A couple of months ago the man and I had tickets to the Soho Theatre which, apart from the anticipation of what was billed as a delightful show, gave us a reason to go again to Bar Shu, one of my absolute favourite restaurants in London which had been shut for a while due to fire and rebuilding. Marina O'Loughlin's review in the Metro opened 'I am so far outside my comfort zone that I think my gums are bleeding'. And she eats for a living. On our first visit I was simply blown away - we ate food that I had never come across before and all of it variations on extraordinary. With Fuchsia Dunlop as consulting chef, Bar Shu specialises in the authentic flavours of Sichuan Province. This cuisine is famous for its fiery spiciness - and wow is some of it hot! but also for the sheer variety of its tastes and textures, often served in a lip-tingling pile of chillies and Sichuan pepper. It has great depth of flavour and, done as well as it is at Bar Shu, enormous subtlety. Genuinely exciting food.
On our first visit I was so eager to try everything I ordered about three times as much as we could eat, which gave us a great sampling of some of the menu and a collection of takeaway boxes that made the best lunches for the next two days. Soon after it closed for the longest time and this was our second trip back after its return. I ordered much more circumspectly, figuring I couldn't really take half a dozen tubs of spicy food to the theatre, but couldn't resist ordering the ox tendon. It was like nothing else - unctuous and rich, melt in the mouth with a tiny resistance to the bite, small pieces of almost transparent tendon floating in a mindblowing chilli and pepper sauce. Alongside the other dishes the richness of it defeated us but I couldn't let it go. Without consulting the man I asked the waitress to box up the rest of it to take away. As their is no such place as 'away' what I was intending was to take my box of spicy ox tendon to the theatre then home later on the bus. The man grinned complicity. After all it was Friday night.
By chance a few weeks later there was a piece on serious eats about beef tendon, and I suddenly realised I could try and recreate a little piece of this magic in my very own kitchen. I was aware that it might need a few goes, but if I don't start now then when? The next Saturday at the Ginger Pig at Borough I asked Charlie if he could butcher me up some beef tendon (I figured ox was unlikely and probably generic on the menu at Bar Shu). He looked a touch bemused and said another guy had asked him for it once, chinese guy. But the answer was still no, not really.
Vaguely disappointed but, hey, the world is full of recipes. Then a few weeks later Iwas in one of the big food shops in chinatown and, hey presto, they were selling fresh beef tendon at the butchers counter. Perhaps this was meant to be.
So I googled and read what little I could find on techniques and recipes and decided to start by steaming the tendon in soy for a long time then let it cool. Refrigerated for a couple of days, the tendon was a little chewy still, and not entirely easy to slice. I decided I'd aim for a bowl of hot - both temperature and spice - sauce with lovely gobbets of melting tendon. Served over rice and briefly steamed bean sprouts (for a crunch in your mouth) it was good. But not great - which is where I'd like it to be. For now it is a work in progress.
Steamed Spicy Beef Tendon with Beansprouts
250g beef tendons (from an asian butcher)
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup water
3 tbspoons chilli oil, with sediment
2 tspns sugar
1 tspn sesame oil
1 tspn toasted groung sichuan peppercorns
100g fresh beansprouts, washed and with their squiggly tails removed
Wash the tendons well then put them into a bowl soy sauce and enough water to partially cover the tendons. Set the steam oven to 100C and cook for 4 hours.
Remove the tendons from the bowl and put onto a plate. Pour the soy/water liquid from the steaming into a bowl and refrigerate it to use in the next step of the cooking. It will split into a firm dark soy 'jelly' with a creamy white cap of beef fat.
Let the tendons cool to room temperature; then refrigerate until they are completely firm.
Slice the tendons into bite size pieces and put into a bowl. Take the fat off the set jelly from the previous steaming and keep for another use. Dice the jelly and scatter over the tendon then add the chilli oil and sugar.
Steam in the oven at 100C for 40 minutes till the tendon is meltingly tender. Scatter with the ground sichuan pepper. Return the bowl to the oven, along with the beansprouts in a perforated tray, and steam for a further 1 m inute to just take the raw edge off the sprouts.
Serve over plain rice.