A popular street food from the historic city of Xi’an, spiced beef flatbread is crispy, flavourful and very comforting. A treat worth every bit of effort.
Once during dinner time in our Red House, we voted on our favourite homemade dishes. Everyone named his/her top three choices. Among 12 answers, one particular type of food proved to be very popular. It was flour-based dishes with meaty filling, such as Jiaozi (dumplings), Baozi (stuffed buns), Roulong (Meat dragon), etc.
Today I’d like to introduce a type of Chinese stuffed flatbread (the favourite food of my culinary fan No.1). The dough is filled with minced beef, spiced with Sichuan pepper and then fried in a pan. Crispy, flavourful and filling, it’s a treat worth every bit of effort.
A street snack from historic Xi’an
Spiced beef flatbread (香酥牛肉饼) is a popular street food originated in Xi’an, China. You can find the most scrumptious lamb or beef-based dishes there thanks to its large Chinese Muslim community.
My mum was born and raised in the heart of Xi’an. I used to go there during the summer holidays to visit my aunties and uncles. This experience gave me many opportunities to explore the hidden gems of street food in Xi’an.
The unique flavour from Sichuan pepper
Pan-fried stuffed flatbread has many versions across China: different fillings, divers seasoning and various methods to fold or seal the dough. What makes spiced beef flatbread stand out, in my opinion, is its tangy flavour created by freshly ground spice.
My favourite spice for this dish is Sichuan pepper. The numbing sensation that it brings to your mouth makes this flatbread unique and unforgettable. For best results, please use freshly ground Sichuan pepper instead of shop-bought one.
You may use other spice too
If you are not used to the flavour of Sichuan pepper (it’s definitely a acquired taste), I’ve got good news for you. Through experiments, I found three other common spices which work very well for this recipe: Chinese five-spice powder, cumin powder or freshly ground black pepper. No matter which one you prefer using, the golden rules are:
- Be generous with the spice.
- Sprinkle it directly onto the dough instead of mixing it into the meat.
An easy dough recipe
The dough used in spiced beef flatbread is the most basic one (flour + water), super easy to prepare. Just make sure you give it plenty of time to rest, otherwise it won’t become elastic enough to manipulate with your hands (you don’t need a rolling pin for this recipe).
I brush some flour & oil mix on each dough to ensure the finished bread has clear layers. And it adds some flavour too. However, it’s acceptable if you wish to brush only some oil instead.
When it comes to frying, a good quality frying pan with a thick bottom works better as its temperature rises more slowly and it distributes heat more evenly than thin-bottomed ones.
That’s all I have to say. I guess you might find this recipe a bit intimidating. But don’t be discouraged, it’s actually not as difficult as it appears to be. Just follow the instructions step by step. I’m sure you will get the hang of it very quickly. And after tasting it, I’m certain you will want to make more.
Spiced beef flatbread (香酥牛肉饼)
For the dough
- 500 g all-purpose flour
- 300 ml water, see note 1
- cooking oil , for coating the dough
For the beef
- 300 g minced beef
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the flour & oil mix
- 3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 pinch salt
You also need
- 4 stalk scallions, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper, or other spices, see note 2
- cooking oil, for frying
Make the dough
- Put flour, water and salt in a deep bowl. Combine with hands into a dough. Leave to rest for 10 mins. Then knead until soft and smooth (if using a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead around 8 mins on low speed).
- Divide the dough into 10 equal portions. Coat each piece with oil. Cover with clingfilm. Leave to rest for 20 mins.
Prepare the beef
- Put minced beef, water, rice wine and salt in a bowl. Swirl constantly in the same direction until no more liquid can be seen.
- Divide the meat into 10 portions. Set aside.
Make the flour & oil mix
- Put the flour into a bowl. Heat up the oil in a pan until it smokes.
- Pour hot oil onto the flour. Stir well then set aside (see note 3).
Assemble the flatbread (see images in the post above)
- Take one piece of dough. Flatten it with your fingers into a tennis racket shape (see note 4).
- Brush the flour & oil mixture over. Sprinkle with ground Sichuan pepper. Place one portion of the meat on the racket head end of the dough, then top with scallions.
- Wrap the meat with the outer part of the pastry, then roll the dough into a cylinder shape.
- Stand the cylinder on one end. Press it down with your fingers until it’s about 1 cm thick.
Fry the flatbread
- Heat up the oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Place the flatbreads into the pan (You may need to fry them in two batches in a big frying pan).
- Cover with a lid. Cook over medium heat. Turn the flatbread over when the first side becomes golden brown.
- When the second side is done, transfer the flatbread onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil. Serve warm.