil in the wok. When chillis are cooled, roughly chop them and return to the bowl with Sichuan pepper.
- Reheat the wok and stir-fry the celery and scallions until just cooked, about 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of salt in the wok, then transfer to serving dish.
- Add more oil to the wok if needed. Over medium heat, stir-fry the chili bean paste until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock and dark soy sauce and bring to boil. Lower the heat to simmer. Add the cornstarch mixture to beef and mix well. Drop the beef slices into wok and simmer until the beef is just cooked, about 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon the beef and sauce into a serving dish over the vegetables.
- Sprinkle chopped chilies and peppercorn on top of the beef. Working quickly, heat another 2 tablespoons of oil until just smoking. Remove from heat and pour the hot oil over beef dish, causing it to sizzle. Serve immediately; if you're quick, the dish will still be sizzling when you bring it to the table.