Of Chinese Five-Spice Braised Beef Short Ribs and Tales of Courage and Empowerment

Short ribs laced with star anise and lemongrass from a pioneering Chinese woman.

Short ribs laced with star anise and lemongrass from a pioneering Chinese woman.

 

For powerful reasons — both good and bad — we are in a defining time for women.

As such, “A Woman’s Place: The Inventors, Rumrunners, Lawbreakers, Scientists, and Single Moms Who Changed the World with Food” (Little, Brown and Company) couldn’t have debuted at a more appropriate moment.

The new book, of which I received a review copy, is by food writer and photographer Deepi Ahluwalia, and Stef Ferrari, senior editor of Life & Thyme Magazine.

It shines a bright light on the enterprising, pioneering women in food who more often than never received the recognition they deserved. They include such icons as Lena Richard, an African-American women who grew an empire of restaurants, cookbooks and even had a television snow — all during the height of segregation in America; and Clara Steele, who started a family dairy in Marin County that went on to produce the highest volume of cheese in California in the mid-1800s.

Interspersed throughout the book are 10 recipes from notable female culinarians.

A Woman's Place

I had never heard of Esther Eng (1914-1970), but because of this book I now know what a pivotal figure she was. An openly gay Chinese woman, Eng was a film director turned restaurateur who grew up in San Francisco before moving to New York. It was there that she opened Bo Bo’s, a Chinese restaurant where Chinese-American actors could find steady work and work on their English when they weren’t making movies. The food was so amazing that none other than Craig Claiborne praised it. In so doing, Eng managed to break through and rise to the top of two characteristically male-dominated industries.

Thinking about that achievement makes her “Chinese Five-Spice Braised Beef Short Ribs” all the more transportive.

It’s a rustic, family-style Chinese dish to enjoy with plenty of rice to soak up all the fragrant, cinnamon and star anise-laced brothy sauce.

These are not your American- or European-style short ribs that get lacquered in a thick glaze. Instead, these definitely are more home-spun with their boiled-beef appearance, especially since the short ribs are not seared before braising.

Raw green onion slices get sprinkled over everything before serving, which adds a fresh, sharp bite to this long-simmered dish.

The recipe calls for Santa Maria seasoning — all of 1/4 teaspoon. Since I didn’t have it on hand, I just Googled to find out what was in it. Turns out it’s a blend of salt, pepper and garlic powder. So I just added a pinch of each of those, plus a dash of soy sauce.

It also calls for standing up the ribs vertically in the pot. Since it didn’t seem like my short ribs were going to stay that way without falling over while cooking, I didn’t bother to stand them up that way, and they turned out fine.

This dish is nostalgic for me. It reminds me of something my Dad would have made. And I can’t think of any higher compliment than that.

Comfort food with Asian flair.

Comfort food with Asian flair.

Chinese Five-Spice Braised Beef Short Ribs

(Serves 4)

3 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4-ounce portions

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

1/4 teaspoon Santa Maria seasoning (or use a pinch of salt, pepper, and garlic powder plus a dash of soy sauce)

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 cups water

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon mirin

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons orange juice

12 green onion bulbs (save green stalks for garnish)

5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long batons

2 lemongrass cores, cut in half lengthwise, minced

1/2 teaspoon hoisin sauce

 

Rub beef short ribs with salt to dry-brine. Let sit 3 hours in the fridge. After 3 hours, combine ginger, five-spice powder, chili-garlic sauce, crushed red pepper, mustard powder, and Santa Maria seasoning. Rub mixture on ribs.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a 4 1/2-quart Dutch oven on stovetop over medium heat. Add canola oil and saute garlic until lightly browned. Add water, rice vinegar, sesame oil, orange juice, green onion bulbs, carrots, and lemongrass. Place short ribs in Dutch oven so they’re standing vertically (or not). Cover with lid and cook for 2 1/2 hours or until meat falls easily off bone.

Use tongs to remove ribs and vegetables from Dutch oven. In same Dutch oven over medium-high heat, reduce remaining liquid by a third, about 6-8 minutes, and stir in hoisin sauce.

Place braised ribs on bed of jasmine rice. Add vegetables around rice. Spoon reduced sauce over ribs and garnish with chopped green onions.

Adapted from “A Woman’s Place” by Deepi Ahluwalia and Stef Ferrari

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And: Ming Tsai’s Savory Braised Oxtail with Preserved Lemon Polenta

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