Chinese Braised Beef Soup
By Kathy Wang
This is what the process of making hong shao niu rou tang, or chinese braised beef soup, means to me.
Hong shao niu rou tang, or Chinese braised beef soup, takes around two and a half hours to simmer. The cooking process isn’t complicated at all, but it definitely requires a careful eye.
The first and most important step calls for the addition of twelve herbs. I wrinkle my nose as I place star anise into the tea filter bags (its smell always taking an extra long while for me to get used to). It takes a hungry stomach and quick feet to gather all twelve herbs. Shopping for aromatics always required a determined person. Fortunately, I am one.
The next step is to blanch the beef in water with ginger and a bulb of garlic to get rid of its impurities, then to strain it and place in the large pot where I also throw in daikon, scallion, more ginger slices, rock sugar, and oil. I remember always messing up at this step, resulting in a burnt carrot with a raw interior, but the right bowl never comes without mistakes. To complete a bowl of hong shao niu rou tang, you must not be scared of failure. I embrace it.
With gusto, I heave a smaller pot of water into the larger one, grinning at the low sizzle of water hitting the hot pot. This is where everything comes together. I stand in the kitchen for hours listening to the fire crackle under the pot, enjoying the harmony of the flavors blending and meshing together. Hong shao niu rou tang is a bowl of perseverance, balance, and love. I embody it.
Even when I change up the ratio of the ingredients, I always make too much, so I feel obliged to bring it to school the next day to enjoy with others. It’s possible for hong shao niu rou tang to taste even better when sharing it—the sweetness of friends lingers on your tongue.
My many trials and errors with hong shao niu rou tang taught me one thing: that the secret to love is through your stomach. When the world is tastier, it’s also brighter, kinder, and bolder. I will approach this world with clear eyes, a full heart and ravenous hunger, yearning for even more lessons than the ones hong shao niu rou tang has taught me.
When applying to colleges, I was so stressed about proving to admissions officers that I was “unique,” and it took a very special mentor (shoutout to Nicole!) to remind me that I will always be unique in my own way. I wrote this piece because cooking makes me myself; it’s what makes me unique. And cooking hong shao niu rou tang, a recipe passed down my family through generations, makes this process so much more unique and personal to me. I wanted to share that with everyone.
Kathy Wang is a passionate and loving idealist. She romanticizes staying home to write during snowy weather. She loves hot chocolate, strawberry croissants and a good historical romance.