I was pointing at the yellow-flowered green stalks sticking outta the bag that Lon had brought back from the farmer's market.
"It's You Choy," he replied, holding up the greens that looked suspiciously like rapini to me - one of the few foods I have an allergic reaction to - hence the cause for my concern. "The guy at the market said to use it like bok choy, just cut off the bottom inch or two and stir fry the rest."
"And you can eat the flowers?" I asked. "Yep, you can eat the flowers," Lon answered, knowing that little bit of info was the deal maker for me.
Being a fan of the edible flower - who isn't? - I was quickly warming up to this you choy. I examined them myself. Hmm. Their fibrous stalks reminded me of asparagus, another veggie I love but which unfortunately doesn't like me. I had my doubts. I was eager to try them but didn't want to risk getting ill. But I also didn't want to pass up the chance to try something new, especially if it came from the local farmer's market. So, I did what I always do these days when faced with a culinary conundrum: I checked the Chow site.
Following up on some other web sites I soon learned that lots of kitchens were trying you choy - pronounced like "yo" as in "yo-yo" - for the first time right about now, and most of the suggested means of preparation were the same: Blanch the greens in boiling water for about a minute, then plunge into an ice bath. Stir fry with your favorite recipe. Several cooks warned that if the bottom stalks are too thick, they need to be peeled. Fortunately the you choy that I was working with was still pretty young.
I decided I'd give it a test drive in one of my favorite stir fry recipes - an adaptation of Shaking Beef.
The first time I had Shaking Beef was at Slanted Door (before they moved to the Ferry Building but after they'd moved out of The Mission.) Uncertain as to how to pronounce the name of the dish I hesitated when ordering and asked, "I'll have the... is it Shaking Beef or "Shaw-King" beef?"
"Ah, yes, Shaw-King Beef, from the historical Shaw King provence in Vietnam," our server deadpanned. I stared at her flatly.
"It's shaking, rhymes with baking," she smiled.
I had the Shaking Beef that night and on several return visits as, with each tasting, I tried to memorize the dish's delicate balance of spicy, sweet, savory and sour flavors. I likewise set out in search of a reasonable approximation. The closest I have come is Beef With Oyster Sauce and Lime Dipping Sauce. The recipe, as I've tweaked it for my own kitchen, is below.
As for the photo above, I'm apologizing now for all past and future blurry pics. Sometimes the macro doesn't reveal its flaws until the upload.
You Choy With Quivering Beef (because I can't call it Shaking Beef in all fairness!)
1 bunch fresh you choy
1 TBS canola oil
4 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped
2/3 lb of flank steak, cut against the grain and sliced into pieces suitable for stir-frying. (Slanted Door's Shaking Beef uses Niman Ranch filet mignon. If you can afford it, go for it.)
1 1/2 TBS fresh squeezed lime juice
1 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS brown sugar
1 to 2 Serrano peppers or 1 Thai bird chili, diced (When I made it this weekend I forgot to get peppers. I had some Sambal Oelek in the fridge and stirred in a teaspoon or two of that. The results were excellent.)
1 TBS Oyster sauce
2 tsp Soy sauce
Fresh pineapple chunks
Diced red onion
Fresh scallions, chopped
Extra lime wedges
Thai basil leaves
Soba noodles or rice
1. Put a pot of water on to boil with just enough water to blanch the you choy. Clean the you choy as you would any other type of greens. Chop off the bottom, pithy part of their stalks (about an inch or two.) Cut the remaining stalks into two inch segments, careful to leave the yellow flowers and buds intact. When the water comes to a boil plunge the greens in. After about a minute, remove from heat and either dunk the you choy into an ice bath or run under cold water to stop them from cooking. Drain and spin out excess moisture in a salad spinner, or blot dry on paper towels or clean dish towel.
2. Mix together oyster sauce, soy sauce and sliced beef in a large bowl. Toss to coat evenly. Set aside. (You can prepare this ahead of time and let this marinate for up to two hours if you like.)
3. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chili peppers. Set aside for later.
4. Heat canola oil over medium heat in wok. (Follow the wok's instructions as some call for heating the wok first, then adding the oil.) When oil is just on the verge of smoking - trust me, you'll know how to catch this before it goes too far - add garlic and stir fry until fragrant.
5. Carefully add the beef. Cook quickly until outside is seared and inside remains slightly red, approximately three minutes. (Take a piece out and do a taste test if you're uncertain as to the doneness of the meat.)
6. Scoop the beef out of the wok. At this point you can, if you wish, add the beef to the bowl of lime dipping sauce. The wok should have enough moisture still in it, but if not, add a drop of canola oil and allow to heat. Add you choy and cook quickly just enough to heat through. You don't want the leaves to turn to mush, and you certainly don't want to lose any of those beautiful golden flowers.
7. Return beef to wok, stir with you choy to heat through. Serve immediately with any or all of the garnishes above. NOTE: If you choose not to place the beef in the lime dipping sauce serve it in small ramekins along with the plated food.
* Doesn't "You Choy With Shaking Beef" sound like a line-up of bands? "Tonight at The Independent, The Presets and You Choy With Shaking Beef. Doors at 7. Show at 8."