Sunday, 30 May 2010

Sichuan dry fried shredded beef 干煸牛肉絲

Dry fried shredded beef or 'gun ban niu rou si' 干煸牛肉絲 is a delicious Sichuan dish.

'Gun ban' 干煸 is a twice cooked method whereby meat or vegetable is shallow fried with oil till dry and brown, this frying gives a lot of flavour to the meat or vegetables. The fried meat or vegetable is then stir fried with a spicy and savoury flavour. Famous 'gun ban' dishes are dry fried shredded beef or 'gun ban niu rou si' 干煸牛肉絲 and the other is dry fried green beans 'gun ban si ji dou' 干煸四季豆

I love dry fried shredded beef. The meat is quite chewy but very tasty. The flavour is very fragrant with a full on spicy flavour; a combination of dried chilli, chilli bean sauce, sichuan pepper and ginger. The celery also given a nice flavour to the dish.

Here is my recipe if you are interested.

Gan ban niu rou si 干煸牛肉絲


500g lean beef steak (rump or sirloin)
2 sticks of celery
a small handful celery tender leaves, roughly cut
1 small or half large red sweet pepper (or can sub with a small carrot)
1 thumb size ginger, peeled and finely shredded
2 - 4 large dried chillies
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 rounded tbsp chilli bean sauce (best use Pixian 郫县豆瓣)
about 1.5 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
dash of light soy to taste
0.5 tsp sugar
pinch of ground sichuan pepper

about 6 - 7 tbsp cooking oil

  1. To prepare the beef, remove any gristle. Pat dry the beef with kitchen paper to absorb as much moisture as you can. Cut the beef into thin long strips, as thin and long as possible. No need to marinate.
  2. Cut/shred the celery and red pepper into long thin strips too. Cut ginger into matchstick size.
  3. Dried chillies, de-seeded and cut into chunks
  4. Heat oil in wok then add Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies. Fry till the oil is very fragrant and chillies have turned almost black. Remove the chillies and peppercorns. Keep the chillies to add back to the dish later. Discard the peppercorns unless you like the crunch.
  5. While the oil is still very hot, turn the heat up to maximum. Add in the beef and spread it out but do not stir. The oil will start to boil rapidly. Wait till the oil stop bubbling and becoming clear again, then stir and fry till the beef is lightly brown and crisp a little on the edges. Push the meat to one side, turn the heat down to low. Remove most of the oil and leave about 1 tbsp.
  6. Turn the heat back on to high. Add ginger and chilli bean paste and stir fry briefly then add cooking wine. Add in the previously fried dried chilli (and sichuan peppercorns if you like the crunch).
  7. Add celery and red pepper and stir fry till vegetables are softened to your liking. Then stir in the celery leaves.
  8. Seasoned with enough light soy sauce to taste, pinch of sugar and pinch of ground Sichuan pepper.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Stir fried seitan with mixed vegetables 麵筋炒雜菜

I made seitan few days ago, I shallow fried and braised half the quantity, the remaining (about 300g) I boiled for about 30 minutes till cooked through. After cooling, I pat dry it and left in the fridge to use later. Raw seitan can also be steamed for about the same time till cooked through.

Yesterday I stir fry the boiled seitan with mixed vegetables. It was a yummy.

For the recipe of the stir fry

First prepare the seitan

about 300g cooked seitan
1.5 tbsp light soy
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

Cut the seitan into small cubes and marinate with soy, salt and pepper for 15 - 20 minutes. The seitan is quite tasteless, be generous with the added seasonings.

This boiled or steamed seitan feels like a lump of soft rubber, similar to Chinese fish paste cake but softer and chewier. Here is how it looks like with the marinade;

Now prepare the vegetables and other ingredients

2 - 3 fat cloves garlic, chopped
2 small or 1 medium large carrot, cut into cubes
2 sticks of celery, cut into cubes
about 200 -250g any favourite green beans, (I used stringless flat beans), cut into small pieces
about 1 handful of preserved/salted radish (chai bo) 菜脯, rinsed and cut into small pieces
about 1 cup of roasted peanuts (I dry roasted some raw peanuts), you can use bought ready to eat roasted & salted peanuts
2 - 3 eggs, beaten (if you are cooking for vegans, can leave eggs out)

some oyster sauce (vegetarian style or original)
pinch of pepper
some cooking oil

For the preserved radish this is the one I always buy and like. I once bought a different brand it was tough like old boots.

