Chinese Cooking basics: How to slice beef?

Tips for people who don’t like to use knife or cut meat:

1. Buy the pre-cut, pre-packaged meat.

Pros: Easiest and fastest way.

Cons: 1. Desired cuts not always available. 2. Usually cost more, up to 60%

2. Buy large portion (typically labeled as “roast cut”), then ask the meat department to cut/slice it for you.

Pros: 1. Enjoy the bulk pricing. 2. Less work to do.

Cons: 1. Need to meet butcher”s schedule. If buying in supermarket, the butcher at meat department will only provide service if you request the service at the same time you buy (mostly for safety rules to ensure the meat is from their source.) 2. Limited control over how the meat if cut (if the butcher is willing and able to meet your demand.)

 

The alternative (actually preferred for those like to cook): Cutting the meat by yourself (assuming starting with a large “roast cut”)).

Pros: 1. Lower pricing. 2. Full control over a.) when you buy, b.) how you want it cut. 3. Practice knife skill. 4. Fun (maybe just me 🙂 ).

Cons:  1. More work to do. 2. Risk of cutting yourself for beginners.

 

After reading the above comparisons, if you still want to cut the beef yourselves, thank you, and  Please continue reading.

 

SHORT VERSION:

Reason for cutting beef differently:

1. For the look of beef and its integration with the dish.

2. for the texture of the beef.

Cutting method:

1. Slice AGAINST the grain (muscle fiber direction) for thin slice. Typical thickness ~ 1/8″ r less, width/height varies. Cut to fit your preference.

2. Slice ALONG the grain (muscle fiber direction) for strip. Typical dimensions – 1/2 to 1/4″ in width/height, 1 to 3″ length.

Long Version with intro, images, and typically applications:

Chinese cooking recipes often call for “thinly sliced beef”, “beef strip”, or “beef for stir-fry”. But what do they mean? What’s the difference between these different terms? and why cutting /slicing the beef differently for different dishes?

Well, that’s start by a large cut of beef (roast cut). Beef is usually made of a collection of muscle fibers alone certain direction, these fibers are especially prominent in some of the tougher or lean cut of the meat (i.e. rough, chuck). Here is an example:

exp1

Chinese cooking is usually very forgiving on the toughness of the beef and Chinese have developed many tricks and techniques (just to name a few: add certain fruit, corn starch, egg white, use high heat, short time stir-fry, run meat through oil before cooking, etc.)  to tenderize the meat and to maximize the meat texture. But all these starts with the right slice of the meat.

There are 2 main purpose of cutting the beef in certain ways:

1. For the look of the dish.

2. For the texture and taste of the dish.

Types of cutting method

There typically 2 types of beef cuts that Chinese cooking recipes use :

1. Thinly sliced beef: Slice the beef thinly (usually less than 1/8″ to paper thin) AGAINST the muscle fiber. The purpose of this cut is to break the beef into small pieces of loosely connected muscle fibers, so the meat is easier to chew, or even “melt in your mouth” when bite into it. Here is an example image of the beef:

slice_grain

Thinly sliced beef is usually used in saucy or soupy dishes. Those dishes might take a little longer to cook and over relatively low heat. This cut also goes well with dishes that focus on silky smooth texture. A classic dish is “Stir-Fry Beef with Soft Scrambled Eggs”, which I will be posting a easy recipe later.

2. Beef strips: Slice the beef along the muscle fiber (usually less than 1/2″ in width, length varies). Here is couple example images:

P1040718 strip

The purpose of this type of cutting method is:

1. for dish appearance. Beef strips can stay in shape better when doing high heat stir-fry. Dish also look more coherent when stir-frying with other ingredients (i.e. pepper, onion, etc) that are also cut into strip-like shape.

2. to retain the texture and the juice of the beef so the meat juices will burst into your mouth after high heat, short time stir-fry.

Beef strips go well with high heat/fire stir-fry. Stir-fry dishes are usually relatively dry without thick sauce. A good example dish is “Stir-Fry Pepper Steaks with Scallion”

Although different recipes often call for different types of cutting method, I felt that they are actually quite inter-changeable. It is more important to cut the beef according to its shape (either against the grain for thin slice, or alone the grain for strips) than worrying about which cut to use on which dish.

Also, if you cannot tell which way the muscle fibers are going, then it’s highly like that the muscle fibers in the cut of beef you are using just doesn’t follow a particular direction. In that case, just cut them anyway you like or whatever direction is easier to cut.

Happy Cutting!

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