Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shanghai-style nian gao with soy-braised short ribs and broccoli

I dunno. I totally made this up. A few weeks ago Scott and I ate at Castagna, in the more casual cafe (we save the restaurant for fancy occasions). Scott had the cassoulet (of course) and I had their pasta dish de la saison: maltagliati with braised short ribs and turnip greens. It came sauced in butter thickened with Parm Redge. It was fucking insane, and a perfect toe-curl, and I knew I had to recreate it with Asian flavors. It was such a logical translation - the bitter greens with the sultry beef and chewy, stubby noodles.

A few months ago, Claudia (the sylph behind cook eat FRET) tried some nian gao in Cleveland right about the time I first saw them at Fubonn. I knew then that I needed to try them, but wasn't really feeling the arbitrary purchase at the time. It took me this long to get around to actually picking some up to experiment.

I also picked up a couple pounds of rough-cut flanken-style beef ribs (labeled "back ribs" - I think these were the castoffs from cutting galbi), which were comprised primarily of sinew, tallow and bone. The meat that remained was sufficiently laced with connective tissue and marbling that a 4-hour braise melted it to goulash. I browned the ribs in a Dutch oven with a knob of young ginger and half a head of garlic, a couple bay leaves and some peppercorns, then covered it in soy sauce (laochou that I thinned with some water), Chinese black vinegar, mirin and a spoonful of veal demiglace. When it came to a simmer, I plunked it into a 250-degree oven and went about my day.

I actually shopped for this dish a week ago, and it took me this long to muster the motivation (and time) necessary to properly execute a braise. During this time span, I used up almost all of the Shanghai pak choi (qingcai ). I buy these greens by the bagful, and usually never use up the whole thing until they're almost compost. My garden greens got pwned by snow, and I didn't want to make another trip to the store just for greens, so I gave a "meh" and used broccoli.

The nian gao cooked up in about a minute, then I tossed them with the beef, broccoli, and a ladleful of the braising liquid to coat. At the last minute, I decided it needed a shred of omelet on top. I cooked the egg with a little sugar and chile flake, and it lightened up the dish nicely.

My mental picture of nian gao as the Asian answer to bite-sized maltagliati (translates to "badly cut") proved eerily accurate, and this odd dish worked, rendering this disjointed, disorganized conversation about it a propos. I'll try this again, with an easier cut of meat (maybe pork - we bought a quarter pig yesterday) and the shred of greens for which the nian gao's density yearns.

22 comments:

Elra said...

Sounds like delicious dish heather. Wait did you really buy a quarter of pig?
Cheers,
Elra

Foodycat said...

Beautiful! I love how the same concept can work in different flavour landscapes.

Bellini Valli said...

Don't you just love to recreate something memorable at home and get rave reviews!!

MrOrph said...

This looks wonderful!

I am definitely a rib man even if yours are short.

we are never full said...

nice. i could totally go for this now - even if it is 7.38AM.

maggie said...

Mmm, love Castagna cafe. But this looks awesome. And warm and delicious. It's ccccold here out east.

What are your plans for the pig? Do you have a giant freezer?

Heather said...

Elra - Yes, I did!

Alicia - Me too. Sometimes the translation across different cuisines can be so literal.

Valli - It's not too shabby. ;)

Donald - Well to be fair, I am a shorty. Holla.

Amy - Breakfast of champions, indeed.

Mags - I somehow fit all of it into my regular freezer. It's been butchered, so that helps. I might try my hand at some sausage, but the rest of it will be a surprise, I guess.

canarygirl said...

Fucking A. MY toes just curled and I haven't even tried it yet!

Finspot said...

Short ribs rule! We had some for x-mas dinner with chard and pearl onions in the braise. Will have to try your Eastern prep...

This is my third comment in as many posts. Guess I'm a reg'lar now.

Cheers,
Finny

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Very poetic post:-) I like the riff on broccoli beef.

glamah16 said...

I love it when I learn something new. I have to look out fot Nian Goa. Perfect with the braised short ribs.

Finspot said...

Heather, left you the 411 on 'shrooms in FOTL's latest comment thread...

Lo said...

Brilliant. I also appreciate how flavor concepts translate so well from one ethnicity to another.

Trust me. Buying a portion of a pig is a great move. We got 1/4 pig for Christmas last year... score!!

cookiecrumb said...

You're a better man than I, Gunga Din.
Awesome intuition.

Heather said...

yum! that looks good. i am so unadventurous when it comes to asian cooking. i need to branch out! i love the omelette on top.

Heather said...

Nikki - It tasted way better than it looks. :P

Finny - A regular what? HAY-O! Is this thing on? *tap tap* I'll be here all week.

Marc - Whenever I try to do "nice" Chinese cooking, I just end up wishing for the taste of kung pao chicken. :\

Courtney - They're really delightful, chewy little dumplings. They're used for dessert, too.

Lo - Pork is one thing that I always seem to buy in bulk. Can't wait to start chipping away at it!

Cookie - You're mad! (and yet, you eat)

Heather - There's more to Asian cooking than bottled Szechuan sauce! But not much more. Give it a shot.

Brittany said...

Braises are my new boyfriend these days.
The shredded omelette is a stroke of genius.

peter said...

That looks great!

cook eat FRET said...

peter - are you channeling kevin?

heather - that looks sublime. fuck great. anyway, i want it. now make me a lo cal version, ok? please?

also did you buy the dried ones are the ones in the vacuum bags in the refrigerator section? they come in brown rice too...

Heather said...

Heh.

Yeah, I got the vacuum-bagged ones. Brown rice sounds pretty goooood.

Jude said...

I'm confused with all the cuts of beef. Need to brush up on my butcher terminology.

Nilmandra said...

I personally find nian gao too starchy for my taste but my mother loves them. The sweet and sticky variety (brown in colour rather than white) is also a traditional Chinese new year food.