A part of this new normal is to pack lunch everyday. Before, there were many inexpensive, delicious, and (one might disagree) healthy food joints around my previous workplace. Unfortunately, the location of my current job is situated in an area where food is expensive, and also laden with sodium, oil, and whatever additives to make the food to maintain their freshness without losing their appeal. After eating out several times, I was craving for home-cooked meals for lunch. That left me with no choice but to prepare my own lunches.
Rather than seeing this new routine as a burden, I see this as an opportunity for me to expand my repertoire of recipes. I would call my mom every week, asking for specific details of how to make a dish, jotting down all the notes, remake according to her instructions, and then call her about all the little triumphs (or failures) immediately afterwards.
This Braised Beef Brisket with Chinese Radish and Chu Hou Sauce is a classic dish. The best thing about these tough cuts of meat is that your patience from slow cooking and braising will be rewarded with a dish with strong flavour and tender texture that other parts of meat could not achieve. The braising process also allows the spices and sauce to infuse the meat. Complemented with the slight sweetness of the Daikon (Chinese Radish), this braised beef brisket made me look forward to my lunch everyday.
- The amount of chu hou sauce, ground bean sauce, and soy sauce can be altered to suit your taste. In general, there should be proportionately more chu hou sauce than ground bean sauce. The soy sauce is used as a seasoning to adjust the flavours, just like how you would with salt when cooking other dishes. The key is to keep taste testing as you cook this dish so you can adjust the taste to your liking.
- The purpose of the rock sugar is to tenderize the meat. Once I made the mistake where I doubled the recipe but only increased the rock sugar by about 20%, the meat took a lot longer to cook and become tender. So make sure you add enough rock sugar.
- The purpose of steps 1 to 3 is to use the gradual increasing heat of the water to push any impurities out of the meat. This is what I was told so I just do it. The meat does taste better, in my opinion.
- 1 cut of beef brisket/beef flank – approx 2 and 1/2 lbs
- 1 large Chinese white radish (daikon), cut into medium irregular size pieces approximately 1 and 1/2 inches thick
- 3 star anise
- 3 heaping tablespoons of chu hou sauce
- 2 heaping tablespoons of ground bean sauce
- 2 medium size lumps of rock sugar – approximately 50 grams
- soy sauce (to taste)
- 2 lumps of ginger – approximately 80 grams, skin peeled and pressed (ie. the ginger is a bit crushed)
- 1 kettle of hot water on the side
- Place the entire beef brisket in a large stock pot and fill with cold tap water until the brisket is completely submerged.
- Place the filled stock pot with the beef brisket on the stove and set to high heat.
- When it comes to a rolling boil, let it boil for 10 to 15 minutes until you see a grey substance floating in the water (these are the impurities in the meat). Then strain the brisket into a strainer
- Run the brisket under cold water for several minutes to rinse off the residue and to stop the cooking from the residual heat.
- Use a paper towel to soak up the water on the meat. Cut the meat into pieces that are about 1/3 larger than the size you want to eat (because the meat will shrink when it braises).
- In a pan or a wok, heat some cooking oil, add the ginger and star anise, turn to medium high heat until you can smell the fragrance of the ginger and star anise.
- Add the beef brisket pieces into the wok/pan and brown them slightly.
- Add the chu hou sauce, ground bean sauce, and rock sugar. With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix until the meat is evenly coated with the sauce and is warmed. Be careful at this stage because the sauce may splatter due to the heat. (The rock sugar doesn’t need to be melted, it will melt later with the water in Step 9)
- Transfer the contents in the wok/pan into a Dutch oven or a cooking pot. Add the hot water into the Dutch oven/cooking pot until the water just covers the meat. Cover the lid and turn the stove to high heat until the stew comes to a rolling boil, then either 1) if you are using a good heat-retaining Dutch oven, turn off the heat and let the Dutch oven sit on the stove for 30 minutes to allow the residual heat to slow-cook the stew. After 30 minutes, turn the heat to high again until the stew comes to a rolling boil. Turn the heat off, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Repeat this cycle (boiling, then wait 30 minutes) until brisket is tender enough to your taste. OR 2) if you are using a cooking pot, after the stew comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes. Turn the heat back to high, and when it comes to a rolling boil, turn the heat back to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Repeat the cycle (boil, then slow-cook on low heat for 30 minutes) until the brisket is tender enough to your taste. Meanwhile, check the water level. If the water level is getting too low, add more hot water from the kettle. (Usually two to three cycles of braising is enough, but the time can vary greatly depending on how well your Dutch oven or pot retains heat, and how tough your cut of meat is. So taste testing is key).
- When the meat is tender enough, add the daikon/white radish pieces to the brisket. Do a little taste test of the sauce, and if you think the flavour needs to deepen, add a swirl or two of soy sauce to taste (about 2 tablespoons) if you wish (you can use the dark soy sauce, or “lo chau”, if you like, because it has a smoother taste). Turn the heat to high again and turn off the heat when the brisket comes to a rolling boil. Let the meat and the radish sit for 30 minutes to allow the meat to soak up the radish juice. It is now done and ready to be served. (If you have time, let the stew sit overnight in the fridge, and remove the grease on the top before serving. This will intensify the flavour, and also makes the dish less greasy. The broth from the dish can also be used to make noodles.)