A Modern Cantonese Dish: Beef With Mango

Cooking is not always an easy thing for me.

Which sounds bizzare, since I spend large chunks of my life cooking for myself and others. And then, when I am not cooking, I am thinking about cooking, reading about cooking, writing about cooking or taking photographs of food.

But some nights, I just really have no clue what on earth I would like to make for dinner. Sometimes I just don’t feel well, and my body is not in the mood for cooking or eating.

Tonight was one of those nights. I fretted all day over the thought of what to cook for supper, and worried and waffled and just stewed over it.

Nothing sounded good.

Maybe it was the smell of paint that was permeating the kitchen and making the air a nauseating miasma of fumes that was to blame; the entryway is in the midst of being painted and so there is no help for it–paint fumes have nowhere to go in a stairwell but up–and at the end of up is my kitchen.

I choose to believe that was the trouble, but it took me hours to latch onto an idea, and it came from the fact that I had seen mangoes on sale at the grocery store the other day.

I remembered reading in one of my over 100 Chinese cookbooks about a Cantonese recipe for beef stir fried with mangoes.

My mind and stomach latched onto that concept with a fervor bordering on obsession as I sped upstairs to find the exact cookbook I had seen it in.

I only had to go through about five books before I realized that it was in Yan-Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook.

And there it was, with a lovely photograph–that entire book is lavishly illustrated–that showed the rich beef stir fried with velvety -looking mango slices with green strips of scallion top for a garnish.

Of course, I commenced to change it significantly.

For one thing, for all that I love So’s cookbook, she does rely more on deep frying meats than I think is either healthy, desireable or worthwhile for a home cook. She called for slicing the beef (she calls for tenderloin, by the way, which would be intensely luxurious, once paired with the mango) marinating and then deep frying it, before draining it and stir frying it with the aromatics and the mango. I wasn’t about to indulge in that–for one thing, I was using a piece of London broil–a much less tender bit of beef than a tenderloin, so it wouldn’t take as well to the hot-oil bath. For another thing–it is a waste of time and oil for a home cook to deep fry an item before stir frying it–I understand why it is done in restaurants (it results in a velvety texture), but there it is more practical and less messy–but at home, the benefits do not outweight the hassle and mess.

Also, I changed the aromatics around. She used more garlic than I wanted; I tend to prefer garlic with pork and ginger with beef, and so, in my recipes will weigh the aromatics in that direction. For beef, I use more ginger than pork habitually. Considering the still lingering scent of the paint and its effect on my appetite, I went for more ginger still, as it has the power to quell even the worst bouts of nausea. I still used scallions, though I used one less than she recommended, as I very much wanted the ginger flavor to come to the fore. To boost the heat-giving property of the ginger, I also added a single ripe frozen jalapeno chile that I sliced very thinly on the diagonal; it provided a very subtle bite to the entire dish.

I also added red pepper and carrots to the dish; being too lazy to make a separate dish of vegetables means that most of my stir fries have a mixture of vegetables and meat that may not be traditional, but which I tend to carefully balance for flavor, color and texture. The slippery soft mango contrasts with the firm beef–it is yin, while the meat is yang. The mango, because I used one that was slightly underripe (which is important–if you use one which is very ripe, it will likely fall apart in the cooking and make the dish cloyingly sweet), was tart as well as sweet, so it contrasted with the sweet red bell pepper and the carrot, both of which were also texturally different in that they were two different types of crunchiness.

The marinade for the beef was little changed, but I did not make a separate sauce to be added at the end of cooking, and instead used my usual method of making sauce in the cooking process by adding some more dark soy sauce, some chicken broth and finally, some oyster sauce–a classic pairing with beef in Cantonese cookery–as I stir-fried.

And, as you can see, I ended up garnishing it with some steamed broccoli, which gave a flavor and color contrast to the dish as a whole, as well as satisfying my desire for even more vegetables.

Like every other dish I have either learned directly or modified from So’s book–which I think of as an often overlooked classic–beef with mango turned out to be all that I had hoped for. A balance of sweet, savory and tart, crisp, soft and chewy, it was a very satisfying meal, when paired with the plain steamed broccoli and jasmine rice.