Ingredients prepared ready to cook

  1. Heat about 1 - 1.5 tbsp of oil till smoking hot, pour in the egg. The egg will puff quickly. Stir and scramble into small pieces. Fry till egg pieces are dry and slightly brown. Remove for later use.
  2. Put more oil into wok/pan, about 2 tbsp and add in the marinated seitan, avoid the marinated juice. Stir fry till the water/marinated juice has all evaporated and seitan pieces are lightly browned.
  3. Add garlic continue stirring.
  4. Then add in preserved radish and carrot. Stirring for a while.
  5. Then add in celery and green bean. keep stirring without adding any water.
  6. When vegetables are cooked but still very crunchy. It's almost ready.
  7. Seasoned with enough oyster sauce (about 1.5 - 2 tbsp) and pinch of ground pepper.
  8. Stir in scrambled egg.
  9. Finally add most of the peanuts, plate up and sprinkle the rest of peanuts on top.
This is how the dish looks like.

I love to serve this stir fry with plain rice congee (rice soup). Perfect match. You can also serve it with rice. This stir fry has so many ingredients with different flavours and textures, the egg is soft, the seitan is soft and chewy, and the vegetables and peanuts are all very crunchy. Every bite can taste different, all washed down with plenty of plain rice congee. The rice congee though not flavoured it has a delicate fragrance from the jasmine rice. The combo was heaven.

To make the rice congee, boil 1 cup of jasmine rice with about 8 - 9 cups of water till the texture looks like pouring porridge. I used the pressure cooker took about 20 minutes, if not can take about 1 hour.

This suggested quantity of mixed vegetables and rice soup will feed 4.

* If you don't have seitan, you can sub it with very firm and marinated tofu, something like Chinese dou gan 豆干 (super firm tofu, usually seasoned with salt and five spice, or some with chilli)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

半斤八两 Half catty eight taels

''半斤八两 Half catty eight taels''

In Mandarin reads as 'bun jin ba liang' or in Cantonese is 'boon gunn bak liong'

If you are familiar with Chinese have you heard of this expression before?

There is a very old hilarious Cantonese movie by the same name 半斤八两 (English title 'The Private Eyes') by the Hui brothers. Remember that? Here is the link to the movie if you like to watch it in Chinese, it's 96min.

'半斤八两 Half catty eight taels' is similar to the idiom 'Six of one, half dozen of the other' i.e. comparing two people or two things which have no difference to each other.

So what is catty and taels?

Catty and tael are very old Chinese weight measurements, similar to pound and ounce. Many old school Chinese stores like Chinese herbalists, goldsmiths or wet markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China still use these old measurements. Many South East Asian countries also use this old measurements till kilogram and gram are enforced. In Malay speaking countries, catty is written as 'kati' and tael is 'tahil'.

Further than catty 斤 and tael 两, the measurement is further graded down to 錢 (same writing as 'money' in Chinese reads as 'chan' in Mandarin or 'chin' in Cantonese) and 分 (read as 'fen' in both Mandarin and Cantonese). I don't know what 錢 and 分 are in English. These smaller measurements are mainly used to measure gold or silver, Chinese medicine or herbs or something very very light.

Ever seen any old fashion Chinese balances? (pictures are borrowed from the internet, thank you to the posters). They are called 秤砣 ('cheng tuo' both in Cantonese or Mandarin)

This one is commonly used in the wet markets for measuring catty and taels for vegetables, fish, meat etc....

These are smaller and more refined to measure 錢 (chan) or 分 (fen). Ever seen your Chinese herbalist measuring old twigs or herbs or your Chinese goldsmiths measuring your gold rings or earrings with this?

Since hundred of years ago till now, this is the measurement conversion chart.

一斤 (1 catty) = 十六兩 (16 taels) = 600g (This is how the expression 半斤八两 'Half catty eight taels' comes from)

一兩 (1 tael) = 十錢 (10 'chan') = 37.5g

一錢 (1 'chan') = 十分 (10 'fen') = 3.75g

一分 (1 'fen') = 0.375g

The above measurements have been used since a long time ago in China and many Chinese populated areas in the Far East.

