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Feb 4, 2014
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WINE WITH…Ginger Beef Stir Fry

Our friend and fellow Critics Challenge judge Wilfred Wong was shocked to learn that Baltimore, where we live, has no Chinatown. Of course a few Chinese restaurants do exist here and there in the region, but when we told Wilfred that there is no central Chinese community in downtown Baltimore, he asked with an expression of mock horror on his face, “But where do you go when you have a hankering for Ginger Beef?”

We hadn’t given much thought to this cultural deprivation in the past, but once Wilfred provoked in us a keen desire for Ginger Beef, we decided we’d better make our own. The arrival of Chinese New Year further ratcheted up our enthusiasm for the project. Ours is a simple recipe, whose ingredients are easy to come by. We aren’t sure how it compares to Wilfred’s ideal, but it makes a mighty tasty midweek dinner dish with the extra bonus of adapting deliciously to different wine styles.

Ginger Beef Stir Fry

Serves 2

About 1 ½ pounds skirt steak or flank steak

Marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Fen Chiew (a distilled Chinese spirit), or gin, or dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon (or more, to taste) dry chili flakes or crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil such as canola or sunflower

1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 scallions, trimmed and cut in diagonal slices (including some of the green part)
1/2-1 jalapeño or other small hot pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger cut in thin slivers
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup minced cilantro
3-4 cups cooked white rice

Cut the beef into bite-size pieces, roughly a quarter to a half inch thick (freezing the meat for 20-30 minutes will make it easier to slice thinly). Transfer to a bowl, then whisk the marinade ingredients together and pour over the meat, tossing gently. Cover the bowl and let macerate for an hour, or up to 4 hours refrigerated.

When ready to cook, dilute the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water and set aside. Blot the meat but save the marinating liquid. Drizzle a little oil into a sturdy skillet, preferably nonstick. Heat the pan, and when it is very hot add the meat. Since the beef will not sear properly if the pan is crowded, you probably will have to do this in a couple of batches. Cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two, or until the meat is thoroughly browned but still slightly pink inside. Transfer it to a bowl, then cook the remaining meat and add it to the bowl. Wipe the pan out, add another drizzle of oil, then add the scallions, jalapeño and ginger. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for a minute or two, or until the ingredients are just tender. Return the meat and all its juices to the pan, then pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir over medium high heat for about a minute. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with cilantro and serve at once, with the rice.

* * *

Although meaty, this dish turned out to pair just as well with white wines as with reds. The ginger, peppers, scallions and cilantro combine to give it a sense of lively freshness, so no matter what color wine you choose, you’ll want an equally vivacious wine. The ones that showed best were aromatic, with bright, even sweet fruit flavors. Overt oak proved unpleasant, as did noticeable tannin, which turned bitter with the dish. Liveliness, not brawn, is the key here.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Paul Cheneau, (Spain) Cava Demi-Sec NV

(Imported by Pasternak Wine Imports)

$14

Off-dry, this demi sec bubbly has peachy undertones that augment its more austere primary flavors. That hint of summer sweetness is what made it such an agreeable partner for our ginger beef.

Cono Sur Bicicleta, Valle de Colchagua (Chile) Viognier 2012

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$12

Showing true varietal character, with a floral-scented bouquet and a lush mouthfeel, this seductive Viognier shows no oak influence and instead delights because it tastes so fresh and juicy. It isn’t really sweet, just fruity and fun.

Loosen Brothers “Dr. L,” Mosel (Germany) Riesling 2012

(Imported by Loosen Bros. USA)

$12

Medium-sweet, this Mosel Riesling married especially well with the ginger and cilantro, giving the dish an extra jolt of electric energy. It was in no sense overwhelmed by the beef.

Laurent Miquel Pere et Fils, Pays d’Oc (France) Syrah/ Grenache 2011

(Imported by Miquel et Fils)

$10

A simple but sexy red quaff, this southern French blend married seamlessly with the dish. It gave the stir fry extra depth, but tasted so bright and lively that it paired equally well with the Asian spices.

Renwood, Amador County (California) “Premier” Old Vine Zinfandel 2010

$20

So long as the wine itself is neither hot nor heavy, briary, juicy Zinfandel pairs nicely with spicy dishes that contain some peppery heat. That combination is what made this pairing successful. All the elements in the dish melded seamlessly with the forceful but controlled wine.