(Click on photos for larger images)
I was talking to my Chinese friend, Carrie, the other day, and she said that she really wanted to make ngow nam and her mom has a recipe. After she mentioned this to me, I was obsessed with making ngow nam. Ngow means cow, and nam means belly in Cantonese. Basically it's stewed/braised beef brisket with diakons and a very complex flavor that I can't describe. This dish may not be for everyone, but I know that if you're Chinese, you probably like it. Not very many restaurants serve this dish because it takes a while to make. It also includes lots of ingredients (that you can only find at a well stocked Asian grocery store).
I did not get Carrie's mom's secret ngow nam recipe, but I found a few recipes online, with this recipe being the best one (in my opinion). Below is my take on the dish. When I actually made it, I had doubled the recipe to feed four people.
2 lbs of fatty beef brisket
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 slices of ginger (about 1/2 in. thick), roughly chopped
a splash of Shaoxing Wine*
2 tbsp Chu Hou Paste (or, depending on brand, Chee Hou Sauce)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 piece of rock sugar
2 star anise
1 cardamon pod
1 cinnamon stick
Water - enough to cover meat
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 daikon radish
1 tbsp corn starch
* Since I don't use alcohol in my cooking, I substituted this with rice vinegar. Close enough?
1. Cut up brisket and diakon radish into large bite size pieces, somewhere between 1-1/2" squares to 2" squares. The brisket should be pretty fatty, and this is what you want. You want that nice fat surrounding your meat, so don't trim it off.
2. Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or a heavy pot. Brown your cubed brisket meat. I had to do it in batches and placed the browned meat in a bowl while I'm browning the rest of the brisket. When all the meat has been browned, add in a little bit more oil and saute the garlic and ginger for 30 seconds (until they're fragrant). Toss in a splash of your rice wine to deglaze the pan. Now add in the Cho Hou paste and mix well.
3. Throw in meat (and any of the meat juices that came out while resting) and stir fry for another 3-4 minutes, mixing the meat with the sauce. Do not burn the sauce.
4. Throw in the rest of the ingredients (excluding diakon) and add water to cover. The water doesn't need to cover *all* the beef all the way to the top. It just needs to cover most of the beef. At the end, you want to have just enough braising liquid for a sauce, but you don't want a stew. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for an house. Check often to see if additional water is needed and stir the pot to make sure everything is mixed well.
5. After an hour, add in the diakon. There should be enough water left to cover most of the diakon. If there's not, add in a little more water. Simmer for another hour.
6. When the meat and daikon radishes are tender, remove them from your pot and set aside for a few minutes; turn off heat. You should be left with the remaining sauce. Take out the cinnamon stick, cardamom, and star anise bits. Taste the sauce and adjust taste with salt and pepper. In a small cup or bowl, place a two small ladles of your sauce mixture and add in the tablespoon of corn starch. Mix it until all the corn starch is all dissolved. Pour this into the pot with the remaining sauce and mix well. Turn your heat back on until sauce thickens. Add the meat and daikons back into the pot. Mix the sauce with the meat until it's all covered.
Meat & dikon out of the pot.
Meat & dikon back into the pot.
Extreme close up!
I served the ngow nam over rice, but you can eat it as is or serve it over some noodles.