In 1959, Mainland China decided to change these measurements while other areas in the Far East still use the old measurements till now. So if you are in China, this is the conversion they are using.

一斤 (1 catty) = 十兩 (10 taels) = 500g

一兩 (1 tael) = 十錢 (10 'chan') = 50g

一錢 (1 'chan') = 十分 (10 'fen') = 5g

一分 (1 'fen') = 0.5g

I find this information interesting and useful especially reading an old Chinese herbal book with formulae and herbal concoctions. Some of my very old Chinese cook books have recipes with catties and taels. I will pass this info to you , hope you find it useful too.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Stir fried courgette with glass noodles and prawns

I love courgettes (zucchini) a lot, my favourite summer vegetable. When freshly picked they have a lovely sweetness. Courgette can be bitter too, not very nice, I reckon may be due to the way they are grown or when they have been stored for over 4 - 5 days in the fridge. Always eat them as soon as you buy them or pick them. When buying and choosing courgettes look at the cut stem check if it is really fresh, if the cut stem looks dry and brown don't buy.

I love courgettes cut into long thin strips like spaghetti then cook with lots of garlic, anchovy and olive oil. Then stir into some pasta or spaghetti with a good sprinkling of parmesan. So so yummy!

This recipe I am posting today is how I like to cook courgette Chinese style. This dish is mild yet very tasty with a lovely clean flavour. The combination of courgette, glass noodles and prawns work so well. I can eat a big plateful of this on its own but mostly I have it with some rice.

Here is recipe:


few courgettes (zucchini) about 400 - 450g, cut into long thin strips
about 70 - 80g glass noodles (mung bean threads), or two small bundles, soaked, drained and cut into shorter length with scissors
about 125 - 150g of shelled raw prawns (shrimps), roughly chopped
2 - 3 fat cloves of garlic, chopped
about 1.25 - 1.5 tbsp fish sauce (or to your taste)
1 tsp of chicken bullion powder (if you don't like to use this sub with a bit more fish sauce)
good pinch of ground pepper
few tbsp cooking oil
a little sesame oil
some boiling water

If you cannot find courgette, you can use angle gourd or bottle gourd (丝瓜, 葫蘆)


To cook this dish, turn the heat to maximum all the way, so the wok or pan is really hot. Everything to be cooked very quickly, so the prawn not turning into rubber, the courgette is al dente and the noodles are softened very quickly.
  1. Heat the oil in wok till very hot, add the garlic in stir very quickly before it starts to burn add in the prawn. Stir briefly till prawn has changed colour and very fragrant.
  2. Add in the courgette stir fry very briefly then add in the noodles. Stir, add chicken bullion powder and add in a good splash of boiling water to cook the noodles.
  3. Soon as the noodles are cooked through and courgette is just soften yet with some crunch. It's almost ready. Seasoned with fish sauce, ground pepper and sesame oil.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Fried gluten puffs 炸麵筋球

If you have read the last post you may be wondering what I like to do with the gluten.

My favourite way to use gluten or seitan is to fry them in oil till they puff up and golden. Then they can be stuffed and/or braised. Fried gluten has a lovely nutty flavour, chewy and spongy. If you have eaten fried tofu puff, fried gluten is similar to fried tofu puff in texture and taste.

Here is how to fry the gluten.

First cut a lump of raw gluten into pieces. For the recipe below I used about 280g. Divide the pieces into 3 batches.

Next put in about 1" deep of oil in a wok or frying pan. Heat the oil for about 1 minute at medium heat till medium hot.

Why the oil must not be very hot? There are 2 reasons;
  1. if the oil is very hot, soon as you put the gluten in, the hot oil will spit because of the water content in gluten.
  2. if the oil is too hot, the gluten will shrink and brown too quickly and will not puff very big

Drop in one batch of gluten pieces one by one.

Remain heating the oil at medium - medium low heat, as long as the pieces sizzle evenly it's fine (see picture above). Keep turning the pieces, you will see them puffing up to 2X - 3X.

Once they puff up, you can then increase the heat a bit more. Fry them till golden then remove.

