Eddie Huang, of Baohaus (the restaurant, not the architecture movement) and Fresh Off the Boat fame, was known for his Chairman Bao bao. When he first conceived it, it was made with skirt steak using a slightly modified Chinese braised beef recipe. Later on at his restaurant Baohaus, he served it with pork belly marinated with cherry cola.
I really wanted some, but I wanted an obscene amount of food, I didn’t care for the bao that day or the fried peanuts that Eddie Huang puts on everything (childhood problems with peanuts. long story), and I was only willing to travel a short distance.
So… I tried to mimic the recipe. The result wasn’t quite the same thing, but it was too magnificent to not share.
This is a fairly involved recipe, but it’s so worth the effort.
Time: 10 minutes and then 3-12 hour break and then 2 hours.
rice wine OR chinese rice wine (moutai) OR fermented rice
Sichuan peppercorn (also known as prickly ash) AND/OR dried chilis AND/OR sichuan chili oil
oil – preferably peanut oil
I chose short rib, but you can use bone in or bone out ribs of any kind, pork belly, or steak of any kind. If you use steak, I’d recommend cooking a cheaper cut of steak… because you’re going to braise it. I don’t believe that a braised chateaubriand makes sense. God will smite you for wasting greatness.
Cube the meat and marinate it in cherry cola. Saran wrap and fridge for 3-12 hours. Probably at the 24 hour mark, the acid will start destroying the structure of the protein.
I had a rough day looking for cherry cola. I found this thing. It worked out fine, but I think next time I’ll get cherry Coca-Cola, or experiment with Dr. Pepper, which has a nice rounded cream soda flavor.
I was in a hurry to feed myself, so I only waited 3 hours. The acid in the cola breaks into the meat, tenderizing it, and adding flavor. Once you take the meat out, throw out the cola and let it dry a bit. As Eddie points out in his book, most Chinese braises boils the meat to get rid of the blood flavor and chalky blood bits, called the first. In Western cuisine, this is done by searing the meat. To get the nice char on the outside, we’re going to use the sear method. As usual, when you touch something to hot oil, you want it to be somewhat dry on the outside so you don’t burn your face off.
Here are all of the aromatics: white onion, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper, and dried chili pepper. The Sichuan pepper is a mouth numbing spice that’s the staple of Sichuan cuisine. You can substitute this with Sichuan pepper oil. The dried pepper adds additional kick.
Peanut oil imparts a rich flavor, so it’s very popular with Chinese cuisine. I sauteed the meat, browning it on all sides with peanut oil. Then I added the cubes and aromatics into a tall pot. I like tall pots for braises because you want to use a minimal amount of liquid, and this way you can stuff everything in as tightly packed as possible!
I then added some rice wine. My fermented rice wasn’t done fermenting yet, and I didn’t have moutai or sake. In Eddie’s recipe, he used the super strong vodka-like moutai and lit it on fire. I didn’t feel too bold, so I left my hard liquors alone.
I also added rock candy and wedged it on the bottom so that it would melt. It’s crystalized sugar, but it tastes quite different from table sugar. It’s not as sickeningly sweet. If you don’t have this, you can use palm sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maltose, or at worse a mix of brown sugar and white sugar.
Add soy sauce here as well, just a few tablespoons to give it saltiness.
After simmering for about an hour, the meat and broth looks disgusting. Everything ad been cooked down to mush.
Skim the layer of fat, fish out the meat, and then drain the liquid.
Wash the pot, and put the clean meat and liquid back in. This is a perfect time to taste test! I found that a lot of the spice was in the oil layer. Next time I’ll probably add more peppercorns. I simmered this new clean pot of meat for another 30 minutes, occasionally stirring and scooping the thickening sauce onto the meat.
While waiting, I made some sides. A little sauteed cucumber with oyster sauce, and egg and tomato, which is a Chinese classic. I wanted to keep the flavors of the sides light, because the meat was so flavorful, that I could practically taste it in the air.
The meat and sauce were perfect. It was spicy and sweet and savory. The meat was unbelievably tender but with a slight char to give it a little texture.
Every bite was so full of umami my head wanted to explode. Once the sweetness fades, you can feel the kick from the chili peppers and that slight numbness on your lips an back of the tongue. Three of us ate 2 pounds of meat in about 10 minutes. Next time I’ll have to make 4 pounds!