This piquant and sweet dish stems from the roots of Hunan Cuisine in China. Hunan Cuisine is traditionally extremely spicy and packed with smoked chilli flavours. This deep fried dish is sweet but not overly so, with a mild kick and smoky flavour from the chillies and a good amount of tanginess. Meanwhile, the cornstarch coating results in a brash proudly crisp exterior. This recipe is a mix of its traditional flavours perfected over time and synchronized with sweetness to make the flavours more coherent and unique. It may not be authentic but it is one of the most beloved dishes in the culinary world.
I think recently, I have been drawn to recipes that I have come to call “honorary dishes” because they are either inspired by a famous historical figure or are celebrated in honour of a historical figure. This recipe is no exception to it, it is celebrated in honour of Zou Zongtang, refered to as General TSO, who was a Chinese statesman and military leader of the Qing Dynasty. Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China preceded by Ming Dynasty followed by now known The Great Republic of China. It is said Zou Zongtang made several beneficial contributions to the Chinese agriculture science and education and hence holds a highly prestigious place in the Chinese History. The dish however, is not associated with him by history rather it was first introduced in New York by a Taiwanese chef in 1970 into the American Chinese Cuisine, named Peng Chang-keui, who was a master in Hunan Cuisine and named it in Zou ZongTang’s honour.
The flavours of the dish is very unusual, yet extremely scrumptious. It stands out with it’s mild smoky heat flavour merged with the sweetness of sugar and hence together, makes a distinctive tang flavour that your palate will relish. The fragrance that spurs due to the fried garlic is alluring. It will draw anyone into the kitchen when it’s being cooked.
No matter how unusual the ingredients of the dish sound, every single ingredient in this dish adds a richness of its own to the flavours. The heat from the red chilli flakes, the tang from the garlic and spring onion, the sweetness of brown sugar, the earthy flavour from the oyster sauce and the sharp taste of the sesame oil just sings together in polyphony. The star of the orchestra though is the Hoisin Sauce and the sesame oil. They just kich up it up a notch in taste. Trust you me! you will lick your fingers clean.
Before I move onto the recipe, a few notes, firstly, I know there are a lot of beef lovers out there, me perosnally, am a Chicken Meat Fan and I would highly recommend making this recipe with chicken, as a personal preference. Second, if you do make this with beef keep a few things in mind i.e. the beef should be prime-cut as it is the easiest to cook, and recipes that require stir-fry for beef, demand prime-cut beef. Otherwise, the beef will be very hard and chewy and you just won’t like it. Third, make sure you pound the beef flat with a rolling pin to make it thin. It will cook easy and will be gorgeously crispy. Also, teh to use Light Soya Sauce as comapred to Dark Soya Sauce as the latter makes the dish dark in colour whereas the prior retains the colours of the dish. Lastly, add any vegetable of your liking from baby corn to Broccoli to Carrots to Snap Peas to Asparagus to Peppers. It is all up to what you fancy.
The end result is a gorgeous, colourful dish with a lusciously shiny sauce that is just very appealing to the eyes. For those who follow and read my blogs must know by now that besides food I have another love, the love of reading and I love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novel “Jail Bird” and an excerpt from it where he says, “You can’t just eat good food, You need to talk about it too and you’ve got to talk about it with somebody who understands that kind of food”. I know for certain, once you make this recipe, you’ll definitely understand my love for its eccentrically moreish flavour.
How Phenomenally vibrant does that look, yum-me!
Beef Undercut (Strips)/Chicken boneless cubes – 1 kg
Corn Starch – 2 cups
Salt – ½ tsp
Black pepper – ½ tsp
Eggs – 4
Water – ½ cup
Oil For Frying
Oyster Sauce – 2 tbsp
Soya Sauce – 6 tbsp
Chilli Garlic Sauce – 2 tsp
Sesame Oil – 2 tbsp
Hoisin Sauce – 2 tbsp
Brown Sugar/Sugar – 4 tbsp
Red Chilli Pepper Flakes – 2 tbsp
Chopped Ginger – 2 tsp
Chopped Garlic – 8 cloves
Chicken Broth 1 Cup (or 1 chicken Cube)
Spring onion – 12 chopped
Corn Starch – 6 tbsp
Oil – 4 tbsp
Carrots, Broccoli, Snap Peas, Bell Peppers
Sesame seeds to Garnish
Serve with Rice or Egg Noodles
1. Prepare the Beef ~
a. Heat oil in a deep pan. Pat dry the beef strips. Prepare the batter with all the ingredients listed under Beef Frying Batter.
b. Add the beef to the batter and coat well.
c. Deep Fry the beef strips 5-6 strips at a time for 6-8 minutes on medium high heat or until they turn golden crisp. Take out on a paper towel to drain the excess oil (In order to get a crisper and crunchier texture, deep fry the strips twice if preferred).
2. Prepare the Sauce ~
a. In a bowl, mix together, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chilli garlic sauce, sesame oil, and sugar and soya sauce. Mix together and set aside.
b. Heat oil in a pan and add chopped ginger, chopped garlic, red chilli flakes and the white part of the spring onions. Fry for a few seconds. Add the sauces to the oil and along with the chicken broth and the vegetable of liking and let it come to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. If you are using Chicken cube instead of Chicken broth, add 1/2 cup of water.
c. Add the corn starch to thicken the sauce.
d. Add the fried beef strips to the sauce and coat. Turn the heat off immediately.
e. Garnish with sesame seeds and the green part of the spring onions.
Serve with rice.
Happy Foodieating –