24 February 2011

Red-braised beef with vegetables (hong shao niu rou)

all hail fermented chilli-bean paste, food of the gods

Refrshingly, the (European) received wisdom of starting every braise or stew by frying onions and browning the meat to maximise flavour does not apply here. Since they are two of the few things that take any time, the prep time of this dish is seriously short - under five minutes. The chilli-bean paste packs so much flavour it's all you need. I wonder if a crossover stew inclusive of these two steps, with many onions cooked down in the stock, would be a success?

Fry chilli-bean paste in oil and add chilli and SP. I found the amount of SP specified by FD in the previous dish I made a bit on the conservative side so beefed it up by a factor of around three. Add the beef (something cheap and with fat/collagen to release) stock, a star anise, a drop of dark soy sauce for colour and some smashed ginger. Simmer for one or two hours, adding the veg to cook at an appropriate time.

Big white radish aka mooli/daikon is specified here and is a lovely vegetable – porous and good at absorbing savoury liquids whilst retaining structural integrity and a decent crunch. I also had some common or garden radish and kohlrabi to use up from this salad and a depressed and wrinkled beetroot waiting aimlessly on the window sill. That went in too. Maybe not wholly authentic but it did the trick. To complete the low-effort ethos I just tipped in some noodles rather than bother to do rice.

one-pot goodness

I used ox cheek for this as Waitrose had some reduced to crazy cheap levels. Much as I've enjoyed it before it went almost too soft here, whilst maintaining a slight rubbery-ness that was not wholly pleasant. I can imagine shin being nice here: maybe it would be a touch more succulent.

PS. Szechuan experts - do your Szechuan peppercorns have the hard gritty seed in the middle of the husk? Some of mine do and when you bite in to them it can get a bit emotional - perhaps superior stocks somehow have this bit removed? Thanks!


  1. I had wondered what SP meant!

    I always toast the peppercorns in a dry frying pan first then grind it to a powder.

  2. Ah yeah thanks, think that could be the key! I think I'll do that... I put a few whole ones in at the start.

    So much good stuff to cook, I got the hunan book by fd also a couple of days ago, so will have to have a go on those ones too.

  3. Hi Oli, sounds lovely, my dad who is currently residing in Beijing keeps banging on about all the different chinese vinegars available. I get the impression that they follow a similar line to european vinegars in so much as you can spend a fortune on some. He's recommended using these chinese vinegars in english and french dishes as well as they pack a bit more of a punch and add a bit of diversity to the dish? Have you used them before? I've spent a bit of time at the chinese supermarket looking at them and wasn't sure if it's worth splashing out on expensive ones?

  4. Hi Alex

    Glad you enjoyed the post. I haven't used a massive range really no. The Chinkiang vinegar I got was about a pound and I also have some rice vinegar. Might be nice to sample a more swanky version though! Will let you know if I do at any point.

  5. I love the use of beetroot in this - it's something I often have hanging around. And as it works to tenderise meat it would be a fantastic addition. Which makes me wonder if you could do this with venison and what that would taste like. *tummy rumbles*