Sichuanese numbing-and-hot beef

Sichuanese numbing-and-hot beef

Ma la niu rou

Every Grain of Rice
Chris Terry

At a food conference in Chengdu a few years ago, I met the daughter of the couple who are immortalised in the name of the dish ‘man-and-wife lung slices’ (fu qi fei pian). In the 1930s her parents, a pair of street vendors, charmed the citizens of Chengdu not only with their fiery, lip-numbing snack of beef offal (including head, skin, tongue, heart and tripe) laced with roasted nuts and fragrant oils, but with their happy and harmonious marriage, which is why the dish ended up with its ‘man-and-wife’ name. Preparing the classic dish at home, which involves cleaning and cooking tripe as well as the other bits and pieces, can be a palaver, but this version, made with beef shin instead, uses the same scintillating spices, and it has had a rapturous reception whenever I’ve served it. The beef can be prepared a couple of days in advance and kept in the refrigerator; just slice and dress it when you’re ready. It’s not essential to use all the serving flourishes, but try to have at least something nutty and something green.

If you wish to make this in large quantities for a party, prick your chunks of shin all over with a skewer, rub in salt, a generous slosh of Shaoxing wine and plenty of crushed ginger and spring onions and marinate overnight before cooking.


Quantity Ingredient
325g beef shin, boneless and in one piece
50g ginger, unpeeled, cut into thick slices
2 spring onions, crushed slightly
2 star anise
1 piece cassia bark
or 1/3 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon whole sichuan pepper
2 cloves
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons salt

For the sauce

Quantity Ingredient
1/8 teaspoon ground roasted sichuan pepper
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
3-5 tablespoons chilli oil, with its sediment, to taste
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, (optional)
handful fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons spring onion greens, finely sliced
1 celery stick, de-stringed and finely chopped
good handful Roasted and fried peanuts, roughly chopped or crushed with a mortar and pestle


  1. Rinse the beef very thoroughly in cold and then hot water to remove any bloodiness (under the tap will do). Then place in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Skim the liquid. Then add the ginger, spring onions, spices, Shaoxing wine and salt, and return to a boil. Cover and cook over a very low flame for about two hours. When the beef is cooked, set it aside to cool, reserving 75 ml of the cooking liquid. (The beef and liquid can be kept in the fridge for a few days. The leftover liquid can be frozen and re-used on another occasion to give a spiced flavour to firm tofu, hard-boiled eggs, peanuts, chicken wings, beef or offal of your choice.)
  2. Gently toast the sesame seeds, if using, in a dry wok or frying pan for a few minutes, until they are fragrant and starting to turn golden, then tip into a dish.
  3. When you wish to serve the beef, cut it into fairly thin slices and place in a serving dish. If the reserved beef cooking liquor has become jellied, let it stand at room temperature or gently warm it through until it is liquid once more, then allow to cool a little. Combine all the sauce ingredients with the beef cooking liquor in a small bowl, mix well and pour over the beef. Scatter over the other ingredients and serve. Give everything a good mix and invite your guests to help themselves.
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