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Chinese Greens 101: Stir-Fried Beef With Kale and Frisée in Black Bean Sauce

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[Photographs: Shao Z.]

Growing up, not having a plate of Chinese greens on the table for dinner was like not having rice—t was simply unthinkable. Quick to cook, simple and delicious, Chinese greens are a great way to add a vegetable dish to your meal. In this series, we'll be talking about some of the most common types of Chinese greens, common cooking methods, and a few ways to bring some Western greens into the fold as well. Check out the entire series here!

And ok, maybe this dish, which is made up of equal parts beef and greens in a light but flavor-packed black bean sauce with garlic doesn't quite qualify as a side dish, and seeing as I'm using a mixture of kale and frisée—two decidedly Western greens—it doesn't quite qualify as "Chinese greens," either. But the basic techniques I use—just a quick stir-fry with no blanching—is a method that works with any kind of hearty green leafy vegetable, whether it's Chinese or not.

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Magical flavor beans—that's what I think fermented black beans (which are actually soy beans fermented until very, very dark) are. Wiithout doing much else, adding a few fermented black beans to a stir-fry a instantly adds a potent punch of flavor. It's hard to describe the taste of fermented black beans if you're new to it—a little salty, a little funky, and packed with savoriness.

You can find jars of fermented black bean sauce easily in most Asian and Western market, but what we're looking for here are the dried beans themselves, which are usually found only in Asian markets (or you can order them online). If you only ever used the jarred version of black bean sauce, it's time to make your own.

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It's very simple and all you need are fermented black beans and garlic. I roughly chop them, then set them aside. We'll be coming back to them in a bit.

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Many green vegetables—like kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, or escarole—have hearty, thick stems that need to be removed from the rest of the leaves. I start my stir-fry by first cooking those stems in hot oil, to give them a quick, tenderizing jump start.

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Next, the leaves go in.

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They're stir-fried just until wilted, but still bright green and crunchy.

I follow our basic stir-fry guide's recommendation to cook ingredients in smaller batches, so that the wok has time to reheat between each batch. This is the only way to get a true stir-fry on a home burner without stewing or steaming your meat and vegetables.

At this stage, the greens get a little pinch of salt, then I move them to a separate bowl and wipe out the wok.

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In goes that garlic and the fermented black beans, along with some smoking hot oil. I cook them just until the garlic is barely tender and very fragrant, 30 seconds or so.

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Next up, the beef. This is thinly sliced flank steak that has been resting in my basic stir-fry marinade. It's made up of ingredients designed to make the meat both more tender, and to have a stronger meaty flavor.

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It's important to cook it without moving after spreading it out so that it can develop a bit of color before tossing it together with the garlic and black beans and stir-frying until almost cooked through.

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The greens go back and get tossed to combine.

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After making a well in the center, I add the liquid ingredients for my sauce—just a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil, water, and a bit of cornstarch. The black beans and garlic provide all the complexity and flavor this dish needs.

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As soon as that sauce has boiled and thickened (a device like The WokMon can help you do that even faster!), everything gets tossed back together.

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And we're ready to eat. With its combination of tender beef and hearty greens, this is the kind of stir-fry that makes a complete meal on its own. All you need is a bowl of rice.

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