柱侯萝卜焖牛腩 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon
柱侯萝卜焖牛腩 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon in Chu Hou Sauce is one of my favorite dishes from the 粤菜系 Cantonese cuisine. It is a must-order for me whenever I visit chinese restaurants, be it Hong Kong cafes, or traditional Cantonese restaurants. Succulent beef brisket, beef tendon and daikon braised to perfection, drawing in all the flavours from the condiments and spices added, making it a rare treat for me. And the sauce is simply out of this world, especially when left to mature overnight for the flavours to fully develop! Give me a bowl of the sauce and I could polish off 3 bowls of rice with it! Unfortunately not every Cantonese restaurant offers this, owing to the long cooking time required, and for those which do have it on their menu, not all of them do it well. Yes, it is a time-consuming dish to prepare but reassure that it is well worth the effort! Braise a huge pot of it, which is usually what I do, and it would keep me happy for days at ends!
This is going to be a long post given the long ingredients list and cooking method. So please bear with me as the details cannot be spared!
Before we start cooking, how about a bit of chinese culinary history? 粤菜 Cantonese cuisine is part of the 中國八大名菜 8 main regional cuisines in Chinese culinary arts, the others being 鲁 Shandong, 川 Sichuan, 闽 Min (Hokkien and Teochew), 苏 Suzhou, 浙 Zhejiang, 湘 Hunan and 徽 Anhui, each having their own distinct cooking techniques, use of condiments and ingredients, and of course representative dishes which makes them distinct. Some are more robust and fiery, like the dishes from Sichuan and Hunan, while others are much milder with emphasis on intricate flavours, like those from Suzhou and Zhejiang. 柱侯萝卜焖牛腩 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon is a signature dish from the Cantonese cuisine, which uses 柱侯酱 “Chu Hou sauce”, a colloquial condiment from the 佛山 Foshan region in the Guangdong province, named after 袁柱侯, a chinese chef who invented it more than 200 years ago, during the reign of the Qing Emperor Jiaqing. It became so popular, drawing crowds from all over the region to the restaurant he worked in to sample dishes cooked from this sauce, that he quit his job as a chef and started selling the sauce instead! There’s even a saying in Foshan that “未嗜柱侯醬，枉作佛山行” which roughly translates to ” A trip to Foshan would be wasted if one did not try Chu Hou dishes”! Some even go to the extent of saying “割不正不食，不得其醬不食” which means that “anything not cooked with this sauce is not worth eating”! Now talk about being extreme…
Chu Hou sauce uses 甜面酱 sweet fermented bean paste aka hoisin sauce as a base, together with a plenitude of other spices and herbs added to derive its unique flavour profile. Its not fiendishly difficult to make at home, just that gathering the ingredients required takes some effort and I’m not exactly a diligent cook! Hence, I rely heavily on store-bought Chu Hou sauce which unfortunately cannot be found in Singapore. I usually get mine from Hong Kong, and would make a dash to the local supermarkets to secure a bottle whenever I’m holidaying there. Yes, others would bring back 老婆饼 lao po bing and other souvenir whatnots from Temple Street Night Market but I prefer to hunt for unique and sometimes obscure condiments like XO 酱, i.e. XO sauce which are colloquially found only in that area, like it’s a must for me to get 沙茶酱 Teochew Sha Cha sauce and 维利炸酱 Zhajiang sauce whenever I’m in Taiwan. Anyway, I’d digressed…
Over the years, I’d tried a number of Chu Hou sauces from various condiment manufacturers and my favorite remains to be the one made by 陶大 Amoy. 李锦记 Lee Kum Kee’s version is not that bad but too salty for me and lacks the distinct 酱香, i.e. aroma of fermented soy beans which permeates from Amoy’s Chu Hou sauce. I generally ignore other brands. I’d found a recipe to make Chu Hou sauce at home but haven’t gotten round to experiment with it yet. But for now, I’m pretty contented with Amoy’s as it gives me results rather close to those better ones I’d had in restaurants.
Can’t resist stealing a peekaboo (and a photo!) as the kitchen sends wafts of braising aroma throughout the whole house as the concoction boils away!
柱侯萝卜焖牛腩 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon (serves 10-12)
700g beef brisket 牛腩
500g beef tendon 牛筋
500g daikon aka white radish 白萝卜
chicken stock 鸡汤 to immerse all the ingredients (I just use water and a cube of Knorr MSG-free chicken bouillon)
100g old ginger 老姜
5 shallots 红葱头
2 cloves of garlic 蒜头
Aromatics in a clockwise manner: tsao ko, bay leaves, szechuan and white peppercorns, licorice slices, star anise and cassia bark
2 licorice slices 甘草片
1 tsao ko cardamon (Amomum tsaoko) 草果
1 dried tangerine peel 陈皮
1 cassia bark stick 桂皮
1 star anise 八角
½ tsp white peppercorn 胡椒粒
2 blades of bayleaf 香叶
1/3 tsp szechuan peppercorn 花椒
Condiments and Flavouring
100g Chu Hou sauce 柱侯酱
2 pieces of red fermented bean curd 红南乳
5g five-spice powder 五香粉
2 heap tbsp of sugar 白糖
2 tbsp soy sauce 生抽
100 ml yellow rice wine 黄酒 (can be replaced with shaoxing wine 绍兴酒)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce 老抽/酱油
Trim away all visible fat on beef brisket and beef tendon.
Cut beef brisket and beef tendon into large cubes.
Peel daikon and cut into cubes.
Cut ginger into thick slices.
Finely mince shallots and garlic cloves.