Cantonese Beef With Mango

Ingredients:

3/4 pound lean beef, cut into thin strips about 1 1/2″ long by 1/4″ wide
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon raw sugar
6 turns on a peppermill’s worth of coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shao hsing wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons peanut oil
2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin slivers
1 fresh or frozen red jalapeno cut into thin slices on the diagonal
1 clove garlic, cut in half longitudinally, then sliced thinly
3 scallions, white parts cut into thin slices, tops cut into 1″ sections and reserved separately
1 not very ripe mango, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 1/2″-2″ long thin slices
1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 cup carrots cut on the diagonal into thin slices
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin slices the size of the mango slices
1 tablespoon chicken broth
2 teaspoons oyster sauce

Method:

Mix beef with all the ingredients up to (but not including) the peanut oil and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.

Heat wok until white smoke appears. Add oil, and heat for another ten-twenty seconds.

Add ginger and chiles and stir fry for about twenty seconds. Add garlic and white part of scallions, and continue stir frying for about forty more seconds, or until all is quite fragrant.

Add beef and press into a single layer. Pour mango slices on top. Leave beef undisturbed for about a minute–wait until you can smell the meat browning before beginning to stir fry. Stir fry until most of the red has left the beef. Add the soy sauce, stir to combine well, then add the carrots and sweet peppers, stirring until meat loses the last of its raw look. Add chicken broth, continue stir frying until a thick sauce forms, clinging to the meat and vegetables.

Add oyster sauce and continue stir frying until well combined–about thirty seconds.

12 Comments

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  1. Delicious post! Mmm, I love mangos.

    Hm, it’s interesting that you happen not to like garlic with beef. In my household, we like more garlic with beef. We actually don’t use ginger with pork, regularly either. I wonder why.

    Allen

    Comment by Allen Wong — March 2, 2006 #

  2. this one sounds awfully good. i must try it. it is cantonese but i have yet to come across this in malaysia.

    Comment by rokh — March 2, 2006 #

  3. I love your blog! I am excited to try this recipe. sounds so interesting – mangos and beef.

    Comment by s — March 2, 2006 #

  4. Allen–it isn’t that I don’t like garlic with beef at all, it is that I prefer ginger with beef, and more garlic with pork than ginger. And that is purely a tendency in Chinese cookery–in European style braises or stews or whatnot, I use lots of garlic in beef.

    But there is just something about the zing of ginger with beef in a stir fry, with the wok hay that just calls to my taste buds.

    Rokh–the author of the book I got it from, Yan-Kit So, said it was a “modern Cantonese dish,” but it is possible that she herself made it up. But it seems to me that I have seen it in a book or two, but then, I couldn’t find it.

    Though, I did once see it as a “special of the day” on a menu board in a Cantonese restaurant in Miami, Florida….so, who knows?

    Maybe you will start a new trend with it in Malaysia, Rokh!

    S–thank you–I am glad you like my blog–I do have fun trying new recipes to present to my readers. If you do try the recipe, drop a line to let me know how it turned out for you!

    Comment by Barbara — March 2, 2006 #

  5. I was wondering — you mentioned a “single ripe frozen jalapeno chile” – can you just put them in the freezer and use them when you need them?

    Comment by Kim — March 2, 2006 #

  6. Yes, Kim, you can. In the summer, when there are peppers and chiles coming out of people’s gardens like mad, I rinse the chiles, dry them, pop the stalks off of them, and then put them in the freezer whole, and use them as I need them in the winter.

    I used to mince them up, but since I figure amounts by whole chiles or parts thereof, I couldn’t figure out how much minced chile to use. So, this year, I took to just sticking them in whole and it has worked beautifully.

    My Shun Elite knife goes right through the frozen peppers to make paper-thin slices.

    Comment by Barbara — March 2, 2006 #

  7. Love your blog! Great pics & recipes!
    Mangos and beef, who knew? Sounds delicious and I am making that dish for dinner tomorrow night. Looks and sounds like something my guests will appreciate, they are always on the prowl for some new taste sensation.

    BTW I would die for your kitchen, that stove and sink are the two items left on my wish list that I am still saving my pennies for.The renovation cost went over budget a bit so now gotta wait a bit. Love the idea for the sink, always wanted one that was big enough to accommodate large items, also love your fixtures.

