Sometimes I find culinary inspiration in all the wrong ways: A few days ago, I found myself wondering what to do with a bit of leftover beef tenderloin. I know that may be considered somewhat of a luxury problem, but the thing is, I don’t eat beef tenderloin, so I was in a bit of a pickle about what to do with a few uneven cuts and scraps from a Chateaubriand roast I had used the night before for other experiments that I’m not at liberty to tell you about just yet.
Wait, hold on.. “Why, in the name of food snobbery and all things holy do I not eat beef tenderloin,” I hear you yelling from the back of the room… Well… The fact of the matter is I do eat tenderloin, I just don’t want to pay for it.
Beef tenderloin: I never was a fan
Okay, I realize that may be a controversial statement seeing as I so happily spend large sums of money on similarly exclusive and expensive food products.
The thing is, I don’t mind spending a lot of money on a piece of meat (or other culinary ingredient), as long as said piece of meat is worth its price tag. And for my money, that’s just not the case with beef tenderloin. For my money, beef tenderloin is ridiculously overpriced. See, while you do get a very tender piece of meat (hence the name), you also get a piece of meat that’s strangely dull and lacking in the taste department as compared to several other slightly less overpriced cuts of meat. In essence, what you gain in texture, you lose in flavor. In my book, that is. And that may just be me, lord knows I’ve had a lot of people look at me strangely when I’ve tried to explain. I just think that the beef flavor of beef tenderloin is a lot less, well, beefy that other notably cheaper cuts of beef. Consequently, whenever I do find myself in possession of beef tenderloin (which, literally, happens once every three years or so), I always find myself pondering some nonsensical way of adding more flavor to the product.
As authentically Chinese as Russian dressing
The problem outlined above; having to add extra flavor to something that should already be awesome, I suppose, is why I was eventually reminded of a simple and great way of adding a bit of extra flavor to your favorite beef shavings, the Chinese American classic: broccoli beef!
Broccoli beef is essentially thin slices of marinated, stir fried beef tossed with blanched broccoli in a spicy black sauce consisting of oyster sauce, soy, garlic and rice wine. I use the term Chinese America cuisine to describe this dish because in reality I’m pretty sure Broccoli beef is about as Chinese as, oh, I don’t know, Russian dressing? But nevertheless, it’s a popular dish at pretty much every Chinese takeout place across America (and soon, I suspect, the rest of the world as well!) and the reasons, I assure, are pretty simple. It looks like something that might have come out of China, it tastes like something that may have come out of China, it’s hearty, it’s beefy, it’s filling and it’s lip smackingly greasy good!
In short, it makes sense that people would eat it in large quantities rather than sitting around going “Gee, I wonder why the Chinese picked western broccoli for this signature Chinese dish… Hey, is this dish even really Chinese?” – I know I did during my first lengthy stay in America, eat a lot of it that is. And, come to think of it, that may well be one of the reasons why I put on a lot of weight during my first lengthy stay in America.
Does oyster sauce really contain oysters? This is a question that has been asked by many people over the course of the past 125 years. The answer to your question, perhaps shockingly, is yes! Oyster sauce was traditionally made by slowly simmering oysters in water until the juices caramelized into a thick, brown, intensely flavorful sauce. Perhaps luckily for modern eaters, this procedure is insanely expensive, so modern oyster sauce is generally made from a mix of sugar, salt and water thickened with cornstarch, died with caramel and flavored with a tiny shot of oyster essence.
But I digress, the fact of the matter is that for me this dish is another great food memory from my trip to the States some *cough* eleven *cough* years ago, but not one I’ve ever seen in Denmark. While I suppose that may be because I’ve been looking in all the wrong places, I’m more worried that it may be because it never made it ‘cross the pond. No matter, though, I’ve luckily learned to make the dish at home and maybe these strange ramblings will help spread it further across the European continent.
Broccoli Beef – sans beef! Photo credit: @rachelmgc on instagram.com
The show must go on…
What I wanted to get to, rather than comparing Chinese cuisine to Russian dressing (which was, by the way, invented in New Hampshire and is not at all Russian), was how Broccoli beef, or other stir fries for that matter, are a great way of using up little scraps of leftover, possibly slightly tasteless, scraps of meat:
- Because the beef is sliced up prior to frying, it doesn’t matter if the cuts weren’t too attractive to begin with.
- Because the beef is marinated before cooking, it doesn’t matter if the pieces weren’t too flavorful to begin with.
- Because the beef is sliced thinly, heavily seasoned, marinated and tossed with a flavorful sauce along with other ingredients, a little beef goes a long way. And that’s a good thing in a world where beef is not only expensive, but also supposedly not very good for you at all.
