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Yunnan flavors: beef with mint 薄荷牛肉米线


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Last week I had something real good in a local restaurant and today I tried to reproduce it at home. That is always a risky proposition, but what I wound up with was a pretty good adaptation even though it required more labor than initially expected.


As you know, Kunming is famous for its cross-bridge rice noodles 过桥米线, as is most of southern Yunnan. One local eatery which I frequently visit is known for its variations on the old, time tested theme. They offer a variety of vegetables and meats to put in the boiling hot broth: sometimes they offer seafood, sometimes pigeon or quail, other times it's wild mushrooms that takes center stage. 


Last week they were trying out beef combinations with mint. One dish was called 滇味牛肉过桥米线 which had thin-sliced cooked beef 白切牛肉, green peppers 青椒, and mint 薄荷。It was available at an introductory price of 15 Yuan, down from 17 list. The other new menu item was those ingredients plus sliced beef stomach tripe 牛肚, called 金牌牛肉过桥米线 at the special price of 23 Yuan instead of the usual 25. 


If you aren't familiar with Yunnan cross-bridge rice noodles, please take a look at this previous discussion. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52493-yunnan-cross-bridge-rice-noodles-过桥米线/?tab=comments#comment-404109. Here's what it looks like in the restaurant, complete with raw quail eggs and chrysanthemum flower petals. 


(Click the photos to enlarge them.)


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Small plates 碟子 of cool or room temperature items are brought to your table along with a bowl of uncooked rice noodles. The waiter next delivers a bowl of extremely hot broth 高汤, and you put it together yourself, adding ingredients one at a time so they cook quickly on the spot. The noodles go in last of all, so as not to prematurely cool off the broth. My home adaptation of this dish saw me making it on the stove. If I had owned a free-standing hot plate or induction burner, could have done it right on the dining table instead. 


The flavors of beef and mint seem like they were meant for each other and the combo is a staple of Yunnan cuisine, much as lamb and mint are wedded in some western traditions. This dish showcases the marriage of beef and mint. Here's how I did it; here's how you can make it yourself at home. 

First, let's look at the beef. Bought a piece of rump roast, about 800 grams. Didn't actually need that much; a third or even a fourth of it would have been enough for today. But the trouble involved in slow cooking it means that it makes sense to cook a big piece and have some left over for other projects. Buying beef in the market tends to be an adventure. Works best if you are armed with some knowledge of the various cuts. They aren't identical to those used in the U.S. 


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This cut sells for about 50 Yuan per kilo and doesn't have much waste. Slice it in half and tie the two pieces with twine so it will cook more evenly than if it had a thick "head" and a thin "tail." Bring it to the boil quickly in lightly salted water to clean it of blood and surface impurities, throwing away that water. 



Beef here in China tends to be tough, at least the most economical cuts do. So it's best to keep that in mind and cook it in a pressure cooker 高压锅 on high for 25 or 30 minutes. Let it come down to a safe temperature naturally over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, don't need to use a "quick-release" method. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can slow simmer it for 60 to 90 minutes until it's tender when pierced with a blunt chopstick.  









Include some ginger 老姜, garlic 大蒜, a cardamom pod 草果, one star anise 八角 , a piece of cinnamon or cassia bark 桂皮, and a bay leaf 香叶。A few "numbing" Sichuan peppercorns 花椒 and several dried Yunnan red peppers 干辣椒 are optional. (I admit liking to add them.) After it cools completely, slice it thin. This process gets you what is known as 白切牛肉, plain sliced boiled beef. It's one of the old standards of Chinese cooking. Often served just like that with a fragrant and spicy dipping sauce 沾水 at the start of a special meal. 


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I saved the stock this produced and combined it with some chicken stock I already had on hand. Turned my attention to the vegetables.



