While looking through my copy of Mai Leung's New Classic Chinese Cookbook, I noticed something interesting in her stir-fried beef recipes. She never used ShaoHsing wine or other alcohol for the marinade, but always sugar. Usually brown sugar. So I pored through my other books and here's what I noted.
There is a general trend away from wine in beef marinades and using sugar instead. Sugar is often used instead of wine as I noted in Part 1. It's not universal with the beef though. And it's more pronounced the older the source material is.
The other interesting thing that correlates with the age of the source material is that beef for stir-fries was universally velveted in the older cookbooks. Ken Lo, Virginia Lee, Mai Leung velvet beef for stir-fries. Nina Simonds not so much, Fuchsia Dunlop rarely, Ken Hom rarely in his modern work either.
In her Cantonese cookbook, Eileen Yin Fei Lo uses a small amount of wine, 1 teaspoon, with 1/2 teaspoon of ginger juice quite frequently with beef marinades. But her other books trend away from that and towards sugar.
Historically, beef was not a common ingredient. Cattle were work animals primarily and there wasn't enough arable land to dedicate to feeding beef solely for food purposes. So the beef that did make it to stir fries was likely tough. And velveting helps mask that. Further, the oil blanching of beef, even if not velveted, is the easiest only reliable method to cook thinly sliced beef evenly to only medium or medium rare.
Also, beef is more of a Northern food item, and the rice for the wine is more of a Southern food item. So geography plays in to this trend somewhat too.
But in the modern kitchen, deep frying has a negative connotation for health. Plus all that oil is extra work and mess. And commercial beef in the West is tender.
Given these factors, modern stir-fries tend to use equal parts ShaoHsing to Soy sauce in the marinades. And usually in slightly heavier doses than for pork or chicken which are more subtle and nuanced in taste to begin with.
So consider sugar next time you're stir-frying beef. And also think about oil blanching it to keep it pink in the center.