I think the Chinese make the term “eating from nose to tail” a commonplace reality. Growing up in a typical Chinese home, it has always been commonplace for different animal parts (including offal, feet and even heads) to feature in everyday dishes. In fact, even as a child, I learned to enjoy dishes like braised chicken feet and curry fish head. One of my early memories of my mother was of her happily picking out the eye of the large fish head to eat (the muscles around the eye are succulent and are actually a choice part to eat by aficionados). In any case, no part of the animal ever goes wasted in Chinese cooking.
It was later in life that I started to appreciate the different cuts of meat and the use of each cut in different styles of cooking. Chinese in general don’t eat much beef, probably because of Hindu/Buddhist influences in parts of China, compared with, say, the Vietnamese where beef is extremely commonplace. When I got married, I discovered that hubs and family were big beef eaters and I guess that is why my kids have grown up loving beef.
Because Chinese use every part of an animal, nothing is ever discarded, and unlike in Western countries, you would never get any discarded parts from the butcher for free. After all, even chicken feet are a prized delicacy in Chinese food! But of course there are choice cuts and certain cuts of meat are still relatively inexpensive. Beef shin is a fairly affordable cut, and works well with curries and stews.
Chinese braised beef shin is a really easy dish and is usually done on the stove top as it is a simple braise, and makes a great, no-fuss dish for entertaining. The meat is meltingly tender, yet the tendinous connective tissue gives a chewier mouth feel at the same time. The shins are usually sliced transversely into thin pieces that show beautiful patterning of the tendons through the shin meat. This can be served over rice or noodles, but in a low carb diet can go well with a side of steamed vegetables. Although this is a typically Cantonese dish, I have seen spicy Sze Chuan versions that include more spices and chilli oil.
I remember I started making this dish about 15 years ago. I was living in the US, had young kids and I missed my Chinese food (which was very different from American Chinese food). Up till then I was an indifferent cook but the desperation to recreate familiar dishes from home was overwhelming. The internet was not as comprehensive as it is now and there were very few Chinese recipes online. I remember I found a simple Chinese recipe book and started trying to cook a variety of simple dishes that worked well for my little family, this braised beef dish being one of them.
Because braised beef shin is such a simple dish, doing it on the stove is really no difficulty. However the Instant Pot version cuts the cooking time by half (or more) and makes this dish even more fuss free. There’s nothing so wonderful as being able to walk away from the pot and not have to tend to it.
Instant Pot Braised Beef Shin
- 4 pieces of whole beef shin (about 1 kg in all)
- 1/2 cup light soy sauce
- 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
- 3 tbsp sugar substitute
- 1 piece star anise
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated but skins on
- 3 knobs old ginger about 1 inch size each, peeled and lightly crushed
- About 5 cups of water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Turn on the Instant Pot sauté mode and heat up the olive oil.
- Sear the pieces of meat and ginger.
- Add the light and dark soy sauce, the water and sesame oil and cooking wine. The liquid should cover the pieces of shin meat.
- Add the star anise, garlic cloves, and sugar substitute and mix well.
- Turn off the sauté mode and close the pot, putting the valve in a sealed position.
- Put the Instant Pot on “meat” mode. This will take about 35 minutes. Allow natural pressure release, then open the pot and take out the beef shins and put into a casserole dish.
- Refrigerate for another hour. This makes the beef easier to slice. The beef can actually even be kept refrigerated for as long as you want before you want to serve it.
- Slice the beef transversely into neat 1/2 cm slices and lay out in the dish.
- To serve, reheat the beef again (you can either gently microwave or steam the beef in the casserole dish). Ladle some of the strained sauce over the beef and serve hot.