The weather at this time of year can be unpredictable but it is still cool enough to make hearty meals enjoyable. Braised oxtail is a leisurely dish to make - after blanching and browning the meat, just let it simmer for several hours, stirring it every once in a while. The dish goes well with crisp-tender snap peas.
Chinese braised oxtail with mushrooms and lotus root or white radish (pictured)
Cooks throughout China make different versions of braised oxtail. This is my grandmother's recipe, and she often replaced the more common white radish with lotus root. I've adapted it slightly by adding Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, which gives the dish a deeper flavour that doesn't taste fishy. The addition of beef tendon is optional but I like it because it makes the sauce richer and stickier; if you use it, ask the butcher to cut it into two-bite pieces. Also have the butcher cut the larger (in circumference) oxtail pieces through the bone.
Chung choi is preserved turnip green. It's usually sold rolled up into little bundles, although some market vendors make their own, which tend to be much larger.
If you use lotus root, peel it, then rinse it well, especially through the holes, in case there's any mud. After slicing it, you might need to rinse the pieces again, to remove any lingering mud.
12-16 large dried Chinese mushrooms
2kg oxtail, cut into pieces
1 piece (about 600 grams) beef tendon (optional)
Cooking oil, as needed
About 30ml soy sauce, plus extra for coating the oxtail
80 grams ginger
80 grams chung choi
About 30ml fish sauce
About 30 grams sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
About 600 grams lotus root or white radish
2-3 spring onions, cut into 5mm lengths
Rinse the mushrooms then put them in a bowl, cover with warm water and leave to soak for several hours, or until fully hydrated. Drain the mushrooms but reserve the soaking liquid. Cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on the size.
Rinse the oxtail thoroughly then drain it in a colander. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the oxtail and beef tendon (if using) and simmer for a minute, then drain. Rinse the pieces under cool running water, checking the oxtail carefully and removing any tiny pieces of bone. Repeat the boiling, rinsing and draining process, then wash the pot and dry it. Dry the oxtail with paper towels then put the pieces in a bowl. Pour some soy sauce over the oxtail then mix, adding just enough to lightly coat the meat.
Place the pot over a medium flame and add about 30ml of cooking oil. When the oil is hot, brown the oxtail in batches, turning the pieces over as needed. Put all the browned oxtail pieces back into the pot and add the tendon. Peel the ginger and slice it about 5mm thick. Thoroughly rinse the chung choi then finely chop it. Put the mushrooms, ginger and chung choi into the pot. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a fine sieve, then measure it; if needed, add some fresh water so the total amount of liquid is 800ml. Pour the liquid into the pot and add 30ml of soy sauce, the fish sauce, the sugar and the salt. Bring to the boil and stir well, then turn the heat to very low, cover the pot with the lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, for several hours, or until the tendon is almost tender. Taste the sauce for seasoning and correct, if needed.
Peel the lotus root, or white radish, and rinse it well. Cut the lotus root, or white radish, in half lengthwise, then slice it about 1cm thick. Put the pieces into the pot, moving around the other ingredients so the vegetable is submerged in the liquid. Continue to simmer until the tendon and vegetables are tender (about 45 more minutes).
If you like the sauce to be thicker, dissolve about two heaped teaspoonfuls of cornstarch in some of the cooking liquid, then stir this mixture into the pot.
Just before serving, scatter the spring onions over the ingredients. Serve with white rice.
Stir-fried snap peas
Chinese snap peas (sometimes called sugar snap peas) are somewhere between garden peas (which are removed from their pod) and snow peas (also called mange-tout). With snap peas, almost the whole thing is edible but, unlike snow peas, the peas inside the pod are almost fully developed so they're round, rather than flat.
300 grams snap peas
2 garlic cloves
20ml fish sauce
¼ tsp granulated sugar
20ml cooking oil
Remove and discard the tough string that runs along the seam of each snap pea. Rinse the snap peas then drain them in a colander. Slice the garlic cloves. Dissolve the sugar in the fish sauce.
Heat a wok over a high flame and when it's hot, add the oil. Add the peas and cook, stirring often, for about 45 seconds. The snap peas should blister slightly in the heat. Stir in the fish sauce/sugar mixture then lower the heat, cover the wok with the lid and simmer for about a minute - the snap peas should still be crisp. Remove the lid, stir in the garlic and turn the heat to high. Cook for about 30 more seconds then serve.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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