January 06, 2011

Tangerine Beef, v. 1.0

For awhile now, I've been working on a stir-fry recipe involving beef and tangerines.  Recently, I finally got around to trying out the preliminary version of the recipe.   The results were encouraging, but I've clearly got a bit more work to do on this recipe.

The basic idea for this recipe is pretty straight-forward:  Marinate thinly-sliced beef in tangerine zest and juice and some other seasonings, stir-fry some vegetables, then the beef, and finally toss everything together along with some tangerine slices for garnish.   Pretty straightforward, really.  With those basics in mind, I tossed around some ideas as to how to take those basic concepts and translate them into a recipe for a memorable and tasty dish.

The results from my trial run with this recipe were not bad, but not excellent, either.  The overall flavor was quite pleasant, but some of the flavors were a bit muted,  The fruity flavor was most notable, but the beef flavor in particular was quite subdued.  This probably has something to do with the fact that most of the thinly-sliced bits of flank stake more or less disintegrated while in the marinade.   The marinate so softened the beef that it fell apart as soon as it was added to the skillet.  This clearly wouldn't do.

I learned several things from this trial run.  The primary lessons are as follows:

1.  Next time, I need to add soy sauce.   I made a conscious decision to leave out the soy sauce, building the dish instead around the more subtle flavors of oyster sauce, sesame oil and just a bit of five-spice powder.   That was definitely a mistake.  The sweetness wasn't balanced by enough of a savory element.  Beyond that, soy sauce is full of glutamates (amino acids that intensify our sense of taste), making it one among the most potent flavor enhancers there is.  Next time I'll use a bit of soy sauce in the marinade.

Tangerine juice:  Potent flavor,
but it dissolved the beef!

2.  The marinade was two acidic.  I used the juice from two tangerines in the marinade, which came to about 1/2 cup.  I also sliced the beef very, very thinly.  The combination of the acid in the juice with the very thin slices of beef resulted in most of the beef slices falling apart.  The result:  rather than featuring pieces of flavorful beef, it tasted like vegetables with some hamburger mixed in.  This muted the beef flavor too much.  Next time I'll need to either reduce the amount of tangerine juice (to probably 1/4 cup) or cut the beef just a bit thicker... or maybe both.  I'll use more tangerine zest to preserve the fruity flavor.

3.  Next time, I should go a little bolder with the seasonings.  I wanted the dish to have a prominent citrus flavor, so I went light with the seasonings, so as to not overwhelm the tangerine.  This resulted in some of the spices - especially the black pepper and five-spice powder - being so faint an accent that they barely registered. 

4.  Skin the tangerine segments, and add them in the serving dish, not the skillet.  At the end of the cooking, I stirred one fruit worth of tangerine fragments.  I had peeled the tangerine before segmenting it, but I didn't peel the individual segments.  As a result, the tangerine pieces tasted a bit bitter, due to the bits of pith left behind by peeling.  Cooking enhanced that bitterness to an unpleasant degree.  Next time, I'll skin the individual pieces of tangerine and use them to top the stir-fry, as a garnish, rather than cooking or stirring them in, which would probably result in most of the fruit pieces falling apart. 

 So, what is printed below should be regarded as a work in progress.  It's still pretty good, but it could be a lot better.  I've started work on version 2.0, and will report back after I've given that version a test-run, but in the meantime, maybe some of our readers would be interested in giving it a try as-is and providing some feedback or suggestions.

Tangerine Beef

yield = 4 servings

3       tangerines
2       teaspoons minced garlic, divided
1       tablespoon oyster sauce
1       teaspoon honey
1       teaspoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
1       teaspoon grated, fresh ginger
1/4    teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/3    teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4    teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 pound beef flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain
2       tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
8       ounces crimini or button mushrooms, thinly sliced
12     ounces snow peas, trimmed
4       green onions, thinly-sliced, white and green parts separated

Use a vegetable peeler or zester to remove the peel from one tangerine in thin strips.  Squeeze the juice from two tangerines.   Put the tangerine zest and juice in a zipper-lock bag.  Add one teaspoon garlic, oyster sauce, honey, sesame oil, ginger, five-spice powder, black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the sliced beef.  Seal the bag, shake the ingredients to mix thoroughly and let stand 30 minutes.  Peel and segment the remaining tangerine.

In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon oil over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, remaining teaspoon of garlic an 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the snow peas and the white parts of the green onion and stir-fry another 3 minutes or so, until the snow peas are tender-crisp.  Transfer to a bowl or plate.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet and heat on medium-high until shimmering.  Add the beef and marinade.  Cook until the meat is no longer pink (about 4 minutes), then stir in the mushroom mixture and the green parts of the green onion.  Cook about a minute, then stir in the tangerine segments and cook until the green onions are wilted (about 1 more minute).  Serve over rice.

Cooking Tip:  Thin-Slicing Meat and Poultry

For stir-fries, Asian soups and so forth, you often want to cut meat and poultry into very thin slices, or even slivers, in the case of some soups.  This can be difficult, especially with softer cuts.  The best solution I've found:  either cut the meat or poultry while it is still partially frozen, or if you are working with fully-thawed or unfrozen meat or poultry, put it in the freezer for a half-hour or so, then slice it.  Frozen meat is more firm, which makes it a lot easier to thin-slice it.

In this particular recipe, the thinness of the beef slices worked against me, as the overly-acidic marinate completely broke down the thin slices of beef, but in general, this technique works like a charm.

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