One dish that I saw quite a bit in Beijing (and is actually associated with the city) is jiang niu rou, or a soy sauce braised beef (I don’t know the exact translation!). Unlike most braises here in the west, the meat is still relatively hard due to the choice of cut (it does not cook to a melting softness) and it is served cold, as a starter or appetiser. However, I only took one opportunity to try the dish, at Shun Yi Fu; I’d really seen the dish a lot on other people’s tables!
Luckily, it’s extremely simple to put together at home, though a little time consuming; there are many recipes online but I’ve come up with this combination of spices that make me happy. You want to use a large piece of beef shin or beef shank (terminology and cut will depend on where you are), which you’ll then simmer for about three hours in dark soy sauce and spices. When the time is up, the whole piece of meat must be chilled thoroughly before being sliced against the grain; this results in tender, chewable slices that are incredibly savoury and moreish and full of the flavour of the spices and soy without any compromise in the beefiness.
Jiang Niu Rou
serves quite a few as a cold starter as part of a Chinese meal.
1 kg beef shin, in one or two large pieces
250 ml dark soy sauce
500 ml water
2 lumps rock sugar
3 tsp Shaoxing wine
6 slices ginger
1 cinnamon stick
6 star anise
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cloves
1 dried chili
sesame oil, for serving
Set a large pot of water to boil and when it does, put in the beef and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Drain and set aside the meat.
In the same pot, mix together the soy sauce, 500ml water, sugar, wine and all the spices. Bring the mixture to a boil and let boil together for 5 minutes.
Add the beef and bring it back to a boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for 3 hours, turning the beef every 30 minutes. Add a little water during the simmering if you find that the liquid is becoming too thick and salty.
At the end of the 3 hours, take the beef out of the soy mixture and refrigerate it until fully cold (at least a few hours or overnight is even better). If it’s not cold, it will The soy sauce mixture can be saved for the next time you boil beef. Or you could use it as I did below.
To serve, slice the beef shin thinly against the grain. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with sesame oil.
I ended up making quite a bit of beef for two people; we ate it for three days straight! I tried using it up in a number of ways which were all good but still the best way was the original – cold, sliced and drizzled with sesame oil.
For dinner that night, I fried some spring onion pancakes from frozen (or you could make them fresh) and used them to wrap slices of the beef along with spring onion and a light smear of hoisin sauce. They were lovely rolls to eat in front of the telly but I should have stuffed more beef in there.
At lunch the next day, I sliced the beef up and used it to top a noodle soup where the soup was made by diluting the braising liquid; the liquid is very flavourful and it would have been a shame for it to go to waste as I’ve got a minuscule fridge. This was extremely comforting as you can imagine a beef noodle soup to be but in the future, I’d still serve the beef cold on the side.
Finally, on the last day, I diluted more of the cooking liquid again and used it to braise rice vermicelli with sliced garlic and spring onions and ate that with the final sliced cold beef alongside. As you can see, jiang niu rou is a dish that goes a long way!