Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Black Pepper Beef, and My Top 8 Spices



My kitchen is in need of some serious re-organising. My spice cupboard, especially, is threatening to burst open. It has come to the point where I get ambushed by a packet of cloves whenever I open the cupboard door so, much as I hate packing, it's time to stop pretending that the kitchen elves will sort it out for me. My problem is, I can't really throw anything out. Like my dad, I'm a hoarder, just that instead of hoarding old newspapers and books, I hoard pretty plates and ingredients. In my own defence, I do use almost all of these spices. I do use my star anise for a soy braise, my coriander for a rempah or satay, my cinnamon for puddings, and my turmeric to stain everything golden. And as for the rest, I do need them all for a curry or biryani. So I really can't throw anything out. See?

Funnily, the one spice I don't really use much is perhaps the most basic spice that every cook has and uses most often- black pepper. Perhaps because of my mum's influence on my cooking, I reach for white pepper more often than I do black. The flavour of the white is less harsh and bitter than the black,  and it generally rounds out the asian flavours of soy sauce or ginger much better. But even for mashed potatoes, I quite like using white just so I don't see the random flecks of black and I've also recently taken to using white pepper when I make the best scrambled eggs for breakfast.

That said though, there are times when I want the more earthy, gutsy kick of black pepper, and not just for the very non-asian things like meatballs. Black pepper beef is a classic tze char hawker favourite back home. It's one of the only few instances you'll see a Chinese chef using black pepper instead of white, and liberal amounts at that, and it's also the reason why black pepper made the top 8 in the end.

BLACK PEPPER BEEF
serves 2-3 as a side

Ingredients
200g beef flank (or sirloin if you're feeling particularly generous)
1 large brown onion, sliced 
1 inch ginger, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp of groundnut oil 
2 large dried red chilli, soaked and deseeded but left whole (optional, for extra heat and colour. If in summer, feel free to use bell peppers)

For marinade 
1/2 tbsp good (traditionally brewed) soy sauce
1/2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tsp homemade stock, or water
1 tsp (yep. not a pinch) freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp unrefined sugar
1 tsp tapioca/ cornstarch
few drops of toasted sesame oil

For sauce
3 tbsp of homemade stock, or water if desperate
1 tbsp good soy sauce
1 tsp of Chinese shaoxing rice wine 
1 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp unrefined sugar
1tsp of tapioca/ cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water (to thicken)

Method
1. Slice the beef thinly against the grain, at an angle. Mix well with the marinade and then leave it aside for 30 min.
2. Meanwhile, you can prep your ingredients, like chopping onions and mixing the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch and water) so you can have a relaxing stir fry later.
4. Add oil to a screaming hot wok and flash-fry the beef for 1 min, the outsides should be seared but the insides still pink. Remove from the wok and let drain and set aside.
5. Add the onions and fry till translucent and slightly softened. Push aside and add the dried chilli, ginger and garlic to the hot oil and fry till fragrant. 
6. Add the sauce, which should help deglaze the pan. Let it come to the boil, then reduce the heat.
7. Stir in the cornstarch slurry a little at a time till you get the consistency you want. It will thicken after it cools, so don't go pouring everything at a go!
8. Return the beef to the wok and stirfry for 2 min or so, making sure everything's coated. Serve hot with steaming bowls of rice.


See my old post on secrets to a chinese stirfry if you are one of those kids who have to know the "why" behind each step.



The black pepper here isn't sprinkled on as an afterthought; rather than a seasoning, think of it as the main flavour of the dish itself. Slightly bitter and nutty, it goes really well with the sweet, charred onions to give a very earthy sort of heat and flavour to the beef. I used the brown onion here, not because I have a couple of papery ones crying to be used, but because they stand up to the strong black pepper better than their milder spring onion cousins. If you have a wonderfully pristine spice cupboard with nothing but salt and pepper, and an equally bare fridge with no fresh vegetables in it, you could still make this.

That's not to say I can survive on just salt and pepper in my spice cupboard though. I will get on with the packing.

57 comments:

  1. How do you make a picture of peppercorns look so attractive?! I get whacked on the head with cinnamon sticks and if I'm lucky a little sprinkling of turmeric, my spice cupboard sounds like yours! And I have the 10 most used ones on the counter! Great recipe (as always).

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    1. Aw thanks! Haha it's either the cloves or the cinnamon that hit me. My turmeric is on the counter just so I don't end up with a yellow face ;)

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  2. This looks great, I really don't use beef enough in my stir fry. Maybe it's because I didn't have the right recipe. I will make this one, thanks! I am a lot like you, I collect pretty plates and ingredients, and I too use them. I also collect vintage mixing bowls and baking dishes...they come in all sizes. I did re-organize my spices over the summer. I picked up some stainless steel spice jars, and I labled each one...it really adds up when you have to have the whole spice as well as ground spice on hand! :)

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    1. I need to get those spice jars! Will make my organising much easier, and will make me much happier because now it's an excuse to collect more kitchenware heh.