Give all the aromatics a quick rinse, drain and set aside. Soak the dried tangerine peel until soften and scrape the rind on the inner sides with a teaspoon.
To a dry wok or saucepan, lightly pan sear the chunks of beef until the surface begins to brown a little. Transfer to a large plate or bowl and set aside. Do likewise for the beef tendon.
Add oil to the wok, stir fry minced shallots, garlic and ginger slices until aromatic.
Return the beef and tendon chunks into the wok and add everything in the “condiments and flavourings” list except the sugar and rice wine. Give all the ingredients a quick toss before adding all the rinsed ingredients in the “aromatics” list as well. Add water to completely immerse the contents and add the bouillon cube at this point. Bring everything to a boil and add the sugar and wine.
Lower flame and let everything simmer for 10 mins lid on. This would allow the alcohol in the wine to evaporate.
Transfer to a deep pot or casserole and add water to cover the contents if necessary.
Continue to simmer for another 40 min to 1 hour until soften. Add daikon cubes, turn on flame and bring to a boil again. Cover lid, turn off flame and let everything sit for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
The next day, check that the daikon and beef tendon has become soft and tender. The sauce would also have thickened considerably. Transfer to a claypot and bring to a boil again.
Serve immediately over steamed rice or blanched chinese egg noodles.
Here’s a recipe for homemade Chu Hou sauce. I’d not tried it but the ingredients list and method looks fairly authentic. Perhaps I would one day when the supply at home runs low and I have a desperate craving for braised beef brisket and daikon again.
And this is what it looks like after leaving to “mature” overnight. The daikon should be very soft, the beef chunks incredibly tender while the tendon turned translucent and wobbly!
Homemade Chu Hou Paste 自制柱候酱 from “100 酱料菜” by 蔡洁仪
175g Hoisin sauce/ sweet ferment soya bean paste 海鲜酱/甜面酱
175g ground salted soybean paste 磨豉酱
40g red fermented beancurd cubes 南乳
40g sliced garlic 蒜片
40g sliced shallots 葱片
1 piece of dried tangerine peel soaked and finely chopped 陈皮
1 tsp ground star anise 八角粉
100g cooking oil 生油
75g brown sugar 黑砂糖
10g salt 盐
2 tbsp soya sauce 酱油
2 tbsp rice vinegar 米醋
1 tbsp wine 料理米酒
2 tbsp sesame oil 麻油
Gently soften garlic and shallot slices in cooking oil over a very low flame. Remove garlic and shallot slices and set aside.
Blend garlic and shallot slices, chopped dried tangerine peel and ground star anise under a coarse paste is formed.
Heat up the oil in the wok to medium flame. Add the remaining items in the “ingredients list , together with the blended ingredients until aromatic.
Add ingredients from “Seasoning” list and continue to stir gently over medium-low flame until the consistency thickens considerably.
Here are some “tips” I would like to share, from my experience of cooking this dish over the last couple of years. Hope it would be helpful to those who are keen on preparing this dish.
Some folks like to blanch the beef slices and tendon over water 焯水 but this would invariably cause the beef to leach its precious juices into the blanching water. Hence, instead, they are pan seared rapidly to lock in the juices within the meat to keep them moist for as long as possible. . I find this method much more satisfactory than blanching. Having said that, one must ensure that the whole piece of brisket is properly rinsed and pat dry with kitchen towel before chunking into cubes. Also, cut the beef only before one is ready to sear them. This is, once again, to prevent the meat from leaching juices. Make sure that all the beef chunks are in a SINGLE layer on the heated surface and not stacked on top of each other, as the latter would cause them to leach the precious juices and braise the lower pieces instead of browning them.
One must remember to trim off all the excess bits of fat on the brisket and tendon. This is going to be laborious but well worth effort as it prevents the sauce from becoming too oily subsequently.
When processing the tendon and meat, one must bear in mind that the meat pieces will shrink when cooked, so don’t chunk them too small or they dish would lose its “hearty” look. One the other hand, daikon won’t shrink much. so chunk them to be smaller than the beef, so that they will become more or less equally sized after cooking.
When slicing the old ginger, use more ginger skin than the yellowish “flesh” within. Ginger skin is not as “heaty” as the insides but yet imparts the same flavour. This helps to keep the level of “heatiness” of the whole dish in check, as beef and the spices added are already “heaty” under the concepts of traditonal chinese medicine and would thus be firing things up quite a bit.
For the aromatics, some folks like to bag them with a cheese cloth or muslin cloth but I prefer to just leave them around to simmer around in all that sauce and broth.
Do allow the dish to mature overnight in the pot. The flavours would mature invariably, almost like transforming to a totally different animal altogether. Note that reheating would cause the dish to become more “flavourful” which also means it can get a tad more salty than one had wish. This is simply due to the evaporation of the water over repeated boiling and reboiling . Hence, add boiling water during reheating to balance the flavours if necessary.
And of course like all braising dishes, the cooking time can be shorten with the use of a pressurised pot or thermal/vacuum pot. But some would choose to think that the traditional method of prolonged slow fire (文火) braising is still the way to go!
Brisket is used for this dish as it is a tough piece of beef which makes it ideal for prolonged braising. It is also cheaper than other premium cuts, which makes it all the more ideal for me! Other similar parts, like rump and oxtail can also be used. Likewise, pork ribs, or even chicken can be used to ones own liking. Cooking times would of course vary accordingly.
And how about cooking a few more dishes to go along, 郊外油菜 Blanched Kailan (Kale) with Oyster Sauce and 莲藕山药排骨煲汤 Lotus Root, Nagaimo and Pork Ribs Soup” to complete the cantonese fanfare!