Monday, October 12, 2009

Flank steak with bok choy and black beans

My dad might roll over in his grave to hear me say this, but I hardly know how to cook anything Chinese. And for some reason, most of the things I have experience making are very labor intensive, like potstickers and won ton. I also once helped the extended Hungry Dog clan make sesame balls. You may be familiar with these little bits of fried dough, usually containing sweet bean paste. Well, not in our family. We make them savory, filled with roast pork, green onions, and water chestnuts.

When I asked an elderly aunt why we make them with salty pork instead of sweet beans, she looked at me in surprise. "Because we like pork better," she said. Well, then.

I do have one Chinese dinner in my repertoire that I am capable of making on any given weeknight. My dad would be pleased to know that it's actually a recipe of his that appeared in the first volume of our family cookbook: flank steak with black beans.

As might be typical with family recipes, this one is somehow both incredibly specific ("Stir-fry flank steak for 45 seconds!") and frustratingly vague ("use several slices of ginger"). But now I've made the recipe so many times I know how to do it just the way I like it.


Marinate 1 lb. thinly-sliced flank steak in 4 T. soy sauce, 2 T. dry sherry, and several slices of ginger for 20 minutes.

When done marinating, remove ginger slices. Heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a wok over very high heat. Add the flank steak, being careful not to splatter the hot oil. Cook, tossing constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Do not cook all the way through. Remove the flank steak from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat another 2 T. vegetable oil in the pan. Add 2 1/2 T. black beans, 2-3 minced garlic cloves, and 1-2 T. minced ginger.

A word about the black beans: I've used the old-school ones that are encased in a starchy fermented goo. These actually taste good but have a strong smell while cooking. If you use these, you should rinse them really well first.

Usually I use this, which may or may not be considered cheater-style, but works like a charm.

Cook black beans, garlic, and ginger over high heat for 2 minutes. Add one chopped red bell pepper and cook 1 minute.

Add 1 t. sugar, 1 t. salt, and chopped bok choy (or other vegetable) and toss to coat vegetables in black bean mixture.  For the vegetable, use as much as you like. I might use one head of broccoli, or several bok choys, depending on how big they are. With broccoli, I blanch it first and then add it to the stir-fry; that way it doesn't have to cook so long in the black beans and keeps its bright green color.

Add 3/4 -1 1/2 c. chicken broth. The amount varies with 1) how saucy you like your stir-fry, and 2) how much liquid your vegetable needs to cook.

If you use bok choy, it hardly needs more than a minute to cook. Broccoli will take 4-5 minutes.

Make a slurry with 1 1/2 T. corn starch and 1 1/2 T. water and add to the pan, stirring into the sauce. It will thicken very fast.

Turn off heat and add flank steak and all juices to pan. Toss, allowing the steak to finish cooking in the residual heat. Serve immediately.

I usually serve this with rice and a piece of fish (usually cod, snapper, or white basa) that I steam with salt and ginger and drizzle a little sesame oil over. Two dishes is all the Chinese cooking I can handle at a time.

I realize I haven't written out this recipe in a printer-friendly way. I guess I feel it doesn't matter too much--once you learn the method, you can adjust all the amounts and the ingredients depending on your tastes. You could use chicken or shrimp instead of beef, and any vegetable you like. The key with stir-frying, besides taking great care not to overcook any of the ingredients, is that you want everything chopped in advance. Once you start cooking this dish, it's done in 10 minutes. But you don't want things getting soggy while you're frantically trying to pull ingredients together. I get everything prepped and have it ready right by the stove before I start.

This is one of the husband's favorite dinners. I have to agree there's something incredibly satisfying about this dish; plus, it makes for impressive lunch leftovers the next day.


  1. I love recipes like this; very flexible in terms of ingredients and they're variations on what a lot of people grew up with. My mom would make a version of this, and I've pushed/pulled her recipe a few times, and it always turns out fine. I've used that same exact brand of sauce, and I think it's awesome!

  2. Ha ha, the Lee Kum Kee is so ubiquitous - it's the only brand mum ever used. Love dishes like this for the "speediness" - yours looks very tasty.

  3. I LOVE black bean sauce. Toss it with veggies, meat or tofu and put it over steamed rice, and I'm in pure heaven.

  4. I loooove flank steak. This recipe sounds great, although I feel you about the family recipe issues. My mom never measures anything and my dad is really uptight about measuring everything. So we get weird combinations.

  5. how cool that you guys had a family cookbook! that sounds like such a comforting meal.

  6. I figured I wasn't the only one to use that bottled sauce! Hey, it's a good, reliable product!

    foodhoe: Not to brag, but the cookbook rocks. Actually, there was even a volume 2!

  7. love the black bean sauce. the husband can eat this stuff right out of the jar!

  8. Re: Black beans! Your Dad was more of a purist. He always bought the packaged salted fermented black beans, which he soaked for about 15 minutes, drained and then mashed vigorously with chopped garlic into a paste. Your pix were very appetizing. Asparagus with black beans is my favorite, but the bok choy/red pepper version is very appealing. Dad is clapping! MOM

  9. DS--now I'm picturing Richard just digging into a jar with a spoon!

    Mom: I need to try it with asparagus...maybe next time you come up for dinner we'll do that and some potstickers.

  10. I know our cousin Christopher uses Lee Kum Kee. If it's good enough for him...