Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Doing it Both Ways

It's been ages since I posted a recipe, but to be honest, I haven't been very enthusiastic about food lately. I did, however, recently come across some local shin beef that inspired me to compare classic French and Chinese recipes for this cut.

We rarely eat beef here, as the imported meat is expensive and the local stuff really tough (even the "fillet") and lacking in flavour. However, an Australian acquaintance who's a specialist in abbatoirs and cattle has gone into a venture here, fattening up the beasts before slaughtering them in his own place. This means we can sometimes find cuts of meat that are never imported, such as a huge chunk of shin with the marrow-stuffed bone still in. There was so much of it that I used half for a Pot au Feu and the remainder for Chinese braised beef.

The Pot au Feu was tasty, but dare I say, a tad dull, even when eaten Provencal-style with capers, cornichons and mustard. Maybe we just missed the spices and sauces used in most Asian cuisines, and much preferred the Chinese recipe. Perhaps the secret ingredient that gave the meat a rich, deep flavour is red fermented bean curd, tiny squares of bean curd fermented with red rice and salt that packs a powerful punch and is used only as a seasoning. I've seen it referred to as Chinese Stilton, but that gives no idea of its heady tang. Incidentally, the bean curd keeps indefinitely on the shelf, and locally, is often served as a condiment with rice porridge or congee. Yummmmm.

Here, then, is the beef recipe.
750 g brisket or shin beef, cut in large cubes
1 tablespoon oil
2-3 thin slices ginger
2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 spring onions, cut in 8-cm lengths
3 dried chillies, halved lengthways
1 1/2 tablespoons fermented red bean curd, mashed
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 whole star anise
2 cups (500 ml) good chicken or beef stock
1 1/2 tablespoons crushed rock sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) Shaohsing rice wine
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the beef in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, drain meat and discard the water.
Heat oil in a wok and when starting to smoke, add beef and stir-fry until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, spring onion and chillies and stir-fry another 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat, add fermented bean curd, hoisin sauce and star anise, stirring to mix well. Add all the sauce ingredients, bring to the boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours or so until the meat is really tender. Even better if cooled, fat removed and gently reheated.

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