Red-cooked beef is one of those dishes that is just made for the winter. This Chinese beef stew — made by simmering well-marbled beef in a combination of soy sauce, cinnamon, star anise, tangerine peel, and chilies — is as aromatic and delicious as it sounds.
Plus, the bubbling action and warmth in the kitchen while you make this dish is a huge plus when it's 19 degrees F out and your radiator isn't working as well as it should.
Some of you may have tried making red-cooked pork before from this site. My method for red-cooked beef is similar, with some key differences. One big difference is the addition of dried tangerine peel. You can choose to include it or not, but I find that orange flavors pair so well with beef, and adds such a wonderful citrus fragrance to the stew, that I can't pass it up.
You can buy tangerine peel in any Chinese market, but it's also easy to make your own at home. Just peel a tangerine (reserving the insides for a snack!), rip the peel into large pieces, and keep the pieces on a windowsill or another cool, dry spot for 2 to 3 days. Or, to dry the peels on short notice, bake the peels in a 200 degree F oven for about 60 to 70 minutes, until they dry up and look like the peels in the photo above.
Another important difference is the meat and how to cook it. We're not using pork belly, but beef that still contains a good amount of fat is key. I buy about 2 pounds beef short ribs, slice the meat off the bone and cut them into cubes, and save the bones in the freezer for when I get around to making beef stock. You can also use beef chuck or stew meat as a substitute, but the meat tends to be leaner, so the texture will just end up a bit drier after cooking.
Many recipes call for boiling the beef before braising so the stew doesn't end up with scum on top, but I use another method that achieves the same purpose. It's probably a product of my French culinary training, but I like to toss the beef cubes in flour and sear them in the pan all around, much like the method for preparing beef bourguignon. You end up with a golden-brown exterior on the beef that stays there even after an hour or more of slow, gentle braising.
Rice is a must for soaking up all the sauce. I also love serving this with a vegetable side like stir-fried bok choy. (You can also do a side of broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale, or another dark winter green.) Like other braised dishes, it gets better after sitting overnight, after the flavors have a chance to coalesce more. So don't be afraid to make this ahead of time too, whether for a dinner party or a weeknight meal.
- 2 pounds beef short ribs, or substitute 1 pound beef chuck or stew meat
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- One 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into 3 pieces
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 pieces star anise
- 2 pieces dried tangerine peel
- 3 whole dried red chilies
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (optional)
- 2 large red carrots, peeled and chopped into small bite-sized pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot, Dutch oven, or pan with deep sides over medium-high heat. Using tongs, toss the beef lightly in the flour in a shallow dish.
- Sear the beef until lightly brown all around, about 2 minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium. In the same pot or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Sauté the onions for about 2 to 3 minutes, until aromatic and softened. Return the beef to the pot. Add the rice wine to lift any beef drippings from the bottom of the pan. Add the water, sugar, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, tangerine peel, chilies, and optional Sichuan pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the carrots to the pot and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a large serving dish and serve warm with rice.