Umami, in case you haven’t heard, is Japanese for “delicious taste.” Our tongues detect it from glutamate, so it’s now officially our fifth taste. Soy sauce is essentially umami + salt, so my base for a soy-free gluten-free umami sauce is: beef broth (umami), tomato paste (umami), shitake mushroom (umami) + a heap of salt. It’s a work in process, but this version turned out to be pretty delicious.
Time: 30 minutes
For the beef marinade:
1 tsp (5 ml) rice wine
1 tbsp (15 ml) homemade beef broth
1⁄2 tsp (2g) cornstarch
1 tsp (0.5g) Sichuan peppercorns
12 oz (375 g) flank steak, thinly sliced across the grain
For the umami sauce:
1⁄4 oz (10 g) dried shitake mushroom, soaked in 3 tablespoons of hot water
1⁄4 cup (65 ml) homemade beef broth
1 tsp (5 ml) rice wine
1 tbsp (15 ml) tomato paste
1 tbsp (15 ml) coarse sea salt
For the stir fry:
3 tbsp (45 ml) high heat cooking oil
2 inch (5 cm) knob of ginger
one head of broccoli, about 16 ounces (500 g)
1/2 bunch of Chinese chives (see note), garlic scapes or scallion greens, about 2 oz (65g)
cornstarch slurry: 1 tsp (4g) cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp (15ml) of cold water
- Prep: start boiling a pot of well-salted water to blanch the broccoli. Soak the dried shitake in hot water. Peel and slice the ginger into thin strips. Finely chop the Chinese chives. Make the cornstarch slurry. Slice the steak. Tip: it is easier to slice steak if it is slightly frozen
- Marinate the beef: Mix the rice wine, beef broth and cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Pour into a quart-size resealable plastic bag. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and beef slices. Remove as much air from the bag as possible and seal. Massage the beef until well coated. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Prepare the umami sauce: Remove the shitake from the soaking water (reserve the liquid), discard the stem and roughly chop. Combine the shitake, shitake water, beef broth, rice wine, tomato paste and sea salt in food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.
- Prep the broccoli: Remove the florets and divide any large ones into bite-size pieces. Peel the stem and slice into matchsticks. Blanch the florets in boiling water until crisp-tender, about 1 minute, and drain.
- Start stir frying: Heat a large skillet or wok on high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Add the beef and quickly spread into a single layer. Let fry undisturbed for 1 minute, then stir continuously for another minute until 70-80% cooked through (the meat should still be a little pink). Remove from pan.
- Add an additional tablespoon of oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the ginger slices and broccoli florets and fry, stirring continuously, until the broccoli begins to brown. Add the broccoli matchsticks. Stir in the sauce and bring to a boil, scraping up any browning that has stuck to the pan. Return the beef slices to the pan. Add the Chinese chives. Add the cornstarch slurry and stir until the sauce is thick and bubbly.
- Remove from heat. Serve over rice.
Note: The flavor of Chinese chives (jiucai) is somewhere between a scallion and a mild garlic. Garlic scapes would be a good alternative if they’re in season. Otherwise, use scallions.