When you fry the second or third batch, the oil at the beginning should be very hot. Turn heat off first then drop in the pieces, when the gluten pieces stop sizzling rapidly then turn the heat back up to medium - medium low and continue as before.

Here is a plateful of puff balls from just a handful of raw gluten. They are crunchy and hollow.

How to use fried gluten puff balls?

You can stuff them with anything you like, with a veggie stuffing of chopped mushrooms (any type), bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, potato, carrot etc.... If you are meat eater can stuff with ground pork mix with shitake and water chestnuts, or add in some mince prawns is also very nice. If you have some fish paste this is also great as stuffing. Once stuffed they can be steamed or braised.

Other uses of gluten puff balls are to soften them then add to soups and any stir fries

Normally I like to soften these balls with boiling water, when the balls are softened then pour off the hot water and refresh with tap cold water. Squeeze the pieces to release excess oil, remove the water. Here is the result, they are soft, chewy and smell wonderfully nutty.

This is one recipe I like, is to braise these puff balls with mushroom with a chilli bean and black bean sauce.

Recipe - Braised fried gluten balls with mushrooms


Fry about 280 - 300g of raw gluten as instruction above. Then soak, soften and remove excess oil.

Take about 300 - 350g of common white mushrooms or chestnut (brown) mushrooms, cut into thick slices or bite size.

Chop about 2 -3 cloves garlic. Also chop a small piece of ginger.

Clean and slice about 3 - 4 stalks of spring onion or scallion.

Rinse and roughly chop about 1.5 tbsp fermented black beans (dousi)

Have about 1.5 - 2 tbsp chilli bean sauce (douban jiang) ready. I like to use Pixian. You can sub chilli bean sauce with yellow bean sauce with a little minced chilli.

Other ingredients include some cooking oil, dash of cooking wine, a little sugar, vegetarian oyster sauce or light soy (optional), little sesame oil, about 1 tsp of cornflour dissolve with a little water, and finally some water for braising.


  1. Heat few tbsp of oil in the wok. Add garlic and ginger, stir till fragrant.
  2. Add in the chilli bean sauce and black beans. Continue stirring for a while.
  3. Then add in the gluten and mushroom. Stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add in cooking wine, stir then add in about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of water. Let this braise for about 10 minutes till hot and bubbly.
  5. Taste for saltiness, if not enough can add some vegetarian oyster sauce or soy sauce and some sugar to taste. Thicken with slackened cornflour.
  6. Finally add in the spring onion and dash of sesame oil.

Will post more ways to use gluten and recipes later.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Homemade gluten or seitan 麵筋

Chinese has been using hydrated gluten or seitan (麵筋 'mien jin' in Mandarin) as a meat substitute ingredient for hundreds of years. Gluten is very versatile can be used in hundreds of ways and recipes. Not only as vegetarian it can also cook with meat or seafood. Fried gluten balls can be stuffed with minced fish or prawn or veggie filling. I love gluten especially fried then braised.

Gluten is not very digestible, if you have indigestion problem keep away or you will be bloated and suffering for hours.

Gluten or seitan is traditionally made with washing a lump of wheat dough in water and extracting the gluten. Or if you like you can buy gluten flour just mix with water. I have tried seitan made with gluten flour but not very keen I find it has a weird flavour. Gluten flour is available online but if you add the delivery cost it can be quite expensive.

I will show you how to make seitan the traditional way. It only costs around 80p for a bag of flour and a bit of time which isn't too bad.


1 bag (1.5kg) of strong white flour (bread flour)
about 3 tbsp of salt*
around 900ml water

*I was taught to use quite a lot of salt to make this dough to make better gluten. Don't worry you won't taste the salt, it will be washed away and leaving no trace of salt in the resulting seitan.

