Thursday, 15 October 2015

Mongolian Beef Stew

The flag of Mongolia.
It's rather nice
Undoubtedly the most famous Mongolian is Genghis Khan who ruled the Mongol hordes that rampaged across Central Asia into Eastern Europe in the 13th century. He was also, according to legend, the grandfather of Kublai Khan who, besides being probably the world's second most famous Mongolian, was also a dab hand at building. Well, according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem named after him, at any rate. Coleridge wrote "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree". Apparently this Xanadu place was fucking immense. It was so big it had a river running through it, entire forests and even the odd hill. This description may need to be taken with a bit of a pinchof salt, though since, Coleridge was out of his head on opium when he wrote it. Mind you, it does appear to detail what was probably the very first concept of a theme park. He'd basically invented Disneyland but was too off his tits to build it. The poem also gave rise to the wonderful slice of 70s cheese from Olivia Newton John and ELO, below, from the film of the same name. I don't think that version of Xanadu was in Mongolia, besides which, Coleridge would have been having some truly nightmarish hallucinations if he had dreamt up the roller disco, assuming there was room to build one between the many an incense bearing tree or sinuous rills.

Xanadu by ONJ and ELO with appearances from Gene Kelly, no less

Anyway, back on topic. There are a few other ethnically named dishes on the blog that aren't especially authentic and this is one no different. My Mongolian beef stew is about as Mongolian as my arse. For a start it's not made with yak, has no trace of fermented ewe's milk to bulk it up and it's been nowhere near a yurt. It is based on recipes I found in a few sources claiming to have Mongolian provenance, though these also seem more Amir Khan than Genghis Khan but, fuck it, it's got soy sauce, black bean sauce and water chestnuts in it, so how exotic do you want?

Frequently twatted on about by regular blog guest, Rick Stein, when he's waxing lyrical about how they are "so comforting" or "like mother used to make", stews are generally easy, cheap and filling. Thing is, my mother used to make the most boring fucking stews ever. I was lucky if it had a stock cube in it. Even so, meat cooked for a fucking age with vegetables will develop a reasonable taste on its own. Therefore it doesn't take much more to make a stew or casserole that tastes great. Often in the West we do this by cooking in booze, like French Boeuf Bourguinon in wine, beef in Guinness or Carbonnade (pork in beer) from Belgium. Many oriental dishes use lots of coconut to give fragrant, creamy stews. However, this recipe, has lots of soy sauce and black bean sauce which combines with the slow-cooked beef to give a thick, rich, satisfying plateful of genuine comfort with an exotic flavour. It's basically oral sex from a furcoat-wearing Ulaanbataar prostitute in casserole form

2 tbsp olive oil
400g diced stewing beef
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 tin water chestnuts (140g drained weight), drained and sliced
200ml water
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp dry sherry
120g black bean sauce
pinch dried chilli flakes
Black pepper
pinch 5 spice powder
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp honey

Pour the oil in a pan and heat then add the beef and sautée until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon.

To the remaining juices and oil add the onion and garlic then fry until soft. Throw in the carrot and water chestnuts and return the meat to the pan.

Add the water, soy, sherry and black bean sauce and stir.

Stir in the chili flakes, 5 spice and plenty of black pepper then mix in the tomato puree and the honey.

Stir well and heat to boiling in the pan.

Cover and turn the heat right down then leave to gently simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. The meat should be nice and tender, almost falling apart.

In the pan it looks like any other stew

Makes enough for two people served with rice, and looks like this:

I got onto this recipe because my wife happened to mention that she fancied something made with lamb. I went to my local Co-Op where they had no lamb, so I got beef instead. Besides, it works best as a beef dish with the thick dark gravy made from the soy sauce. Pork or lamb may also work but you might need to tone down the soy sauce, perhaps using light rather than dark.

For black bean sauce, I used Blue Dragon Black Bean Stir Fry sauce, mainly because it was the only thing they had involving black beans in my local super market. This may be a bastardised version of black bean sauce, with all sorts of other stuff in it for the purposes of stir frying, but it works.You could use some more authentic black bean sauce as purchased from a Chinese grocer (or bigger supermarket) if you can be arsed. If using real black bean sauce, add about two big tablespoons.

Many vegetables you might want to put in a stew that needs to cook for a long time will disintegrate by the time the meat is tender enough to eat (eg peppers, courgette). Hard root vegetables work best in maintaining their integrity, like the carrots in this version, which go soft as long as they don't get cooked too long. Water chestnuts, however don't change in the slightest and stay crispy. They are integral to the dish add crunch to the meat which should be falling apart by the time the recipe is served. Another good thing about them is they are tinned so having a couple of tins in the cupboard means you can make this anytime you fancy

You could leave out the chilli flakes if you're not a fan of heat. Also, it's a good idea to not add too much 5 spice powder because if you overdo it, the whole thing will taste like aniseed balls.