Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Slow Cooker Hakka Chinese Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon and Tendon

Growing up in Jamaica in a multicultural setting, I had friends from pretty much every corner of the globe, and became accustomed to eating a variety of ethnic foods, Lebanese, Chinese, Indian, English, and of course, Jamaican. As a child, I grew up eating parts of animals that many Americans would find very strange, and probably would not touch with a 10 foot pole. The term “Offal” is the name for those animal parts (OK, not an appetizing name), and included, tripe, “cow foot”, “cow tongue”, pigs trotters, pigs tails etc. These were the parts of the animals that the colonial plantation owners would give to the slaves to eat. Naturally, the slaves came up with some ingenious ways to use these, so in the long run, it was the owner's loss! Eating “Offal” is not only “slave food” but is something that people in many other cultures do, and each culture makes use of these animal parts in their own unique way. I imagine that the closest thing to that in the United States would be eating “Road Kill”.

Because my best friend as a child was of Hakka Chinese origin, the flavors of Hakka cooking are what I know best, and they remain, for me, my favorite type of Chinese cuisine. This is a dish that is pure Hakka “Comfort Food”, and on a cold winter night, is just perfect for me. It takes me back to sitting around the table with my “Hakka Family”, and just enjoying the good food. The gelatinous nature of the cooked tendon, contrasts nicely with the firmness of the brisket cubes and the vegetables. Like many other Hakka dishes, this requires you to have everything "in place" before starting to cook. This is a slow cooker version of the dish but you could also do it on the stove top. I like to use a slow cooker because you really don’t have to monitor it too closely. 
2 lb beef brisket
1 lb beef tendon
4 cups water
2 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced lengthwise (I got 4 slices)
2 tablespoons rock sugar, thumb-sized
1 large carrot, cut into large pieces
1 large daikon, cut into large pieces
1 shallot
5 cloves garlic
1 whole dried tangerine peel
1 star anise
½ stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Sauce Mixture
2 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
2 tablespoon Chou Hou sauce (Lee Kum Kee makes this)
1 tablespoon ground bean sauce 

2 to 3 pieces red fermented beancurd, mashed with a fork
1 tablespoon fermented beancurd juice (this is the "pickling" juice from the red beancurd)
1.      Boil up a pot of water and blanch brisket and tendon to remove impurities (this step is important as the tendon is a bit "smelly", and boiling it takes that smell away. Do NOT omit this step). Discard the water, wash the pieces of meat and tendon in cold water to remove scum,  and cut the tendon and brisket into bite sized pieces.
2.      Soak the dried tangerine peel in hot water until soft. Scrape the white pith away. Leave whole
3.      Smash the garlic cloves, peel and slice the shallot into thin pieces, and peel and slice the ginger root lengthwise. Place all this in a small saucer and add the star anise, rehydrated tangerine peel, and cinnamon to it. Set aside
4.      Mix all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
5.      Heat the cooking oil in a large wok and stir fry the rock sugar until it caramelizes. Add the ginger, shallot, garlic, tangerine peel, star anise and cinnamon stick. Fry until fragrant.
6.      Add the sauce mixture to the wok, and fry until it starts to bubble. Mix in the brisket and tendon chunks to coat with the sauce.
7.      Pour the above mixture into a 6-8 quart slow cooker and add 3 cups of water (or enough to just cover the beef and tendon). Cook on high for 3-4 hours (beef tendon and brisket cook at different times so I pressure cooked the tendon pieces for 30 minutes, prior to this stage. That way I could put both in the slow cooker at the same time. If you opt not to pressure the tendon before, put the tendon in the slow cooker at least 1 hour in advance of the brisket).
8.      Add the chopped daikon and carrots during the last hour, and cook till fork tender. Remove the meat and vegetables from the slow cooker, and pour the liquid into a wok. Boil on high heat until the volume of liquid is reduced by a half. Thicken with a slurry of cornstarch and water. Eat with rice or noodles.

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