  1. Dissolve the salt in water. Then mix the flour and salted water together to a dough till evenly mixed. No need to knead. I mixed the dough in a bread machine in two equal batches.
  2. Cover and leave the dough to rest for 5 - 8 hours or overnight. By then the dough will become very stretchy.
  3. Put the dough in a very large bowl or clean washing up bowl. Add plenty of cold tap water and gently squeeze or knead the dough in water. Do not break the dough up into pieces, so be gentle, try to keep it in one single lump all the time. You will see the wheat starch melts into the water making it milky in colour, pour away this starchy water. Repeatedly change the water for around 6 - 8 times or as many as you wish. Eventually the lump of dough will get smaller and feeling firmer and more elastic like a piece of soft rubber, the water will get clearly after each change of water.
  4. Once the lump of gluten feels quite firm and water is almost clear, it's ready.
  5. Squeeze out as much water out of the gluten lump as you can. Then squeeze it together firmly to form an even and smoother lump.
Approx. weight of the resulting hydrated gluten or seitan using 1.5kg standard white bread flour is around 580g. Weight can vary with the type of bread flour used which depends on its protein contain and how dry you squeeze the hydrated gluten.

Leave the lump of hydrated gluten or seitan to rest for about 30minutes. Then it is ready to cook. This can be boiled, steamed or deep or shallow fried. I will show you how to use this seitan on the next post.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Char siu bao using water roux

I made these char siu bao (bbq meat steamed buns) with a simple yeast dough. This is not the traditional smiling (cracked top) bao recipe which takes about 2 days to prepare. Traditional smiling bao also needs super white bleached fine milled flour (Hong Kong flour) which is not easy to find even from Chinese supermarkets in London. I used standard non bleached plain flour, the buns are not snowy white but beige in colour. Bleached plain flour is not sold in any standard supermarket in UK. I also added water roux to the dough which works quite well.

Here is the recipe if anyone like to try. I made double the quantity.


a. water roux
20g plain flour
100ml water

Whisk the water and flour together, sieve and gently cook (stirring all the time) till thicken like pouring custard. Cover and leave to cool.

c. Dough

0.75 tsp quick (instant) yeast
75 - 100ml water

1 portion of water roux as above
300g plain flour, all purpose or HK flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
15g cooking oil or melted lard
50 - 60g sugar
0.5 tsp salt

extra flour for dusting

  1. Mix the yeast with water and leave aside for about 10 - 15 minutes while the roux is cooling.
  2. Mix the water roux with yeast liquid, sugar, salt and oil.
  3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together.
  4. Either using a bread machine or mix by hand, mix the liquid with the dry ingredients together till combined. Add the last few tbsp of the liquid bit by bit, stop when a soft but not sticky dough is formed. Do not knead. Leave for 10 - 15 minutes. Then give it a quick knead till the dough is smooth, do not over knead. If the dough is very sticky add a bit more extra flour.
  5. Cover and leave to rise for about 1.5 - 2 hours at room temperature till dough is about 1.5 in size.


1 heap tbsp cornflour
200ml water
1 tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
0.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp cooking wine
2 - 3tsp sugar
pinch of ground pepper

about 175g char siu (bbq pork), diced
2 -3 shallots, chopped
a little cooking oil

  1. Mix cornflour with water then add the rest of the flavouring ingredients.
  2. Heat oil then fry the shallot till softened. Then add in the mixed liquid. Cook till thickened.
  3. Add in char siu and heat off.
  4. Leave the filling to cool.

To wrap the buns

greaseproof paper, cut into 9 - 10 pcs about 5 - 6cm squares

prepared dough
Prepared filling

a little vinegar for steamer

  1. When the dough has risen. Put it on a flour dusted worktop or board. Give it a quick fold or knead.
  2. Divide equally into 9 - 10 pieces. Roll into a balls and cover with clean cloth to prevent drying.
  3. Dust hands with flour, take a piece of dough and flatten it.
  4. Put on some filling. Then start gathering and pleating the edge of the dough into a ball/bun.
  5. Put the bun pleated side up on paper.
  6. Lay buns on steamer basket or rack. Leave them to rest and rise for about 15 minutes.
  7. Heat the steamer on high heat. Add about 1 - 1.5tbsp of vinegar to the steaming water. I was told vinegar helps the buns to expand bigger and whiter in colour. No sure if true I tried it, even if it doesn't help the buns it gives less build up on the steamer by the hard water here.
  8. Steam the buns on high heat for about 9 - 10 minutes till the buns double in size.
  9. Eat while hot.
  10. Any leftover either freeze or put in the fridge, reheat by steaming again.