Image: Charlotte Griffiths
Alex Rushmer shares a speedy, lip-smackingly delicious Sichuan-inspired recipe
There’s lots to love about this recipe. I love how it makes a hero out of the celery. I love how it reminds me of slightly awful 1980s-style ‘spag bols’. I love the whip-punch of heat and umami. I love that it takes about five minutes to cook. I love that, like so many dishes from the Sichuan province, it relies on a balance of acidity, sweetness, heat and saltiness. It would also work with minced pork, lamb, chicken, turkey or soy protein and would be equally delicious.
450g minced beef
One large head of celery, diced into 1cm pieces
Two tablespoons cooking oil
Three tablespoons gochujang paste
5-7 dried Sichuan chillies, roughly chopped
Three cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Two tablespoons ginger and garlic paste
Three tablespoons light soy sauce
One to two tablespoons sugar
Two tablespoons rice wine vinegar
One tablespoon Shaoxing wine
Half a teaspoon MSG
Two packets udon noodles
Sesame seeds, chopped celery leaves and sesame oil to garnish
Bring a large pan of water to the boil (large enough to blanch the celery). When it is boiling add enough salt to make it taste vaguely like the sea (three teaspoons or so).
Cook the celery for 45 seconds to a minute then drain and rinse in cold water. Heat a large wok over a ferociously high heat. Add the oil and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the beef in two stages so as not to overcrowd the wok. Stir regularly until all the meat is well browned and beginning to caramelise.
Add the gochujang and cook for a further three minutes until the beef is well coated then add the chillies, ginger and garlic paste, and sliced garlic. Stir then add the celery. Cook for another two minutes to heat the celery through, but not long enough to soften it too much.
Finally, add the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, Shaoxing wine, sugar and MSG. Stir and taste to check the balance and seasoning.
Feel free to add more sugar, soy, vinegar or MSG if you think it needs it.
Cook the noodles according to the packet and serve immediately.
Garnish with sesame seeds, chopped celery leaves and a drizzle of sesame oil.