李媽媽72h台式滷牛腱 Taiwanese Braised Beef Shank
Food is such a wondrous thing. Not only does it fuel our body keeping us energised at hours’ ends, it also fills us with much euphoria and a profound sense of contentment, often after a hearty meal and not without the ceremonious burp and customary rubbing of the tummy. More importantly, food brings friends and family together, seated at the same table to have a meal.. be it to celebrate and rejoice, to pour out one’s sorrows and share one’s grief, or simply to catch up and reminiscent the “good o’ days”. What is even more amazing I thought, was how through food, strangers could become acquaintances, and acquaintances become friends…
We love Taiwan and visit the country almost every year. Beautifully scenery, 24-hour bookstores, refined patisseries, local delights…need I say more? And these are just some of the reasons which make us go back all the time. I love browsing at Eslite Bookstore in Taipei, especially the outlets at Dunhua South Road and the flagship store at Xinyi District. The former is a 24-hour bookstore which means that no matter how late it was and as long as we are up for it, we could always visit for some late night book shopping. And it is during one of these bookstore visits where I learnt how to make authentic Taiwanese Braised Beef Shank 台式滷牛腱, not from one of the books off the shelves, but through a Taiwanese “obasan” whom I only got to know as 李媽媽. So here is my story of 李媽媽72h台式滷牛腱 Mrs Li’s 72h Taiwanese Braised Beef Shank…
I was looking for some books on local Taiwanese cuisine and she too was browsing when she saw me cross-checking different braised beef recipes, juggling between several cookbooks on Taiwanese cuisine (台式料理) sprawled in front of me. I must have looked rather strange and she could not longer contain her curiosity and asked what I was looking for. I told her that I was looking for a good recipe for making braised beef shank (滷牛腱). She finally uttered in a very colloquialized Taiwanese Mandarin (台湾國語) accent that good Taiwanese braised beef recipes are not found in cook books, but passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Little details and specific nuances are seldom described in printed media, only learnt through observing her mother make it. I quickly jotted down the recipe on scrap paper I had with me as she narrated along in an utmost animated manner, recalling how she in turn watched her own mother made it. Gesticulations wildly with her hands and palms swiftly transformed between being the wok spatula and the cleaver, “demonstrating” in mid-air the intricacies of cutting and stirring. I had to squeeze every drop of brain juice I had to work my imagination on her every step, as if the pot of beef was braising right in front of me. This naturally attracted the attention of other bookworms around, some of them looking with much amusement! I would be lying if I say that I was not initially skeptical about the recipe. But I’m so glad that I’d tried it. After a gruelling overnight wait, I finally had a first taste of it. It was delicious! Most certainly helped in relieving all that anticipation pent up! As instructed by 李媽媽, I left the pot to sit for one more night… O M G!!! the flavours were truly amazing!
李媽媽台式滷牛腱 Taiwanese Braised Beef Shank (serves 8-12）
1.5 kg beef shank (牛腱)
800g beef tendon (牛筋)
1/2 cup of good dark soya sauce (黑酱油)
1 cup of chinese yellow wine (料理黄酒)
2 fresh red chillies (辣椒) (optional)
1 thumb-length knob of old ginger （老姜)
2 bulbs of garlic （蒜)
4-5 candied honey dates (蜜枣） or 3 tbsp crushed rock sugar
1 sachet of braising spice mix (滷味包)
2 star anise (八角)
1 tsp blackpepper corn (黑胡椒)
1 tsp fennel seeds (小茴香)
2 sticks of cassia bark aka chinese cinnamon （桂皮)
1. Trim off as much excess fat and oil from the exterior of beef shank and tendon.
2. Boil a pot of water and blanch beef shank for 2-3 min. Repeat the process for beef tendon.
3. Cut the beef shank into very large chunks. DO NOT CUT THE BEEF TENDON!
4. To a large braising pot, add all the ingredients. Pour sufficient water to barely cover all the ingredients.
5. Turn up flame to bring everything to a rolling boil. Reduce to medium low heat and simmer for at least 1h 30 min.
6. Turn off flame and let the pot contents sit overnight with lid on.
7. Turn on flame again to bring everything to a rolling boil. Reduce to medium low heat and simmer for another 30 min. Check the texture of the beef shank and tendon. It should be very soft by now. If not continue to braise for another 30 min or so.
8. For best results, let the beef shank and tendon sit and steep for overnight for one more day. Best enjoyed on the 3rd day.
Duncha just love the “marbling” on the cuts, not from fat but carved out of tendon…
This is truly an amazing dish! The essence of very traditional and old-school chinese cooking. The beef shank was flavoured to the core, thoroughly infused thanks to the steeping method （浸). Good beef shank is not cooked but steeped. But the cut of meat is very important. Beef shank or other tough cuts like rump, cheek or brisket are used because of their tolerance to withstand prolonged cooking without disintegrating. So do choose the cut wisely. If possible use the core of beef shank (牛腱心) where the distribution of tendon and meat is rather uniform with one layer wrapping over the other (筋包肉，肉包筋). This is personally my favorite beef cut. Do not cut the beef chunks too small as they shrink during cooking. Cut into medallions around 4-5 cm thick to factor the shrinkage. Otherwise, braise the beef shanks whole and intact, and chunk the beef shank and tendon only after the first round of braising is done and left overnight to steep and cool down. With so much tendon used, the collagen enriched broth is ideal for drizzling over noodles or rice. Remove the shank and tendon and boil to reduce, or thicken with starch concoction if necessary.
Chinese cooking yellow wine (料理黄酒) is used in the braising process and lends much flavour to the dish. Otherwise similar varieties like shaoxing (绍兴) or hua diao （花雕) can also be used. Do not scrimp on a good soya sauce as it not only adds a touch of savory but also the flavours developed from well-fermented soya beans. A little effort to use better ingredients really helps to bring the dish to a next level. Spice mix for braising (料理滷包) is commonly available in Taiwanese supermarkets. Otherwise, one can easily replace this with readily available dry spices as listed above. Another interesting inclusion in Mrs Li’s home recipe is the use of candied honey dates (蜜枣) in place of regular rock sugar. The former supposedly provides a sense of “earthy sweetness” (甘) instead of being sheer sugary (甜). But this can be substituted for regular rock or even brown sugar if necessary.
According to Mrs Li, the chilli is optional (可加也可不加). But she said that it adds an additional dimension of taste, a very subtle hint of heat to the dish which cannot be replicated with peppercorns. That I totally agree!!!
Technically, the beef is done on the 2nd day after reboiling. But I was told to be patient and leave it for another day. The tendon became so uber soft and wobbly and the flavours intensified and matured so much on the 3rd day compared to the 2nd. I know I’d said this several times in this writing already, but believe me… the flavours are truly amazing!!!
Thank you 李媽媽 for your wonderful recipe! Your generosity in sharing will not be forgotten. If you are reading this, please get in touch with us!
I am submitting this to Aspiring Bakers #29 – Heirloom and Local Dialect Recipes 家传菜/ 籍贯菜 (March 2013) hosted by FHL