The Chinese technique of red cooking involves simmering meat with soy sauce, sugar and sweet aromatics like star anise and cinnamon. It happens in a wok, but instead of a quick high-heat stir-fry, it is a slow braise, more like a savory stew.
When the meat is tender (after one to two hours, depending on what you're cooking), the braising liquid is quickly reduced to a glossy sauce. The resulting hue is a ruddy reddish-brown. That's the color of red-cooked: a deep, warm, burnished red.
Most any type of braising meat can be used. I'm a fan of classic red-cooked pork belly, so rich and unctuous it feels like a guilty pleasure. But red-cooked beef is extremely good, and the cooking method is more or less identical.
It is traditional to use beef shin or tendon — tough, gelatinous cuts that become silky with time. A braising cut like short rib or chuck also works perfectly. Choose meat that is well marbled with fat.
In China, as in many parts of Asia, meat for braising is first briefly parboiled in water, then drained. This method produces a cleaner-tasting broth and a more attractive sauce. That's the only fussy step.
Once the stew is assembled and simmering, it's mostly a matter of waiting.
Red-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Daikon
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 lbs boneless beef short ribs or chuck, cut in 1⁄2-inch strips
Salt and pepper
2 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS Chinese sweet wine or sherry
2 tsp grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1⁄2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 sm strips orange peel
4 dry red chilies, available in Asian markets
2 TBS vegetable oil
2 TBS sugar
2 tsp potato starch dissolved in 2 TBS cold water (optional)
1 lb daikon radish, peeled and sliced 1⁄4-inch thick
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1⁄4 C slivered scallions
Put meat in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, skimming off any foam. Drain meat in colander, discarding liquid.
Transfer meat to medium bowl and season lightly with salt. Add soy sauce, wine, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, orange peel and chilies. Mix to coat and marinate 15 minutes.
Put 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add sugar and stir until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add marinated meat and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until meat is tender, 40 minutes to an hour, adding water occasionally to keep meat barely covered.
To prevent meat from overcooking, remove and set aside, then bring remaining cooking liquid to a rapid simmer over high heat and reduce to intensify color and flavor. (Or thicken sauce with potato starch.) Return meat to wok and coat with reduced sauce.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a separate pan over medium-high heat. Add daikon, season with salt and pepper, and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
Put beef in a serving dish and arrange daikon on a platter. Drizzle both with sesame oil and garnish with cilantro sprigs and scallions.