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  3. Oh, and I don't use black pepper much either, but I like the looks of the black specks on eggs, but not in mashed potatoes. :)

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  4. gorgeous!... I love your step by step guides, they're great and really reasuring for the novice... I have a very very full spice cupboard and recently I was sent a whole bunch of spices so I now have doubles, if not triples of everything!... still, can't complain and I just need to cook more of this gorgeous food to use it all up!

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    1. aw thank you dom! yes exactly, I have ground and whole of each type of spice, urgh. and I like to get big packs of whole spices because it's cheaper. arghh.

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  5. I can smell the peppery beef from here... So what's next? What about the famous black pepper crab?

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    1. Crab is one thing I still haven't mustered up the courage to cook. Argh, I must rectify this.

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  6. lovely stuff. I love black pepper beef, but i always defer to black bean for some reason. will be trying this asap.

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    1. I also like beef in black bean sauce though..

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  7. Black pepper beef is always my favourite stir-fry!

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  8. I would put in cayenne pepper and mace! I need me some of those kitchen elves....

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    1. I have actually never tried mace before. I wonder how it tastes.

      We all need us some kitchen elves eh?

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  9. I can't do your beef recipe (no meat for me), but, hmmm, top eight spices! Not easy, not easy! I don't think I want to choose, I just want as many spices in my cupboard as possible. :-) I can't do without red pepper flakes or Korean red pepper though, I like to sprinkle a bit of heat on everything.

    Black pepper... I never used to care for black pepper until I made friends with a Greek girl who made me chickpeas cooked in olive oil in the oven and then served with only lemon, freshly ground sea salt and black pepper on top. Heaven. That's how I learnt that you have to grind pepper just before you use it and in coarse bits rather than fine, that's how it can be amazing. (My mom only ever had powdered black pepper in the cupboard. Travesty. I don't touch that stuff now.)

    By the way, for mashed potatoes I more often go for nutmeg or cumin seeds, only sometimes freshly ground black pepper.

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    1. Oh I didn't even include chilli because I think of them not as a spice but a..vegetable? sort of? dried up. i.e. not seeds or bark or sth. I will die without chilli.

      Yep, totally agree. freshly ground pepper is a totally different thing altogether.

      I like nutmeg but won't die without it though. And I find it's best had as a sparse sprinkle, not a fan of it when it's too overpoweringly strong.

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  10. the is making my mouth water, very yummy indeed!

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  11. My spices are stacked precariously on my counter top, move the wrong one and they all fall down! I love your spice jar drawings and the stir fry looks really yummy.

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    1. Hehe I feel you. My cupboard is above the counter, so they all fall down...onto me! :S

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  12. These, apart from the white pepper are exactly my favourite spices too Shu Han...If I was on a desert island I don't think I could survive without them. I think that I would put the cumin before the coriander though. I'd probably add saffron instead of white pepper...to make perfect yellow ochre marbled Persian rice.

    Your spice cupboard sounds exactly like mine...things do spill out...a jar actually fell out last week and smashed the handle of a dish...so I too need to sort mine out.

    I recently bought some white pepper because I remembered that Ahmad's mum used it all the time in her cooking. I tried a couple of times but everyone missed the heat of black pepper so I reverted back to black. I must watch your recipes more closely to see how you use it.

    Ginger is one of the ingredients that I use by the root, tons of it every week even in cakes and the ground powder just doesn't compare. So I'd need to take a root to my desert island so I'd have a constant supply.

    Thanks for sharing this lovely post...the beef looks amazing, even though I don't eat red meat. I'll make a note for the rest of the family.
    Happy cooking
    deb

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    1. I've got turmeric for the golden colour..though of course it's quite different from saffron I admit.

      I think you have got to think of white pepper as a different sort of spice from black pepper. They're not really that interchangeable. If you do anything chinese, white pepper is wonderful. My mum is especially heavyhanded with it. Also, if you look my soto ayam, which is a Malay chicken soup, the white pepper is used along with the other spices for a differnet sort of peppery heat. Try it, don't give up on white pepper!

      Agree about ginger. I panick when I see my supply running out.

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  13. i actually really miss eating black pepper beef. hubby's favourite was pepper chicken though. will this recipe work if i substitute the beef with chicken? as always, beautiful writing with beautiful visuals. m x

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    1. I think it will work, though I do say the strong flavour of the beef stands up to the black pepper abit better. imo at least! thanks m (:

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  14. The beef looks juicy and tender Shu, I love this dish so much. Your top 8 spices rock and I use them in almost all my cooking, except star anise.
    OMG I'm hungry, LOL!

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    1. I love star anise in braises. It's wonderfully perfumey, and, well it looks pretty hehe.

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  15. Oh tough call on the 8 spices. I used to buy white pepper a lot and love it. Need to get some more but can see that a dish such as this would benefit from the black pepper.
    I think your choices are good ones which cover all the bases. I know I simply could not be without my spice collection!

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    1. Yay another white pepper fan! Seems most people aren't too sure about it :(

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  16. Replies
    1. I'm so excited that pablo can now eat solids!

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  17. I love all of your favorite spices! Albeit, it's odd but now you've got me craving your delicious beef with scrambled eggs =)

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    1. haha beef with scrambled eggs? oof.

