If Chinese cuisine had an eastern charcuterie equivalent, lu cai would definitely make it onto the plate. Lu cai is a general term for an assortment of soy sauce-and-other-spices-braised foods, ranging from the most popular beef shank, to seaweed knots, extra firm tofu (also known as bean curd- what an unappetizing translation 🙁 ), hardboiled eggs, pig ears, chicken legs, duck wings, and the like. A big pot of soy sauce and other seasonings (fennel, cinnamon, star anise, and sometimes a whole slew of 20+ spices!) is brought to a boil, then all these assortments of goodies are steeped and cooked on a low heat for a looong time, until all the flavors meld together and season the food items until they are spectacularly delicious. Lu niu rou, or cold braised beef (?) is probably one of the more famous, with the famous swirley beef shank cross section, but a lot of other foods can be ‘lu’ed! Excuse the Chinglish, but that’s probably the best way to explain some of these things..Oh, and lu niu rou should not be confused with lu rou or lu rou fan– they are completely different! Sorry, it’s probably a little confusing for non-Chinese speakers, no?
Lu cai is is easy to make, as long as you have some tastebuds, and patience. See, you’ll need to season the braising liquid to your liking, then cook and wait long enough for your choice of goodies to completely soak up the braising liquid. Once the foods have gotten generously seasoned, they will cool in the fridge and be served cold or at room temperature. It is the perfect dish to keep in the fridge to supplement a summer meal.
The most important component of this dish is the spice bag- in the past, I’ve either gotten these from my mom, grandma, or trips to Taiwan. If you live in the US, Oriental Mascot is a pretty popular brand, and that’s the default one my family would use. It should say on the packet how many pounds/ounces of food the packet is good for. A little goes a long way- for instance, I was told that my spice bag was good for 1200-1800 grams of food. Your spice bag should specify how many pounds it is good for…I used more than the 1800 gram suggestion, and thought it tasted fine! I think it depends on whether you are braising more meat or non-meat. Non-meat will dilute the liquid but meat will add its own flavor to the liquid.
Lu Niu Rou/ Lu Cai
Chinese Cold Braised Beef / Chinese Cold Braised Dish
1 slice of ginger
1-2 stalks of scallions
6 cups water
1 braising spice bag – lu bao (look for 滷包)
3 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
~1800 grams (~4 lbs of “stuff”) of food items to braise/”lu”
-Your choice(s) of meat: beef shank, pig feet, chicken feet, chicken legs, duck wings, beef or pork tongue, pig ears, gizzards, etc…
-Vegetables/Other: thick seaweed or tofu knots, extra firm tofu (bean curd), peanuts, peeled hardboiled eggs….
-Garnishes: chopped scallions and/or cilantro, and cooled braising liquid
1) Add a little bit of oil to a stockpot. Add ginger and scallions, and sautee until they are fragrant.
2) Add the water, spice bag, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
3) Add the longest-to-cook ingredients first, adding more water if necessary, to barely cover the items that will be braised. Add more sugar, salt, or soy sauce if needed. If the spices taste weak (hopefully not!), you could add some 5 spice powder, a cinnamon stick, or throw in a star anise if you wish. desired ingredients, and simmer until they are tender, but not falling apart yet.
4) Cool thoroughly, slice thinly whatever needs slicing (or wedges, for eggs), and eat!
Approximate Simmer Guide!
Simmer almost indefinitely: tough stuff like tongue, eggs, gizzards
2-3 hours: beef shank
1-2 hours: chicken leg, duck or chicken wings
1/2 – 1 hour: pig ears, seaweed knots, tofu knots, extra firm tofu
Anything that is not listed is missing because I’ve not personally timed them…just experiment and you’ll be good!
-Tim says that the Cantonese way is to serve this with the braising liquid on the side, so that you can dip the meat in the braising liquid before sticking it in your mouth. You can also pour the braising liquid atop the arranged items, or just eat it as is.
-For muscular cuts like gizzards or tongue, try thinly slicing, then add chili oil, chopped cilantro, dried red pepper or red pepper flakes, and minced Chinese celery (or regular celery). Yummmmyyyyy.
-A tip: you know those paper-thin slices of cold marinated pig ears that you so enjoy at Chinese restaurants? To copy that at home, stack the pig ears on top of one another as best as you can once you fish them out of the braising liquid, then refrigerate until thoroughly cold ( I usually wait overnight). The gelatin will magically ‘glue’ the pig ears together so that you can slice them thinly as a stack! 🙂