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Curry Beef (Chinese)

e
Ed Sep 21, 2000 04:59 PM

I've agonized for several weeks about where to post this item. I started to post it to a geographic-specific board, but eventually realized that, although there is a geographic element to it, it is more general than anything else. Anyway, here goes:

Thirty five years or so ago, there used to be a Chinese restaurant on the main shopping street of Farmingdale, in Suffolk County on Long Island, New York. They served a dish that was called, on the menu, "Curry Beef". It consisted, as I remember, of beef and green peppers and onions in a BLACK, garlicky sauce with, of course, a pronounced flavour of curry powder. I suspect, in retrospect, that the black colour and some of the flavour came from fermented black bean paste, although at the time, I lacked the *distinguir* or the knowledge of that flavour. It was so good that I would occasionally go there for both lunch and dinner on the same day, and order it both times.

In the intervening years, I have ordered "Curry Beef" in many Chinese restaurants from coast to coast. I have always been presented with a dish that was red in colour, with a varying selection of vegetables, and entirely different tasting than that offered by Fong's. Many times, a dish called "Garlic Beef" will evoke the memory of Fong's "Curry Beef", but in a similar way that the Muzak version evokes a Beetles tune.

Does anyone know what the dish that I remember so fondly might be? Does it have some other name? Does anyone know if it is a "standard" dish that could be evoked by some secret Chinese password? Failing that, how would I describe it to the staff of a cooperative Chinese restaurant, so that they might try to make it for me?

Any help will be appreciated.

  1. m
    Melanie Wong Sep 21, 2000 07:05 PM

    I've had a dish that's variously named Satay-style Beef or Beef in Sadae Sauce that is darkly colored, garlicky and with a whiff of Madras curry powder. There's really not that much sauce from the dry stir-fried cooking method.

    1. j
      Jim Leff Sep 22, 2000 01:15 AM

      Ed--sorry you had to "agonize", but you did it just right! (g)

      Since this--to my knowledge--wasn't a real serious, authentic, or regional chinese restaurant, I think Melanie may be barking up the wrong tree in searching her knowledge of regional dishes. And I have a LOT of trouble believing that this place was serving fermented anything. That's just not the way Chinese places cook for Farmingdale, Long Island (I grew up five miles from there). Even the better LI places hide their fermented ingredients the way they hide their duck feet and salt fish.

      I'm going to hazard a guess here. I think you were eating a fairly garlicky black bean beef to which they added curry powder. I've never before seen black beans and curry mixed in a chinese dish, and I suspect it was actually a serendipitious--if delicious--mistake (not a one-time mistake, obviously, but more of a policy error). Easy to check. Order takeout from whichever place near you makes the most garlicky black bean sauce, order black bean beef, and sprinkle in some chinese curry powder. I'm about 90% sure it's gonna hit for you.

      One thing that's bothering me is that you say curried beef is usually red...I've never seen red curried beef. It's usually yellowish from the curry powder! Unless I'm missing something here (always possible!)

      ciao

      12 Replies
      1. re: Jim Leff
        m
        Maria Eng Sep 22, 2000 01:36 AM

        Ed and Jim, I don't think that dish could have been a real Cantonese beef curry either. My husband loves this dish. It's one of his comfort foods from his youth, and I've heard alot of recipes and eaten quite a few renditions. They can have a multitude of little "secret ingredients" in them, but they are definitely yellow because of the predominance of the curry powder or paste used. I thought Melanie's take on the satay beef dish was a brilliant idea, but considering -when- you were eating this, satay probably wasn't happening on LI in a big way. I'm puzzled.

        1. re: Maria Eng
          j
          Jim Leff Sep 22, 2000 01:40 AM

          Yeah, Melanie's answer was TOO brilliant! You've got to remember this is Long Island. Where there is some really good tasting chinese food, but almost nothing especially rare or authentic (with the exception of maybe 3 or 4 restaurants in the past 30 years).

