For some reason, all I can think of today are the Peking Beef Wraps I made this weekend (yes, it was a themed dinner night). So naturally I’ve interpreted my obsession-of-the-day as some sort of subliminal message sent by the Food Gods, urging me to write about that delicious balance of sweet and savory beefy goodness wrapped in a warm blanket of Peking Pancakes. Mmmm…
Before we delve into the intricacies of the wrap itself, I owe Northern Chinese Cuisine (or Peking Cuisine) a bit of an introduction. Off the top of my head, there are 4 main schools of Chinese Cuisine, each with a distinct palette of flavors. The most well known, but vastly misunderstood school is Canto Cuisine (Yue), which has been adapted and fast-foodified to represent soggy sweet and sour spareribs with a neon red sauce (but alas, that rant is for another day). Szechuan cuisine (Chuan) features daringly bold and dangerously spicy dishes. Shanghai Cuisine (Hu) is known for its alcoholic flair , and expert use of preserved and pickled foods. And finally, our feature school: Peking Cuisine, the food for the kings. Literally.
If you see anything on a menu with the word “Peking” in it, chances are, it’s a dish from Northern China. After all, the word “Peking” is synonymous with the word “Beijing”, and Beijing just so happens to be in Northern China. Northern Chinese cuisine are somewhat distinct from many North Americanified Chinese food which draws it’s inspiration from Southern Chinese dishes (specifically from Canto Cuisine).
Beijing (or Peking) has been home to grand palaces and emperors for over 3 dynasties, spanning over 700 years. While you would expect this imperial cuisine to be extravagantly rich and refined, Peking cuisine actually emphasizes flavors that are earthy, hearty and robust. Of course, dishes created specifically for royalties and aristocrats have much more finesse and a degree of haughtiness, but Peking Cuisine in general is rather down-to-earth and celebrates its many culinary influences from various cultures and spices traded along the silk road.
But enough with history. This blog is about FOOD! And today it’s about those juicy strips of stir fried beef wrapped in that delicious Peking Pancake. Crunchy on the outside , soft in the inside. You can think of Peking Pancakes as a springy and thin version of soft tortilla shells. If tasted alone, Peking pancakes should hint of sweetness, juuuust enough to make things interesting and get the party (in your mouth) going. The authentic way of making Peking pancakes requires dipping half the dough balls in sesame oil, stacking them oiled-face to oiled-face, roll it out in a circle, and separating the two stacked pancakes straight off the pan when it’s piping hot. This technique allows you to create paper thin pancakes that you would be hard pressed to produce if all you had was a rolling pin and a floured surface. An easier way of making the pancakes is just to roll it out individually, as thin as you can. That way, you are less likely to burn yourself and based on personal experience, the ‘easy method’ is extremely effective at reducing the amount of cuss words in the kitchen, that would have otherwise been uttered when your super thin pancakes starts tearing in the middle of the separation process. I’ve tried both methods, and the thickness doesn’t affect the dish too much.
As for the beef, I recommend a cheap cut. In fact, I insist it! As much as I love my tender Chateaubraind, a cheap cut of beef has more value and flavor, which complements this robust dish. The toughness of the cut can be afforded by a tenderizing process that creates a characteristic texture that is expected from a dish like this. Depending on availability, I usually opt for either a chuck roast or top sirloin.
I’ve included substitutes for ingredients that are often hard-to-find in major grocery stores. Using substitutes doesn’t alter the flavors too much and still produces a wonderful dish. I personally prefer using Hoisin Sauce over Peking Sauce. Hoisin sauce delivers a sweeter, brighter tone to the dish, while Peking Sauce is more muted, giving way to the subtle soy bean flavors. Peking green onions are hard to find, even in Chinese grocers. Compared to green onions, Peking green onions are stronger and has more of a bite. If you, like me, are a fan of raw onions, a hunt for Peking green onions is highly recommended!!!
To aid you on your Peking green onion quest, here is a photo of it. (They look a bit like baby leeks.)