While I’m dumb enough to do so, I should stress thoroughly that I do not advocate you using beef tenderloin in a stir fry. In actuality, I hereby bring you the first recipe that I don’t necessarily advocate cooking according to my original instructions. Less you be a confused food geek with a little too much beef tenderloin on your hands and no particular love for this supposedly superior cut of beef. I do, however, suggest that you consider this dish if you happen to have any other leftover cuts of beef laying around like, say, a piece of flank steak or similar. It’s a great, easy and quick way of using up those odd scraps and pieces and it’ll be one of the best not-at-all authentic Chinese dishes you’ll ever have.
And with that, I give you broccoli beef (tenderloin) according to Johan, the slightly eccentric home chef:
Fresh out of tenderloin? Or not really in the mood for blowing expensive cuts of meat on a stir fry? No problem! This dish can be made using a variety of cuts. I generally would suggest flank steak or skirt steak sliced thinly against the grain. Both would be excellent and very flavorful choices. Want an extra bit of tenderness and/or wow factor? Sliced Rib eye or New York Strip would make great choices as well!
Broccoli Beef: A Chinese American Stir-fry Classic
- 200 grams of beef tenderloin or other tender cut of beef
- One head of broccoli cut into uniform florets
- 250 grams of Chinese style noodles
- Oil for frying
- A splash of dark sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice wine
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic smashed
- a few grinds of black pepper
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce
- 100 milliliter of beef stock
- two tablespoons of corn starch
- Slice beef thinly and put in a bowl, add all marinade ingredients and mix thoroughly to coat. Let stand for about 30 minutes.
- In another bowl thoroughly mix all sauce ingredients and set aside
- Fill a medium sauce pan with water, add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil.
- When water is boiling, add broccoli and blanch for about two minutes, then drain thoroughly.
- Refill sauce pan with well-salted water, bring back to the boil and cook noodles according to instructions on the package.
- Heat large cast iron frying pan or wok over high heat until a bubble of water hisses and evaporates upon contact.
- Add a generous amount of cooking oil and swirl pan to coat. Add in beef along with the marinade and immediately spread out in a single layer.
- Cook beef undisturbed for about a minute, then flip and cook another thirty seconds.
- Add broccoli and all sauce ingredients and cook for about 30 seconds, tossing and turning everything to evenly coat ingredients in the sauce.
- When noodles are done, drain them and toss with a bit of sesame oil. Pour beef, broccoli and sauce over noodles and serve immediately.
For a more yummy and slightly less healthy dish, fry the noodles before serving:
- Pour beef and broccoli into a bowl, cover with aluminum foil and keep warm.
- Add another generous amount of oil to the pan, turn down heat to medium and add noodles, frying them for a few minutes until they're golden and delicious.
- Add broccoli, beef, sauce back to the wok and toss thoroughly to combine, then serve.
Don’t discard those stems! Broccoli stems are so often discarded and that’s a crying shame as they’re actually the tastiest part of a head of broccoli. When preparing broccoli, cut off and remove the stems, peel off the tough outer layers using a vegetable peeler and slice the stem into strips. Boil in well-salted water until tender and use as you would regular florets of broccoli. Yum.
Beefing up Broccoli Beef
So, the fact aside that this whole experiment is a little ridiculous and that I’ve already advised you not to try this at home, you’re by now probably wondering something along the lines of “well, how was it?”
And the answer to your question is: “awesome!” … No really!
Broccoli beef in itself is a classic and exceedingly tasty dish in which rich beefy flavors of the meat melt with sweet, salty flavors from the oyster/soy sauce combo, a subtle heat and pungency from chili and garlic and a vegetable-like crunch from the broccoli. While the taste of beef tenderloin in itself isn’t much to write about, the tenderness and texture definitely is. When properly prepared, in this case seared very briefly over high heat, the texture of beef tenderloin is somewhere between butter and melt in your mouth which made for a nice contrast to the crisp broccoli and fried noodles.
The lack of beefiness was compensated for nicely by the marinade and the beef stock in the sauce. The soy sauce added a nice saltiness while body and umami was lent by a generous helping of oyster sauce and some sautéed oyster mushrooms, I ended up adding on a whim. With this added onslaught of umami and meatiness on top of the wonderful textures, this actually ended up being a very enjoyable and actually quite posh meal.
Was it worth it though? No, not really. The superior texture really did not justify the extra cost of the beef tenderloin and the fact that you’d have to douse an expensive piece of meat in extra ingredients to make it beefy kinda defies the point of buying expensive meat to begin with. So, no, I really can’t recommend making Broccoli beef with beef tenderloin. I can recommend doing it with many other cuts of beef, though. I’ve had this dish made with leftover rib eye and it’s been just as good, if not better. Heck, I’ve had this dish on weeknights made with leftover flank steak in which case it’s provided me with an intensely flavorful and downright cheap dinner – for several nights. So there’s really no excuse not to get cooking, just don’t cook it the way Johan did. Unless you, too, are less than impressed with beef tenderloin.