          The answer's surely something much, much more simple.

          1. re: Jim Leff
            m
            Melanie Wong Sep 22, 2000 04:07 AM

            Weirder things have happened. An acquaintance in Michigan was bereft for not being able to find the Grandfather's Chicken he had enjoyed as a child. I'd never heard of it, couldn't find anyone around here who had, but found a recipe for him in a Taiwanese cookbook.

            1. re: Jim Leff
              e
              Ed Sep 22, 2000 06:45 PM

              Jim,

              I wonder if you have fully considered the degree to which your sophistication has advenced in those 35 years. Nowadays, when I go in to a Chinese Restaurant, particularly in any province of BFE, I look to the "edges" of the menu. The owner of the restaurant had to come from somewhere, and s/he will usually keep one or two of his/her favorite dishes on the menu, whether they sell or not. They will usually be dishes that are difficult to classify, and so will make their way into a catchall or miscellaneous category. One example that pops up quite often is something that is often listed as "Singapore Style Chow Mein". This dish, if it appears on the menu, is likely to be the most "authentic", and often the best made dish in the house.

              This same principle applies to restaurant owners from other countries and backgrounds as well. Greek diner owners will have two or three Greek specialties on the menu, often hidden under some catchall menu category. I remember John's Cafe in Dinuba, for another example. John and his wife were Japanese, but their restaurant offered Chinese cuisine. For many years, John kept two items on the menu, Steamed Egg and Ham Yuk, that no one ever ordered except me. Again, they were more "authentic" specialties that did not appeal to his clientele, but he was as reluctant to drop them, as that would be an admission to himself of coming down in the world.

              I am pretty sure that the skill of searching out such things has, for me, grown considerably over time. Is it not possible that if you could be transported back to the Long Island of 35 years ago, you would be able to uncover many culinary treasures that were hidden from the "you" of that era?

              1. re: Ed
                j
                Jim Leff Sep 22, 2000 08:34 PM

                Great message, Ed; very well written. And you've really captured the chowhound ethos by speaking of "the edges".

                I was definitely a pretty serious chowhound from an early age. But you're certainly right that I didn't know then what I know now.

                But don't age me SO much...35 years ago I was barely off forumula!

            2. re: Maria Eng
              m
              Melanie Wong Sep 22, 2000 03:59 AM

              No brilliance involved, I checked a Cantonese cookbook. The English name for the dish is Satay beef, but the phonetics for the Chinese are Gah Lei Ngau Lau Yuk, which you know is Curry Beef Roast. The marinade is dark soy sauce, Madras curry powder, white pepper, peanut oil and white pepper. And, I'm sure that individual cooks will add their secret ingredients (I add ginger and garlic).

              1. re: Melanie Wong
                m
                Maria Eng Sep 22, 2000 03:46 PM

                Brilliant because you weren't subconsciously turned away from the idea by experience. I have lived on LI since I was 2yrs. old and would never even have considered Satay sauce in the context of eating on LI 30 years ago. 30 years ago even gloppy Chinese takeaway was few and far between, much less anything that resembled HK cooking. But who knows?

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  e
                  Ed Sep 22, 2000 06:54 PM

                  Melanie,

                  Would you mind posting the recipe? I have both Sate Seasoning and Chinese Curry Powder from Penzey's on the spice shelf, Worchestershire sauce and white pepper are staples, and peanut oil is readily available, although I prefer sesame. I will try some experiments, although stir fry at home is always problematic, given the inadequacy of the usual home burner.

                  1. re: Ed
                    m
                    Melanie Wong Sep 23, 2000 12:48 AM

                    OK

                    Mix 1/2 c. dark soy sauce, 2 Tb. Madras curry powder, 1/3 t. white pepper, 1 t. peanut oil, 1 mashed clove garlic, and 5 Tb. honey for marinade. Cut 2 lbs. of rib eye steak into 1" cubes, marinate 8 hours or overnight in fridge.

