Sometimes there are those days you just feel like eating simple, home cooking.
I definitely felt that way earlier this week. Perhaps it was the crazy traveling we've been doing. Or maybe it was the steady stream of restaurants we've been visiting lately. Whatever it was, I craved the simple flavors and dishes that my mom used to make when I was growing up. Dishes like Taiwanese meat sauce over rice (lurofan), tea eggs, stir fried vegetables, or anything with 5-spice tofu.
Even though I was already at work late, I made a point to stop by the Asian grocery store on my way home. When Bryan called to ask me what was for dinner, I said,
"I'm going to stop by C-Mart to pick up some stuff. I'm going to cook Chinese food."
"I don't know. For some reason that's all I feel like eating tonight."
All I wanted was simple Chinese food with rice. Maybe when things get busy, we long for food that's comfortable, familiar, and satisfying.
It was at the store that I saw the beef shanks. I was reminded of one of my favorite packable, freezable, all-around-super-handy dishes that my mom makes for me all the time.
It's not easy to find beef shanks cut in this way at normal American supermarkets. At most American supermarkets, the beef shanks are sliced across the bone and with the bone in place, sort of like osso bucco. I usually head to a Chinese market if I want to make this dish.
Cut the shanks into equal sizes pieces (I cut each shank into three pieces about an inch or so thick).
Briefly "clean" the shanks by blanching them in boiling water for just a couple minutes. During this time some blood bits and other impurities will float to the top. Dump out this water and rinse the shanks.
In a pot, combine all the ingredients together (like ginger, scallions, star anise, wine, vinegar, and rock candy) plus water and soy sauce. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to simmer for several hours.
There's a part of me that wants to try making this in a pressure cooker to see if I can save time. My mom thinks it's important for the liquid to evaporate, which means a pressure cooker alone would not work. However, I do wonder whether it could cut some of the time that it takes to soften / tenderize the shanks.
For my first try, of course, I decided not to take any risks. I cooked this dish the conventional way. After bringing the mixture to a boil, I brought the heat down to a simmer and let it cook for hours (at least two hours, if not more).
Over time, the liquid evaporates and the beef becomes softer and softer.
Finally after 2-3 hours (when much of the liquid will be gone), you can stop cooking. Remove the beef shank pieces from the pot and let it cool.
Important: Don't eat it right away! You must let it cool in the refrigerator overnight. It is much easier to thinly slice the meat once it's cold.
This dish is typically eaten cold. You can put it in a sesame flatbread sandwich with scallions and hoisin sauce or serve it on its own topped with cilantro and sesame oil. I find it super versatile, and love having some on hand in the freezer for those times when I'm in a bind and just need some meat to go with a makeshift beef noodle soup, as a topping over rice, or whatever I might be eating that day.
Soy Braised Beef Shanks
time: 3 hours
serves 4 as an appetizer
2 beef shanks, cut into 1-2 thick slices
1-2 scallions, cut into 1 inch segments
2-3 slices of ginger, julienned
1 star anise
½ cup soy sauce
enough water to cover shank
1 tablespoon cooking wine
1 tablespoon black vinegar (or Worcestershire sauce)
"coin sized" rock candy
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the shanks for 1-2 minutes. Dump out this water and rinse the shanks.
2. In a clean pot, place the shank pieces in one layer at the bottom of the pot. Add scallions, ginger, star anise, soy sauce, cooking wine, black vinegar, soy sauce, and enough water so that the shanks are covered.
3.Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
4. Cook uncovered for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and soft.
5. Remove the shank pieces and let cool overnight in the refrigerator.
6. Thinly slice and serve! You can drizzle sesame oil (and possibly chili oil?) on top plus cilantro (or scallions).
*note - in the photos I was only cooking one shank. I think the recipe works better if there are two shanks. My pot was almost too big for just one shank.
My random weeknight home cooking really hit the spot. I made lotus root with pork and scallions (love lotus root!), 5-spice tofu with Chinese chives (one of my favorites), and simple stir fried baby bok choy (another quick standby that I love). Even though I was tempted to make the beef shank again that night, I didn't buy the shank because I didn't want to wait 3 hours before eating dinner.
Definitely save this one for a weekend!
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