I was excited when John gave me Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunanese cookbook for my birthday two months ago, but I've been cooking so much Sichuanese I had barely cracked the cover until tonight. The book says the Hunanese are known for their bold, spicy cooking. Unlike their Sichuanese neighbors, who temper their chilli spice with a touch of sweetness, Hunan people like their food unapologetically hot. Tonight I made my first Hunan recipe: beef with cumin. Dunlop says the spice is associated with the northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang, where they rub their grill meats with cumin and chillis.
Her recipe calls for 2 full teaspoons of cumin. I love bold flavors, but even I found this dish overcuminy. I have reduced the amount in my adaptation below.
1. Trim the fat from 1 pound of beef steak, such as sirloin or chuck, and cut it against the grain into thin slices. Mix 1 T. each of Shaoxing wine, cornstarch and water with 1 tsp. each of dark and light soy sauce. Combine well with the beef to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. Mince 2 T. ginger, 1 T. garlic and 2 fresh red chillis. Thinly slice 2 scallions.
3. Heat 1 1/4 cups peanut oil to about 275 degrees for frying. Add the beef and stir gently. As soon as the pieces have separated, remove them from the oil and drain well.
4. Pour off all but 3 T. of the oil. Over a high flame, add the ginger, garlic and chillis, as well as 2 T. dried chilli flakes and 1 T. ground cumin. Stir-fry briefly until fragrant, then return the beef to the wok and stir well.
5. When all the ingredients are sizzlingly fragrant, add the scallion greens and toss briefly. Remove from heat, stir in 1 tsp. sesame oil, and serve.