I don't have a lot of photos for this one – actually there are only two – because Bill made this dish and I was doing other things at the time and wasn't able to hover over his shoulder (under it, really, since I'm nearly a foot shorter) to capture all the steps. So you'll just have to use your imagination today.
The recipe comes from Food & Wine's Best of the Best, a cookbook I received recently as a Christmas gift from some friends of ours. I've already posted a cookie recipe from it here, and who knows how many other recipes we'll try before it gets shelved and lost amid the other gazillion cookbooks.
But I digress.
The recipe comes from The Shun Lee Cookbook by Michael Tong and Elaine Louie. Shun Lee is a restaurant in NY that's been around since the 1960's and, according to the notes, "played a pivotal role in introcuding Americans to the varied regional cuisines of China (from Sichuan, Hunan and Shanghai)…Today, almost every Chinese restaurant in the United States serves the dishes Shun Lee debuted over 40 years ago, like cold sesame noodles and chicken chow fun."
Crispy Orange Beef is based on a Sichuan dish that was originally served cold and was "a somewhat chewy appetizer of fried, dried and shredded beef." The version introduced at Shun Lee in 1971 is served hot and is flavorful and texturally interesting.
Here's what you'll need to serve 4:
8 oz flank steak, cut into pieces 1 inch long, 1/4 inch wide, and 1/4 inch thick. (I don't think Bill cut them exactly that way – they were thinner but wider.)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 orange (we only had a clementine, which is smaller than an orange, so Bill used the clementine and a meyer lemon from my stash.)
2 T sugar
2 T rice wine or dry sherry (we used the sherry)
1 T soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
Vegetable oil, for passing through
1 cup cornstarch
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
3 scallions, white part only, trimmed and sliced diagonally into half inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 T orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier (we used Triple Sec)
1/4 tsp hot chile paste
And, here's what to do:
1. Mix the flank steak, baking soda, and 3 T of water in a medium bowl. Cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. (The baking soda will tenderize the steak.)
2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the colored zest from the orange. Cut the zest into thin strips about 1 inch long and set them aside. Save the orange flesh for another use.
3. To begin the sauce, mix the sugar, vinegar, rice wine (or sherry) soy sauce, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set it aside.
4. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, add the cornstarch and egg white to the steak, and mix well to coat the steak with the batter. (I think it should say to combine the cornstarch with the egg white and THEN add to the steak. Just my opinion.)
5. Add the flank steak to the oil, one piece at a time so it doesn't splash or stick together, and stir gently until it begins to look crispy, about 1 minute. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the steak to a colander to drain. Using a fine-mesh strainer, remove any bits of fried batter from the wok. (You'll probably need to cook the beef in a couple batches.)
6. Reheat the oil to 375 degrees F., return the flank steak to the wok, and fry again until the beef is crispy all over, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a strainer to drain. Discard all but one tablespoon of the oil from the wok.
7. Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the scallions, flank steak, sugar-vinegar mixture, orange zest, sesame oil, Grand Marnier, and hot chile paste. Stir-fry until all of the ingredients are well-blended, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.
The book also suggests freezing the meat for half an hour to an hour before slicing in order to get uniformly thin pieces. I've done that before for other recipes, and it does help.
Bill served this over rice, as you could probably tell from the first photo, and it was YUMMY. Our only beef (sorry, couldn't help it) was that we'd have liked a bit more of the sauce. Next time around we'll probably double that part of the recipe. Julia liked it okay, but she isn't really a big meat eater (unless it's fish eyes) and Alex wasn't home, so he didn't get to try it. Bill's not sure if Alex would have liked the citrusy aspect, but I think he would have enjoyed the dish.
The orangy flavor is not overpowering at all, and it's balanced by the sherry and sesame oil and soy sauce, and the flavor of the twice-fried beef. Texture-wise, the beef is crisp, not oily at all, and reminded me a bit of General Tso's chicken, for lack of a better example.
We'll definitely make this again.