Most of China, and most of the world, views mint differently from Yunnan. Here it's a bonafide green leafy vegetable, not just a garnish or a condiment. We eat it by the handful, especially in summer since it's a "cooling" food 清凉。Here's a link to mint soup, which shows it in its "vegetable" role: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51575-early-kunming-summer-mint-soup-and-mangoes/ 










Used the crinkly-skinned spicy green peppers 虎皮椒 that are so popular here along with a red bell pepper mainly for color. Had a bunch of garlic chives 韭菜 and a bunch of very small spring onions 小葱。Washed and sliced thin as shown. I went through the mint as I washed it and tossed out any tough woody stems and damaged bits, being careful to not just wind up with leaves since small and medium mint stems have lots of flavor. 


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Assembled the meat, shown here beside some home-made chili sauce 辣酱 and spicy pickled turnip greens 酸菜 cut fine. Got out a handful of rice noodles; this is about 1 Yuan worth. Put the stock 高汤 on low flame in a clay casserole pot, uncovered. 


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When the stock barely began to simmer, I added the peppers. Let them cook a minute or so, until just starting to soften a little, then added the small spring onions and the garlic chives. Stirred it frequently so it didn't boil over. 


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Now it's time for the thin-sliced cooked beef and a pinch of salt. (Don't need much because the 酸菜 diced pickled vegetables are salty.) As soon as the meat heats through, add the mint. Let these flavors combine for a half a minute or so, minimal cooking time. 


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Add the rice noodles, preferably a few at a time instead of in one big clump. These are fresh noodles, straight from the maker. They have never been dried. If you're using dried noodles, probably best to start them off to the side in a separate pot of lightly salted water. 


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We're done. It's ready. Eat up 动筷子!The mint combines great with the beef and the other flavors are completely harmonious. Every spoonful of broth makes you want to close your eyes and smack your lips. Try it, you'll see what I mean. 





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A friend to whom I sent this recipe wrote back  to say, "Looks good, but man, what a lot of work!" 


He had a valid point and I didn't want to gloss it over. Making this for only one or two people doesn't really make much sense, especially since you must pre-cook the meat in a separate step. But doing it for four or six is not unreasonable. One enjoys some economies of scale at that point. Plus, it's a satisfying one-dish meal. 


Today I did it as an experiment; just wanted to see if it was feasible to make at home. Even though what I wound up with was an "inspired by" modification of the original, I view it as a success and would call it a keeper. Something I will repeat every so often, at least while living in Yunnan.


In between times, when I feel less ambitious, I'll just look for it at the restaurant. 


Here's a shot of the rice noodles at the market. They have thin ones 系的 and thick ones 粗的, as well as some little ones in the shape of elongated teardrops 凉虾, which you might have encountered in 木瓜水。The same vendor also sells broad ones 卷粉 and semi-dried tough ones called 饵丝 and 饵块。The picture was taken near the end of morning rush, and they were close to selling out. 







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20 hours ago, abcdefg said:

especially since you must pre-cook the meat in a separate step


But if you do enough meat, you'll have it for some time.  A friend of mine does something similar - just without the pressure cooker - and we usually have it cold at the start of the a (like you mention).  Sometimes he'll just hit me with a full lunchbox of it - "made some of this yesterday, too much for us to eat, dip it in some vinegar and garlic and you're good to go".

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14 hours ago, somethingfunny said:


But if you do enough meat, you'll have it for some time. 


Yes, exactly. It's like having some leftover roast beef from that big Sunday dinner. That's money in the bank: it never goes to waste. Roast beef sandwiches become nearly instant and easy or just eat it like you said with a simple dipping sauce. Here (Yunnan) the most common dipping sauce is mellow aged vinegar 老陈醋 and a "top-shelf" soy sauce 生抽 in equal amounts with finely-chopped garlic 蒜末 and a sprinkle each of salt 食用盐 and ground red chilies 干辣椒。

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Just now received a note from a local friend, a Yunnan native. I had sent her a copy of this article. She wanted me to have a couple photos she took on a recent trip to 蒙自 Mengzi in 红河州 Honghe Prefecture, southeast of Kunming. It is known here as the place with the best 过桥米线 cross-bridge rice noodle soup in the province. People in the know see the kind we eat in Kunming as only a pale imitation of the "real thing." 


This glorious spread cost my friend 20 Yuan. 


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(These two photos -- Thank you 小董。)

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