So here I present to you another Nommy Noms recipe:
Peking Beef Wraps
Part 1: Peking Beef Stirfry
Yields: 5 servings Prep Time: 15 Minutes (+30 min wait time) Cook Time: 5 Minutes
- Beef (Chuck Roast or Top Sirloin) ————————– ~ 600 g
- Beijing Green Onions (Substitute: Green Onions) ——- 1/4 bunch
- Peking Sauce (Substitute: Hoisin Sauce) —————– 4 Tbsp
- Vegetable Oil ————————————————- 1/4 Cup
- Light Soy Sauce ———————————————– 3 Tbsp
- Fine Salt ——————————————————– 1/2 Tsp
- Sugar ——————————————————— 1 Tsp
- Garlic Powder ————————————————–1 Tbsp
- Hoisin Sauce ————————————————— 1 Tbsp
- Sesame Oil —————————————————— 1 Tbsp
- Cornstarch ——————————————————1 Tbsp
- Baking Powder ————————————————–2 Tsp
- Shaoxing Wine ————————————————- 1 Tsp (optional)
- English Cucumber ——————————————– 1
- Peking Onion (Substitute: Green Onion)——————- 3/4 Bunch
The Fun Part:
- Slice the beef**, batonnet style (ie. half an inch, about the size of a McDonald’s french fry), take care to go against the grain when slicing. Place sliced beef in a bowl.
- Add marinade ingredients to the beef (except corn starch, oil and baking powder). Mix well. Then add corn starch and baking powder. Mix well. Toss with sesame oil, and let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes and no longer than 45 minutes. (This step is crucial because the baking powder acts as a tenderizer. Using the beef too early results in a tough, chewy beef (especially if you are using a cheap cut), while leaving the beef for too long destroys the texture of the beef.
- While beef is resting, julienne the Peking onions/green onions. Reserve 3/4 of the onions as the accompaniment, and the rest for stir frying later. Slice cucumbers, batonnet style, and leave for the accompaniment.
- When beef is done resting, heat vegetable oil in a wok over high heat, until just smoking. Then add the beef to the hot wok and continuously flip the meat with a spatula or a pair of chopsticks, making sure each slice of beef has a chance to be seared (~1-2mins). Add Peking sauce/hoisin Sauce to the beef and stir continuously, making sure it coats the beef. The sauce should coat the beef and start caramelizing. When almost done, add the 1/4 of the onions and toss.
- Serve beef with a few slices of cucumbers and Peking onions on a piece of homemade Peking Pancakes (recipe to follow.)
** For easy slicing, freeze the beef when bought, and thaw in the fridge overnight for dinner. (Thaw for about 17 hours in the fridge)
Part 2: Peking Pancakes (Advanced version)
Yields approx 16 medium pancakes Preparation Time: 20 Mins (+30 Min wait time) Cooking time: 16 Mins
- Flour ————–300g
- Sugar ————–1 Tbs
- Boiling Water—–1 Cup
- Sesame Oil ——– Only required in advanced versions (about 6 Tbsp)
The fun part:
- Add flour and sugar and mix with a wooden spoon
- Gradually add boiling water, and mix to form a sticky dough
- Sprinkle dough generously with flour and transfer to a floured surface
- Knead dough until smooth (adding more flour if necessary)
- Cover with damp tea towel and let rest for 30mins
- Prepare a steam rack to keep pancakes warm. (I like to place a steaming basket over a saucepan of simmering water.)
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface to the shape of a rod (~1.5 inch diameter), cover with a damp towel to prevent drying
- Divide the dough into 1 inch sections, cutting out 2 sections to manipulate at a time, roll both sections into ball and slightly flatten on a surface to make a thick circle. Take care to not overwork the dough, or else the pancakes will come out too chewy!
- Spread sesame oil on one side of the circle and place it on top of another circle (oiled side down)
- Roll out till paper thin
- Cook in pan under medium high heat until it chars slightly and inflates
- Separate the 2 pancakes
- Place in the steam basket/ steam rack to keep warm and moist.