Once upon a time, my father-in-law used to own a Chinese restaurant. Though Islamabad has no shortage of good places to eat, his restaurant was one of the first to serve authentic Chinese food, as he had travelled to China himself to hire the head chef. It soon became compulsory for all our family events to be held there: birthdays, welcome-to-Pakistan parties, leaving parties, graduation, wedding and anniversary parties!
That’s where I first had this dish, which they called Beef Chilli Dry. I always found the name kind of amusing; it was as if a bunch of them sat down and said “what shall we name this? Beef, check. Chilli, check. Consistency, dry. Let’s just call it Beef Chilli Dry.”
Soon after I got married, he sold the business and along with it, my hopes of lazy ordering-in 80% of the week! After scouring the internet and some experimenting, I think I’ve finally got a recipe close enough to what we used to eat at the much missed restaurant.
1/2 kg (500g) boneless beef/veal*
1 bulb of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp sugar
2-3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp Chinese salt (a.k.a Ajino Moto)
1/2 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste
Oil (enough to shallow fry)
Green chillies, 6-8 depending on size and desired spice level
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
*In Pakistan, you would buy “undercut.” Elsewhere, simply ask your butcher for a tenderloin cut of meat. I usually go for veal, but regular beef is perfectly fine.
First of all, cut your meat into paper-thin slices. You could cut it lengthways if you prefer, but I like to cut it into square-ish pieces. Make sure you use a sharp knife and get the pieces as thin as possible. It helps to make sure the meat it still somewhat frozen for this.
Then place your sliced meat in a bowl.
Add to this the garlic, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, Chinese salt and black pepper. Stir well to cover all of the meat and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, leave it in the fridge overnight.
While the meat is marinating, go ahead and prepare your green chillies. I used around 8 altogether, but these were not very spicy. If they were smaller and spicier, I would’ve only used 6.
Chop off the tops and tails, and cut the chillies into large rectanglular pieces.
When you are ready to cook, pour some oil (not too much, 3-4 tbsp should suffice) into a large pan/wok, and fry the beef on high heat till it changes colour, is just over half-cooked and any water it releases begins to dry up. You can do this in batches if all of it won’t fit in your pan in one go; best not to overcrowd the meat at this stage.
Take out the meat and set aside. Then, add your chopped ginger to the pan and fry for a few seconds and add the half cooked meat, along with the sliced chillies. Toss and turn so that everything is well-mixed and cook for a few minutes till the dish is of a dry-ish consistency, and the meat is fully cooked.
At this point, try a piece and adjust seasoning if required.
This is a side dish rather than a main, and goes well with pretty much anything, though I usually try to serve it with a veg/chicken dish; for example, chicken chow mein.
Leftovers make a great addition to omlettes or pasta (I’ve tried both: I chopped some already cooked leftover pieces even smaller and put it into my omlette mixture along with tomatoes, mushrooms, fresh corriander and some spring onions. I also put some pieces into some pasta, mixed with brocolli, green peppers and arrabiata sauce)
Here’s another meal that this makes a delicious side dish to: