Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rusty Nails/Crispy Beef

The chinese cooking term "Passing through" is a key technique in Shanghai and Szechuan cooking, where the meat is cooked by passing it through hot oil. This step makes chicken breast meat silken, transforms shrimp into toothsome creatures with a firm, almost crunchy texture, and renders paper-thin strips of pork and steak tender and juicy within. In passing through, the food is very briefly cooked in a pool of hot vegetable oil and then removed from the wok. To finish the dish, almost all of the oil is poured off from the wok, and the remaining oil is used to create the sauce. Finally, the passed through food is returned to the wok and stir-fried with the sauce.

While passing through is primarily a restaurant technique, it is worthwhile taking the time to master it because no other cooking technique can give the same results. Yes, the food is deep fried, but if it is done properly, it is not unhealthy. First, the food is always coated with a thin batter of egg white and starch, which helps keep the oil from seeping into the food.

To prepare for the passing through step in a recipe, place a metal colander on a plate near the stove to hold and drain the fried food. Use a deep-frying thermometer to test the temperature of the oil. Be sure to have a wide wire-mesh strainer for removing the food, and if there is to be a subsequent frying step (as in Crispy Beef), have a fine-mesh strainer handy to skim off any bits of fried batter. Use a large metal wok scoop or spoon to stir the food, as the mesh on the wide strainer could disturb the coating on the meat. Place a large bowl on a heatproof plate nearby to hold the excess oil.

Heat the wok for a few minutes over high heat until it is very hot. If you flick water from your fingertips into the wok, the water should sizzle away on contact. Pour in enough vegetable oil to reach at least 1 inch up the sides of the wok - this will be about 4 cups in a 14 inch flat-bottomed wok, there are cases, due to the large quantity of food, use less oil, so that it reaches 1 1/2 inch or 2 inch up the sides of the wok. Don't skimp - any food that sticks out of the hot oil will not cook at the same rate as the rest of the food, and it will get soggy too. But i do skimp, i use 1/2 the amount of oil and cook the meat in small batches.

The temperature of the oil is the key to passing through. The oil should be hot enough to cook the food but not hot enough to brown it . 300 f to 325 f(Higher temperatures are reserved for true deep-frying, where the food will develop a crisp golden brown crust.) With the wok preheated, the oil will take only a few minutes to reach the proper temperature. Do not underestimate the value of a deep-frying thermometer. If you don't have one, you can gauge the temperature of the oil with a 1/2 inch cube of white bread: it should take at least a minute to brown in the hot oil. But unless you are an experienced cook, use the thermometer.

The protein food(meat, poultry, or seafood) will have been marinated in the egg-white/starch coating. Carefully add the food to the hot oil, one of two pieces at a time, taking care that you don't splash the oil. Add the food quickly, but do not dump everything in at once, and try to keep the pieces as separate as possible so they don't stick together. The food will sink to the bottom of the wok, where the oil around it will bubble, but not furiously. The temperature will drop when the cook food is added, so keep the heat on every high to help the oil return to its original temperature. When all the food has been added, stir the food gently or quickly, depending on the recipe, with the metal scoop(wok chan) to keep the pieces from clinging to each other. Cook until the pieces of chicken, shrimp, or fish turn white on the surface, about 45 seconds, or until pieces of beef or pork turn a light brown (which could take a bit longer, depending on the size of the pieces) Use the strainer to transfer the food to the colander.

In most cases, you will now (carefully!!!) pour the hot oil into the large bowl leaving 2 tbsps of the oil in the wok. If you have a subsequent frying step, be sure to heat the oil in the wok to required temperature before continuing.

My family calls this dish 'Rusty Nails' cos the fried meat looked like them. Sorry for the lengthy text but it is so important to know. Now for some action.


1/2 pound tender beef/flank steak strips (1/2 in wide, 1/4 inch thick and length of 2 - 2/12 in.)

1 1/2 tsp baking soda


2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp shaoxing rice wine

1 tbsp soya sauce

1 tsp cornstarch

Vegetable oil for "passing through"

1 cup cornstarch

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1 small onion - sliced

1 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp hot chilli paste(optional)

Chopped spring onions for garnishing


Mix the steak, baking soda, and 3 tbsp of water in a medium bowl. Cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight(The baking soda will tenderize the steak)

To begin the sauce, mix the sugar, vinegar, rice wine, soya sauce, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 375f. Meanwhile, add the cornstarch and egg white to the steak, and mix well to coat the steak with the batter.

Add the steak to the oil, one piece at a time so it doesn't splash or stick together, and stir gently until it begins to look crispy, about 1 minute. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the steak to a colander to drain. Using a fine-mesh wire strainer, remove any bits of fried batter from the wok.

Reheat the oil to 375 f, return the steak to the wok, and fry again until the beef is crispy all over, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a strainer to drain. Remove all but 1 tbsp of the oil from the wok.

Return the wok with the oil to high heat, add sliced onions, steak, sugar-vinegar mixture, sesame oil and hot chilli paste(if using). Stir fry until all of the ingredients are well-blended about 30 seconds.

Dish out and sprinkle with chopped spring onions.

Serve immediately with white rice.



Julia said...

Great description of the cooking technique, thanks! And looks like a tasty recipe too... I'm book marking this.

Beachlover said...

aunty lily,
yes all restaurant in USA using that passing oil method..They use this technique to cook veges broccoli,snow pea,cabbages and etc...that why their vegetable are crunchy coz after oil,then quickly wash with water again..b4 throw in the wok to fry with other stuffs..I like the way you explain so throughly and pro:)

Hungry Gal said...

I have always wanted to know how to do this. Thank you for the detailed explanation. Will post back with my results when I get a chance to practise this. (I hope I have my skin still intact hot oil and I don't mix! ;) )

Anonymous said...

hi! Nikevr here and I'm so happy to have found your blog. I just love how you describe the's so helpful. thank you! ^^

Jo said...

Thanks so much for this recipe, it is delicious!

womaninlove said...

Hi Lily,

Just wondering, for hot chilli paste, are u refering to "Cili Boh" in Malaysia?

Unknown said...


you can use any chilly sauce and it is meant for some heat as in spicy in the sauce.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...