Tour leader Rich who spends half of his year in Mongolia tells us what real Mongolian beef is, the history of Mongolian beef, and how to cook it!
When searching Mongolia beef on the internet, you'll be bombarded with thousands of search results. These will all link you to the famous and somewhat tastier Chinese dish 'Mongolian beef'.
In reality, this exotically sounding dish is not related whatsoever with Mongolian cooking.
Let's take a look...
Chinese Mongolian Beef first appeared in Taiwan when Chinese style BBQ became fashionable.
The dish of Mongolian beef is relatively simple to prepare, consisting of sliced beef mixed with onions or scallions. Often it is served still sizzling with napkins lifted to prevent the spray of hot fat or gravy. The meat is from various beef breeds but not from Mongolian cattle...and not so much fat.
With most of the country existing above 1000 meters and predominantly covered in grassland/ (steppe) Mongolia is an excellent country for farming when the climate allows- it can be tough as hell if the winters are too long or there is a summer drought.
Forbearers of modern Mongolian cattle are known as Asian wild cattle or Turano-Mongolian cattle (Bos turano mongolicus). This breed was predominantly native to Mongolia and northern China. Turano-Mongolian animals thrived in this region as they are particularly resistant to the massive temperature fluctuations and able to survive between the extreme temperaturs of -50 to +35 thanks to a heavy winter coat, efficient thermoregulation, and low metabolic rates.
During the late 40s, the Soviet Union sent in many agricultural specialists who looked to improve the farming practices in Mongolia. During this period the Mongolian cattle were crossbred with various other breeds to improve their meat and dairy yield (one of the first primary breeds to be crossed with was the Shorthorn).
The cattle are raised the traditional nomadic way, moving the herd from place to place- generations folowing the same grazing routes as their predecessors.
Mongolian beef is a lot cheaper than the more expensive farmed cattle which are supplemented with corn feed. The meat is stronger tasting and tougher than the fancy farm raised cattle- perfect for boiling- see the recipe below!
You might notice that Mongolian beef will have a slight taste of mutton, but a lot tastes and smells of mutton in Mongolia- it is likely due to the cooking utensils which have been used to chop and after a week in the steppe you will know the smell pervades everywhere and on everything!
Meat is all important in Mongolia, breakfast lunch and dinner consists of some form of meat dish (on tour we can cater for vegetarians and there is a good range of dishes available).
The recipe is simple, head out to the wild outdoors with a big lump of meat, chop up some scallions, and boil water. When cooking Mongolians tend to boil or stew their meat (screams from Jamie Oliver!) and beef will also be wrapped within a dumpling and fried.
No part of the animal will is to be wasted when cooking, the fat will be eaten (forget western attitudes- fat is seen as tasty and good for you in Mongolia) and the bones will be broken open, and the marrow consumed.The remaining bones and scraps of meat are put in a pot and slow cooked to make the base for a soup- noodles, potatoes, scallions carrots will be added.