    Connie

    Comment by Connie — March 2, 2006 #

  8. More about preparing the chiles for freezing:

    When you say “dry them” do you mean towel them off, or make them into dried chiles? I’m assuming you were referring to green jalepeno, rather than red, ripe chiles?

    Will it work to halve them (so as to seed them) before freezing? I guess that would be in the same category as mincing, so I’m thinking the answer is yes.

    Cool idea!

    Comment by Kim — March 2, 2006 #

  9. Mmmm, mango and beef–a great combination. BTW, your recipe has me make up the marinade from the ingredients ‘up to the sesame oil’….and I don’t see sesame oil on the list. Would it go just after the cornstarch? Also, could you talk a little bit about your choice of ingredients? How much of a difference is there between using raw sugar and white (and is it a question of flavor, or sweetness, or both?) And what about the thin vs. dark soy sauce? What would wheat-free tamari do? Should I compensate somehow for a green or partially green jalapeno if that’s what I have?

    Thanks,

    Beth

    Comment by Beth — March 2, 2006 #

  10. Hey, Connie–thanks for the compliments on the kitchen! We call it “The Forest Kitchen” because of the all the colors we chose, we took from the view of the woods outside the kitchen window. We are pretty attached to it, and even better than the fact that it is lovely is that it all works really well in a practical sense.

    Kim–when I say, “dry them,” I mean, dry off the water you used to rinse them. If you put them in the freezer wet, ice will form on the them and make cutting them up a pain. Just either let them drio dry on a paper towel or towel them off. And then stick them in a ziplock bag, mark the date and what kind they are and freeze them.

    I freeze and use both ripe red jalapenos–which is what went into this recipe, and green ones. They are both good. In fact, all of the chiles I have treated this way worked out perfectly this year. I did serrano, jalapeno, thai bird chiles, habeneros and poblanos. They all worked out great.

    Beth–thank you very much for pointing out the typo. It should say, “up to but not including the peanut oil.” I fixed that!

    Raw sugar is what I used because I like the “brown” sugar taste, and because that is what lives in the kitchen. To go get white sugar, I have to go into the baking pantry in the utility room, and so, raw sugar is what gets used for most everything. You can use white or brown or raw–whatever you have.

    Now–I can see I am going to have to write that soy sauce post I keep promising where I explain the differences between them and what they are used for and all of that.

    If you need to use wheat free tamari because you have gluten sensitivities, by all means, do so, and don’t worry about it. It will still taste good.

    The reason this has a combination of two different soy sauces, however, is because they have different flavors and they change the character of dish significantly. The Cantonese are very particular about the blending of soy sauces to provide the perfect flavor profile for each dish, and the more I learn about the subtleties of Cantonese culinary traditions the more I respect them.

    In short–thin soy sauce, also known as light soy sauce (not “lite” low sodium soy sauce) is pretty much straight up soy sauce. It is the standard sauce of the Chinese kitchen. Dark soy sauce has caramel and maybe a bit of molasses put into it, which gives it a redder color, and a thicker texture–if you swirl the sauce in the bottle, and watch it drip–it had sefinate “legs” like a good full bodied red wine does. Thin soy sauce has no legs, it just runs down fast.

    The dark soy sauce has a richer, darker flavor and is sweeter. It is really great with beef, because it helps tame the stronger flavor of the meat. It gives it a delicious color, too–beef when stir fried tends to go greyish–with dark soy sauce, the color is enhanced to a rich reddish brown that is very appealing to the senses.

    Soy sauce is so cheap at the Chinese market, I suggest going out and picking up a bottle of thin (I use Kimlan Aged) and dark (I use Kimlan dark), and try them out in various recipes, alone in and in combination. They really do have different flavor and color profiles.

    That is just it. I am going to have to write that post in the next couple of days….

    Comment by Barbara — March 3, 2006 #

  11. Hi from another Ohioan. I love the looks of this, and the flavor sensations I found myself imagining as I read through the recipe. I haven’t stir fryed in a long time, but maybe it’s time to dust off the wok.

    Comment by lucette — March 4, 2006 #

  12. If I have inspired you to dust off your wok, lucette, then I have done my work for the day. ;-)

    Where in Ohio are you, btw?

    Comment by Barbara — March 6, 2006 #

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