What’s the point of having a food blog if you can’t post your Asian aromatics snapped in Canberra’s perfect winter afternoon light?

Dried blood orange peel, green onions, ginger, sichuan pepper, sand ginger and cao guo ready to cook up a big pot of Sichuan red-cooked beef. The germ of the idea came from the fresh tofu skin I bought at the farmers market on Saturday morning:

I asked my twitter food friends for suggestions to use it, having only used dried tofu skin before. After I realised the skin was too fragile to stuff – and after the weather took a turn in the freezing effing cold direction – I starting thinking of a chilli laced braise.

The braise was thrown together after reading Fucshia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cooking and Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking

Sichuan red-cooked beef


1 kilo chuck steak in 2 cm cubes
2 Tablespoons corn or peanut oil
20 g ginger, sliced thickly and smashed (about the size of a ping pong ball)
3 spring onions (aka green onions, aka scallions), trimmed and cut in thirds
90 g chilli bean paste – about four generous tablespoons
4 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 pieces dried citrus peel – likely tangerine from the shop, or what you have at home
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 cao gao*
2 pieces dried sand ginger*
2 star anise
1 litre stock (I used half chicken stock, half water)

1/2 cup dried lily buds*, tied in a knot and the hard bud end pinched off, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water from the kettle
6 fat white capped shiitakes, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water from the kettle (use different containers)
the same volume of fresh tofu skins, in 2 cm lengths


Blanch beef cubes in a saucepan of boiling water, drain and rinse.
Heat oil in a wide pan, and add chilli bean paste and stir for a minute or so until the smell rises and the oil is red. Add beef and all ingredients up to (and including) the stock.

Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook for about 2 – 21/2 hours until meat is ridiculously tender. Do not be afraid of the sea of oil on top – you won’t be eating it. You can cool it to reheat later which improves the flavour and allows you to defat it.

Reheat and add the second group of ingredients, and simmer until the flavours are infused, 20 minutes or so. Serve with coriander over rice and lots of green veggies.

red braise

Although it seems like a huge quantity of chilli bean paste going in, it’s not super hot, more of a deep background warmth. It will make your house smell better than you thought possible.

* There are some ingredients that you may not have on hand, but most Asian groceries should have them. The cao guo is the big ridged nutmeggy lookin’ thing, like cardamom in flavor but with a kind of peppery-menthol note. They might be labelled “Tsao Kuo”. Sand Ginger looks like slices of dry pale bark and might be labelled “sliced ginger”. Dried Lily buds are about 5 cm long and thin, and might be labelled “golden needles” or “tiger lily buds”. Fresh tofu skin is hard to come by, but soaked dried tofu stick works just as well.

As suggested by Mark in comments, you might want to check out my earlier post on demystifying Asian grocery ingredients for some background and more info.

20 thoughts on “Indulgence

  1. what a lovely shot. I like the way the stock pot looks with leeks, onions and carrots all bright in the water before being cooked.

  2. That looks amazingly delicious. My mum uses lily buds and tofu skin sticks for a particular celebratory vegetable dish (which also uses wood-ear fungi, dried mushrooms, dried moss and these weird Chinese ‘dates’, amongst other things) but I’ve never seen them used in a stew before.

    I’ve never heard of those other Sichuan aromatics/spices you’ve used. I’d love to try cooking this dish one day. It’s a good way of trying new things.

  3. YUM YUM YUMMY YUM … I am rendered inarticulate by lust for this dish, please to come cook for me anytime Miz Zoe

  4. I agree Emica! Except the bit about the stockpot, leeks, onions and carrots. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I’m going to have to make something like this to get my Lady Friend’s chilli-wuss monkey off her back. But she don’t eat beef or pork or lamb, for purely environmental reasons. Goat would work, right?


  5. Goat would be great, FDB, just make sure you do the blanching step.

    You know the magic trick of this dish is all in the shopping. It’s much much easier to cook than a European style braise where you need to brown meat properly, caramelise the aromatics and navigate the risk of not having a good balance of sauce/substance.

    At work now, but I’ll put up the proportions to cook without chilli later, because it would be great to cook with kids.

  6. “Goat would be great, FDB”

    “great to cook with kids”

    Geez you’re repetitive sometimes Zoe. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Easier than a Euro-braise you say? Nice. Also, it wouldn’t run the risk of same-i-ness I always tend towards in stews. I set out to showcase one or two flavours, then before I know it the whole fucking spice rack’s in there. Again.

  7. I think you might have missed my pun.

    Or did I miss yours? Grating… ummm… gratin… cheesy bake… nah, I’m lost.

    For the record, I am continually noting with interest your musings on dealing with the fickle tastes of (human) offspring.

    By interest, I mean the vested kind, although there’s no confirmed progress on that front as yet.

    Peace out.

  8. How was I supposed to know you were being funny?

    You will be gratified to hear that this particular dish will provide excellent man-fuel for the task ahead of you. ..

  9. “How was I supposed to know you were being funny?”

    Well yeah, by now you should know that unless I’ve got something to say that titillates at least myself, I’m not gonna comment. Some would say that’s a failing. And they’d be right.


    No comment.

  10. Noted, FDB. Bit dense today as youngest slept in until 6:30 and I’m still in shock that I didn’t have to get up at 5.

    And pls to be making sure your chilli bean paste is made of broad beans, not soy beans. Ideally, the ingredients list reads something like โ€œbroad beans, chilli, flour, saltโ€. I have no idea of the name of the one I use, but will take a picture.

  11. Zoe, why the distinction between the broad bean and the soya bean chilli bean paste? Is there much of a difference in flavour? Perhaps I should hunt down intro to Asian ingredients post, as I think you may have mentioned it there.

    As just a suggestion, would it help if you cross-linked to that previous post on Asian/Chinese ingredients and methods at the bottom of the braise post? Thanks for the clarification on the bean-paste.

  12. Mark, my preference originated with my devotion to Fuchsia Dunlop, a Sichuan expert, and trying a few versions to find my fave, which is this one:

    And yes, it does come in a smaller jar than this 1.3 kg version ๐Ÿ˜‰ To me it tastes fuller and has greater depth of flavour than soy bean versions.

    The Chowhound forum (which did Dunlop’s books as their cook-along “Cookbook of the Month”) and this post at Kitchen Chick have photos of the Chinese characters for broad (aka fava) beans if you want to go hunting.

    The Sichuanese versions might have things like Pixian or doubanjiang on the label. Other versions might be labelled Toban Djan or Chilli Bean Sauce, and the Lee Kum Kee version is spoken of as a pretty good, widely available one. I’ve had a bad Lee Kum Kee version labelled “ma po tofu sauce”, ma po tofu being a famous traditional dish using this seasoning. Whatever kind you get, heat it in hot oil for about 30 seconds to release the flavour before adding other ingredients.

    Thanks for the link suggestion, which I’ll follow.

  13. Ducky, I can make little chinese tea cups of it for your studio opening if you like – it would be a great little warmer-upper.

  14. I am about to embark on this 2-day chilli extravaganza right now, with goat topside. I couldn’t find sand ginger or lily buds at my local, and only the 9% broad bean version of the paste from Lee Kum Kee, but still filled with utterly unfounded confidence I sail on.

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