                    Slice 1 white onion into 1/4" rings. Heat peanut oil in shallow fry pan or wok. Singe onions on high heat with a little salt, you want these to have carmelized edges yet stay crisp. Set aside and keep warm.

                    Remove steak cubes from marinade with slotted spoon. Stir-fry at high heat in same pan to desired doneness. Do this in small batches if your stove can't maintain high enough temperatures to sear the meat. Arrange on top of onions. Boil remaining marinade in same pan to clean off brown bits, reduce if needed, pour over steak cubes.

                    The original recipe broils the meat but I prefer to cook it on top of the stove, the way I've had it at restaurants. This is often presented on one of those sizzling platters.

                    You can play around with adding a dash of sesame oil, some ginger, some Worcestershire sauce, etc. to the marinade. The brand of soy sauce you use will make a big difference. The peanut oil in the marinade is more to add some fat to a lean cut of meat, rather than for flavor.

                    Last time I made this, we accompanied it with a well-aged Calif. Cabernet Sauvignon.

                    Maybe not the dish of your younger days but I hope you enjoy it still.

              2. re: Jim Leff
                m
                Melanie Wong Sep 22, 2000 03:52 AM

                Jim, if we had Sadae beef in Salinas 40 years ago, don't you think there's a chance it could have been in LI at the same time? This dish is a standard in HK, I'm told, and is also called curry beef.

                If the cook had used the heavy thick style of fermented soy sauce and some Worcestershire (includes anchoveies and not uncommon in Chinese restaurants), it would be deeply colored and could almost taste like black beans.

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  j
                  Jim Leff Sep 22, 2000 08:41 AM

                  I suppose it's possible Melanie, but having grown up in LI, it just doesn't ring true. Put it this way: except for 3 or 4 places, you'd NEVER find a DROP of authentic--much less regional--cooking. Again, inauthentic can be delicious. But while I acknowledge it's possible, I doubt it.

                  Let's see what Ed has to say. If he's not real familiar with Worcestershire, maybe he could open a bottle and give a sniff and see if it jars any memories. And also the curry powder + black bean trick. Between the two of these, he's got lots of science homework to do, and hopefully (fingers crossed) a solution to his mystery.

                  ciao

                2. re: Jim Leff
                  e
                  Ed Sep 22, 2000 07:04 PM

                  I'm very red-green color deficient. What I am calling "red" could quite easily be called "yellow" by someone else. In any event, it's not a hard, solid color, but more of a streaking, in contest to the dish I remember, which was more the color and consistancy of the sauce from a goulash made according to the recipe from the original Joy of Cooking.

                  I will certainly try your suggestion as well as Melanie's. Sniffing ingrediants bottles provides no clues. It may be that tasting the dish itself will provide no clues. Thirty five years is, after all, a long time for an olfactory memory to persist.

                  Ideally, of course, some one would chime in about here to say "I live in Farmingdale, and I drove downtown, and Fong's still exists, and they still serve the dish and they let me have the receipe and here it is". Just occasionally, life should be more like television.

                3. m
                  Melanie Wong Sep 22, 2000 03:54 AM

                  I've seen Satay sauce (probably made by Lee Kum Kee) in the condiment section of grocery stores in Chinatown. Maybe you can find a jar and see if it gives you the right hit.

                  1. r
                    Rachel Perlow Sep 23, 2000 12:20 AM

                    Well, I don't live in Farmingdale, but I did a search. Here's the only Chinese restaurant in that town with "Fong" in the name, "Kam Fong Chinese Restaurant". Here is their address/phone: 19655 New Hwy #5, Farmingdale, NY 11735, (516)694-6830.

                    You may as well give it a shot, if it's the same place maybe they'll tell you their secret! "I moved away and am craving your curry beef, could you please please please tell me how to make it?" If they don't understand what you want (language-wise), perhaps a cooperative chef at your now local favorite chinese place will call them for you and prepare it for you?

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