One Of The Best, Easiest Things You’ll Ever Make
Five-spice beef, chilled and cut very thin, is a popular Chinese appetizer. It’s made with beef shank, a well-muscled cut of meat with lots of connective tissue that shows up as pretty, translucent curlicues once it’s all sliced up.
My grandmother made it all the time when I was growing up, but never taught me the recipe, so I always imagined it was a hugely difficult undertaking.
She’s not very well these days, so I had to turn to the internet for instructions. It turns out that the most difficult part of the recipe is procuring a whole beef shank. Once that’s out of the way, it’s really pretty hands-off.
If you’re in the U.S., you’ll probably have to go to a Chinese supermarket to find a whole, boneless shank. Western butchers tend to leave the meat on the bone and chop it into chunks for stewing. This won’t work.
Once you’ve procured your cow muscle, you’ll need to trim it lightly, blanch it for 5-10 minutes in plain boiling water, and then simmer it for about 3 hours in an inky mixture of light and dark soy sauces with plenty of warm, sweet spice. Here’s a nice, illustrated recipe from an eGullet user. If you don’t cook often with these kinds of spices, you can buy five-spice sachets with everything conveniently pre-mixed, and Amoy makes a very serviceable “Lo Sui Marinade” to which one simply adds water and spices.
There are many ways to eat it. I like to chill it, slice it and then pour a dressing of rice vinegar, sesame oil and a touch of soy sauce over it. But you can also serve it warm, which gives the otherwise chewy tendons a melt-in-the-mouth consistency. It’s really nice in noodle soup, too, especially if you add a splash or two of the strained braising liquid into the broth.
I paid $4.66 for a 1 1/2-lb. beef shank and got three meals (for two people) out of it. That’s pretty good.