Chichi's Chinese: Sichuan-Style Boiled Beef With Chilis

Sichuan-style boiled beef with chilis
Chichi Wang

Boiled beef slices is a Sichuanese dish in which lean beef, sliced and then coated in a protective cornstarch coating, is boiled in a stock with fermented chili bean paste and soy sauce.

The beef cooks very quickly, in less than a minute, after which the meat is removed from the heat and topped with a mixture of toasted and minced dried chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorn. The spice blend is crumbly, reminiscent of an oatmeal topping for a cobbler....if only the cobbler were, you know, made of beef.

I think it is fair to say that the slices of beef are merely the vehicle for the spice blend, a tongue-tingling mixture of Sichuan peppercorns and dried chili peppers, both of which are toasted and then finely minced.

More than a vehicle, each slice of beef is a capsule of flavor. You eat a slice. You chew on the beef. The beef is cut thinly and across the grain, so that it disappears in a few bites. After which, you are still left with the lingering numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppercorns and the heat of the chili peppers.

Like a lot of dishes made with Sichuan peppercorns, one bite gives rise to another, then another. Each slice of beef, after all, is so small and tender that it practically disappears, and then you are left desiring more of that particular explosion of flavor.

Finally, the last component of this dish is the sizzling oil. The idea is to pour oil that you have just heated, onto the tender slices of beef once they are coated in their crumbly topping. The oil makes the whole dish sizzle. Few dishes come with such an auditory element. It makes for a dramatic finale to a dish that tastes every bit as exciting as it looks and sounds.