[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
When Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru more than a century ago, they brought their cooking with them—it didn’t take long for a new, hybrid Chinese-Peruvian cuisine called chifa to emerge. This dish of stir-fried beef with tomatoes, onion, and French fries in a savory brown sauce is one of the most famous of the chifa tradition, cooked throughout Peru and around the world today. The secret to success is to stir-fry properly, which at home often means dividing ingredients into very small batches to guarantee that they sear instead of just steaming. For the best flavor, you’ll want to toss the wok or pan over an open flame, allowing the contents to briefly catch fire, but if that makes you nervous, it’s okay to avoid the pyrotechnics.
Why It Works
- Tender cuts of steak like the tenderloin or skirt steak cook up quickly while remaining juicy.
- Stir-frying in small batches guarantees a good sear and deep flavor.
- Optionally allowing the contents of the pan to occasionally catch fire will deepen the flavor even more (but this is not required if it makes you nervous).
- 1 pound (450g) beef tenderloin, skirt steak, or other tender and flavorful quick-cooking steak
- 1/4 cup (60ml) peanut, canola, or vegetable oil, divided, plus more if needed
- Kosher salt
- 1 medium (8-ounce/225g) red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 4 scallions (about 2 ounces/60g total), roots and any wilted parts trimmed, then cut into 2-inch lengths
- 1 fresh or frozen aji amarillo chili pepper (about 2 ounces/60g), defrosted if frozen, then stemmed, seeded, and sliced lengthwise into matchsticks (see note)
- 2 medium plum tomatoes (about 5 1/2 ounces/160g total), cored and cut into 3/4-inch thick wedges
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger (about 1/4 ounce; 7g), minced
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20ml) soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) apple cider vinegar
- French fries, for serving
- Cooked long-grain rice, for serving
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
Cut the beef across the grain into roughly 1/2-inch thick strips.
In a wok or large cast iron or stainless steel skillet, heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil over high heat until heavily smoking. Meanwhile, season beef all over with salt.
Working in batches, add just enough beef to the pan to sear it heavily without the risk that it will steam in its own juices. Spread the beef around so the pieces are evenly spaced apart and allow to cook until very well seared and charred on one side, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir and toss beef so that it cooks all over, about 30 seconds longer; if you are working over a gas flame and aren’t afraid of some fire, toss the beef near the flame so that the oil briefly combusts in big bursts (or, if this makes you nervous, don’t allow it to catch fire; instead managing the heat to prevent flare-ups). Using a spatula, transfer beef to a platter to rest. Repeat with remaining beef, always getting the pan smoking hot before the next batch and adding more oil if needed.
When all the beef is cooked, return the empty pan to high heat. Add 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil and heat until smoking. Working in batches, add just enough red onion that it sears and browns rapidly without steaming, about 30 seconds. Toss a few times until the onion is crisp-tender. Using a spatula, transfer onion to a platter. Repeat with remaining onion, always heating the pan until smoking first and adding more oil if necessary.
Return the empty pan to high heat and add 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil and heat until smoking. Working in batches, if necessary, add scallions and cook without stirring until seared on bottom side, about 30 seconds. Push scallions to the side and add peppers. Cook until seared, about 30 seconds longer.
Push scallions and peppers to the side and add tomatoes to the pan, allowing them to sear on one side, about 30 seconds (if your burning isn’t very strong, you can remove the scallions and peppers from the pan before adding tomatoes to guarantee good searing; otherwise leave them in). Try not to let the tomatoes grow too soft and pulpy; it’s better they retain their shape than brown to the point of becoming mushy.
Add garlic and ginger and cook, tossing and stirring constantly, until garlic and ginger are lightly sautéed and fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add soy sauce and vinegar and toss to combine.
Return beef and all accumulated juices to the pan along with the red onions (if you removed the scallions and peppers, add them back now, too). Add cilantro. Toss over high heat to combine well, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Remove from heat.
Spoon onto plates with a mound of cooked rice and French fries and serve right away.
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