HK-Style Beef Brisket (牛腩)

I’ve been dying to play with Chu Hou sauce (柱侯醬) since I got back from London.  Used in Hong Kong cuisine for the legendary stewed beef brisket noodles, ngow lam mien, and apparently made from soybeans, garlic, sesame seeds and ginger, this marinade is the perfect braising sauce for those cheap cuts of meat that love their wet-heat cooking.  So I bought some beef brisket with all the ew tendon bits.

The thing about beef is knowing the cut, or more specifically: where the cut is on the body of the cow and from there, you’re set.  All too often people go for ‘cuts-of-comfort’ and end up paying more than they need to for a good dinner.  Yes, you can grill, pan-fry, roast some sirloin or ribs. but there’s a whole other world to to this fiiiiiine domesticated mammal of gastronomic goodness; namely, udder its belly, and it just needs a different kind of love.

Of course, I’m not gonna claim to know as much as your local butcher, but at some point in my life I will learn how to butcher a cow.  Sounds a little morbid, and who knows I could be the next Dexter of Hong Kong but… I like my knives, man.  And there’s a portion of cooking where one just has to know how their ingredients end up on the station, right?

Basically, how I work it out: if the muscle’s on the part of the cow where it gets the most direct stress (shoulders-a-movin’, legs-a-shufflin’), a wet-heat method like braising, poaching, steaming, whatever, is the better option because it breaks down all that connective tissue (is that what it’s called? I dropped Biology/all actual Sciences for IB).  If the muscle’s not getting a workout: a dry-heat method like grilling, roasting etc (like for the much loved sirloin or hanger steaks) are more appropriate.

I marinaded the brisket in light soy sauce, sesame oil and cornflour for an hour.  I also added an egg yolk cos I saw it once in a recipe for something Chinese and thought it made sense, like a balancing some kind of yin/yang dimension.  Don’t really know what it did to the dish though, added depth let’s say??

After a quick sear in the wok (I did this all in a wok, by the way, allow an oven to braise when this is Hong Kong), I drained the excess liquid and put the beef to the side, and cleaned out the wok.  I was once told never to add salt until the very end when you’re braising, I’m not sure whether this is just some old wives’ tale but I didn’t do it anyway.

I wanted to add some veg because I’m generally quite unhealthy and seeing green makes me feel a little more holistic cooking, so I threw in some broccoli with some soy sauce, sesame oil etc. – got some flavour coating dat wok ting before I made some magic innit.  Not Chinese broccoli though.  Not sure why, just wasn’t feeling it aesthetically.  Obviously, cut these babies up for ease of one-bite-wondership.  Oh, and wash them.  Because cleanliness is next to Godliness.  And if we are anything in this world, we are but God’s starving children.

Putting the greenery also to the side, I then returned the beef to the wok.

Added some fresh ginger, garlic and chili, then the wondersauce (the Chu Hou).

I just added water to make the braising liquid, but was contemplating beef stock – I’m sure this would’ve been fine also, just the end-product had a really good flavour anyway, so I don’t think there was any need for more beefiness.  Anyway, give it an hour, maybe two, depending on how lean your meat is, and boil some vermicelli rice noodles 3 minutes before time – voila, tender stewed beef that tastes like something out of your favourite chaan teng.

My brother absolutely loved it, so if that counts for anything – try it yourself.


Note: I’m trying to practice my Cantonese so the characters are more for my reference than anything else.  Apologies if I look like some well-tuned white kid; I’ve lived here for 20 years and can’t speak the language, a bit of a fail.


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