Love Me Tendon
I loves me some beef tendon stew with turnips.
It's one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes, even though it somewhat unnerves me that I'm eating what in other cultures, like ours, is generally used as pet food.
New Woey Loey Goey, in Chinatown, serves a great version, although I haven't been back since they pissed me off with the soup Nazi crap. It's a long story, but basically if you aren't Chinese they won't serve you the soup unless you specifically ask for it, no matter how many times you've eaten there. I got so pissed off the last time, I left a dime for a tip in the clean soup spoon that was sitting beside my fork. Now I'm afraid to go back for fear of getting the special sauce.
Nevertheless, in this classic Chinese beef stew, the tendon is braised so long that it becomes soft, tender, and tasty. Usually it is combined with big chunks of Daikon, aka Chinese turnip, which absorbs the flavors of the stew and served with a side of rice.
Recently I found a recipe in an old cookbook written by Ken Hom when he still lived in the United States, in particular, San Francisco. It's called The Chinese Technique (by Ken Hom with Harvey Steiman, photographs by Willie Kee, published by Simon and Schuster, 1981) and, for its time, it's pretty authentic and not dumbed down for those who don't live near a significant number of Chinese grocery and produce markets. I think Bruce found the book at either Goodwill or the Friends of the Library bookstore.
In case you don't know, Ken Hom is to Britain what Martin Yan is to us, only Ken Hom was born in Tucson, Arizona and Martin Yan was born in Guangzhou, China. While not such the showman as Martin Yan (perhaps to his credit), he has just as many cookbooks, sauces and pantry items, and rice cookers and other equipment endorsed by him as the former, which makes him a bone fide Food Celebrity (or Food Whore - this is a glass half-full/half-empty argument).
Our framed, autographed photograph of Martin Yan that hangs in our kitchen; one of our many kitchen deities.
If Yan Can Cook, so too can Hom, and it's not a stretch to say Hom is arguably the most famous Chinese American chef outside of America.
The publication of The Chinese Technique cookbook was, according to Hom, what began his climb to stardom and while it looks dated (it was published over 20 years ago), the recipes are no doubt the same still used in Chinese restaurants all over the country.
Cantonese recipes, of course. Which does make me chuckle a bit, since even to this day most Westerners believe, culinary-wise, the only thing north of Guangzhou is Kung Pao Chicken and Peking Duck. Of course, in many respects, we aren't to blame for our lack of Chinese culinary knowledge, as most immigrants from China have historically been from Guangdong (or via Taiwan) while the rest of China has been shrouded in secrecy, partially because of immigration and partially because of the "Communist" dictatorship.
This Ken Hom cookbook is of the Old School, ie, pre-Food Porn. Scary food photos whose colors just aren't right, light-weight paper stock that turns yellow over time, and a basic typeset graphical style that was layed out by hand rather than computer.
It takes looking at these old cookbooks to really see how far the Art of the Cookbook has advanced. Not only has food styling and photography improved, but the sheer resources that go into producing what essentially amounts to a coffee table book has made the modern cookbook as much a cultural statement and mile marker than simply an instrument to improve the daily lives of housewives. It takes looking at these old cookbooks to realize that at one point, most people utilized cookbooks because they were hungry and had mouths to feed, not because they appreciated the aesthetics and intellect of cuisine.
Juxtapose this cookbook with The French Laundry Cookbook and you'll see what I mean. Both have roughly the same amount of pages and are roughly the same size, yet the French Laundry one feels 2 pounds heavier than The Chinese Technique, and stylistically dwarfs it's competitor.
But getting back to the beef tendon stew: this cookbook calls for stew beef or brisket instead of tendon and that's what I used (brisket), since tendon is hard to find and Bruce bristles at the thought of eating anything fatty or gristley (but I say the more the better!).
Below is the recipe as it is written in the book. My two objections are that too much water is used (I like it a little more saucey as opposed to soupy) and that the red bean curd doesn't seem necessary.
I went out and bought fermented red bean curd anyway, which is cheap and often sold as Fu-Chung bean curd. While it may be the Chinese Cheese (I'm certain it must be great with jook), it didn't impart a noticeable flavor with this dish, which is dominated by star anise flavor.
Oh, and since we're on the subject of ingredients, "beef" in Cantonese is n-gau yuk. To pronounce it, make the "n" sound followed by "gau", as in cow, and yuk, with the "u" sound somewhere between "you" and "book". Better yet, here's a link to hear it said. My butcher was quite pleased when I said it.
CHINESE BEEF STEW
3 pounds of brisket or stew beef
2 cubes of fermented red bean curd
3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
4 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine
4 tablespoons of thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 whole star anise
1 teaspoon of roasted and crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon of five-spice powder
2 teaspoons of sugar
6 cups of water
1 large (1½ to 2 pounds) Chinese turnip (Daikon), washed and cut into large chunks.
1. Trim away the outer layers of fat, then cut into strips and then into cubes. (Save the fat for later to render and use in other recipes.)
2. Brown the meat, in batches, in 3 tablespoons of oil. Reserve.
3. On high heat, bring 1 tablespoon of oil to the smoking point and add the red bean curd. Fry for a couple of seconds while breaking up the curds with your spatula.
4. Next add the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a boil.
5. Add the beef to the sauce and reduce to a simmer. Cover.
6. After 1½ hours, add the chopped turnip/daikon and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
When the meat is tender, remove from heat and serve. This stew reheats really well, so plan on taking it to work for lunch instead of paying for that overpriced crap sandwich you usually get.