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  18. Complex delicious sounding recipe. I think I tried black pepper beef, must have been long time ago.

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    1. More complex sounding than it really is!

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  19. woweee! I am a huge fan of black pepper beef stir fry and serve it with rice is the way to go. Delish! I am drooling, can you tell? :P

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  20. I use black pepper aaaaaaaall the time! But hey, you can also find your top 8 spices in my kitchen ;-) Next time I prepare beef I'll do it you way, it must be yummy with all these ingredients...

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    1. I need to learn to use it more! Time to look in your archives ;)

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  21. i have threatened my beloved that everything will be gone if he does not trim down our spice collection. my most reached spice tho is cayenne pepper.

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    1. I use chilli a lot so I guess I don't find a need for cayenne, but I know people who will die without it too! haha, sheesh I'm glad I'm not your beloved.

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  22. What a delicious looking dish and one I would happily re-create! I like the idea of introducing your 8 top spices. Could you recommend a replacement for Chinese black vinegar in the event I cannot get it?

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    1. Hmm, well just any rice vinegar would be alright, but it won't be as strong as the black vinegar. Balsamic is similar in the sense that it's also very intense, but the flavour is too different and.. grapey.

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  23. As a European brought up eating European cuisine with black pepper as the most basic seasoning, I have always looked down on this spice until a couple of years ago when I discovered that properly used and in bigger amounts, it is as valuable as any exotic or expensive seasoning. Your beef looks fabulous. I must really try to prepare it one day.
    Talking about spices... I have the same problem, but since I also cook Indian and French and Italian and Polish... from time to time, my problem is a bit bigger ;-)
    (By the way, I believe you are mentioning here a dish I have just posted, or at least something similar; the telepathy works once more!)

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    1. I think that's the trick to making black pepper more exciting, using it like an actual flavouring ingredient rather than just an afterthought.

      well, see, i cook english/italian/chinese/malay/indian and whatever catches my eye really...

      p.s. we really are long lost twins or sth!

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  24. This sounds great. It's my perfect dinner. I think my favourite spices are probably the same as yours.

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  25. Heh, I wonder what my favourite spices are... I definitely share some of yours...cinnamon, cardamom, cumin (oh God yes!), turmeric I'm starting to use a lot more too. Coriander I'm not so sure about... I like it absolutely, but could definitely live without it usually. I'd probably add in nutmeg and ground ginger to the mix... maybe even allspice too.

    Love the look of the beef - a restaurant near my place makes something quite similar and it's wonderful!

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    1. thanks charles!

      coriander is the dominant spice in malay/peranakan spice mixes! I know most europeans tend to think of it as a pairing with carrot only, but really, it's quite a lovely and essential flavour and aroma.

      nutemeg I'm ok with, but I use in very sparse quantities and am not too sure about it all the time. ginger I love but can I cheat and say I won't include it because I will always have the fresh root at home anyway? hee hee. I have yet to try allspice. totally missing out I know.

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    2. Hehe, yeah - you can cheat and have the ginger root - I'd totally do the same if I had to pick out 8 definitive spices! For coriander, I'm actually more familiar with it in Arabic cooking - it's used a lot in Tunisian cookery (where my father-in-law is from). Don't get me wrong, I like it a lot, I think it's a very delicate, smooth flavour but it never seems that "special" to me, although very important in certain dishes!

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  26. We share favourite spices! And what a lovely recipe.........Karen

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  27. My goodness! This black pepper beef looks superb! I wish I could grab that chopsticks :)
    6 out of the 8 spices I use quite regularly... I'm still getting to know star anise and cardamom...

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    1. wow thanks michael! star anise is so wonderfully fragrant and well, pretty hehe. next time you do any soy braises, throw one in! cardamom is omg amazing. crush a few pods, throw into any curry, or just the ground seeds into any sweet baking.

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  28. This looks delicious, I will definitely be trying this out!

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  29. Hi ShuHan, tried the beef dish tonight and was it ever good! The wok sizzeled like crazy when I put the beef back in, just great. Thanks so much.

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    1. yayyy! So happy to hear from you, always really pleased to hear from people who've tried my recipes!

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  30. Now I drooling just by looking at these delicious photos but the spices really makes me hungry NOW! LOL

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  31. Hi Shu Han! I made your fishball recipe, but mine doesn't shape nicely like yours, and doesn't have those pockets of "pocked-mark" bubbles! (Which I look out for when having fishball mee in Singapore.) It comes to a point I don't get disappointed when I don't find the handmade ones u make in a regular stall, but get excited when I find one! Right now, I am marinating the beef recipe and while waiting, I am posting this. Thanks Shu Han! I found your blog when I typed "make fishball singapore" Thanks for writing this blog.

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    1. Hi Elyn!

      Thanks so much for your words, you really made my day:)
      Don't worry about the fishblls not being a nice shape, haha to be honest mine are not perfect either, I just chose the best ones for the photo ahaha. Let me know how the beef goes! It's one of the recipes I'm more pleased with :)

      Shu Han

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  32. If your are foodies, I advise you to test Kampot pepper. Its seems a details, but a spice scented it change compare tasteless pepper from supermarket.

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