Next month, the long-awaited Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by firecracker chef Danny Bowien will drop on the hungry masses and even if you've never been to one of Bowien's restaurants in San Francisco or New York City, buying the book might change the way you think about American cooking forever. Chiefly, as Anthony Bourdain argued in his convincing foreword, "Nothing else matters. Only deliciousness." Which is to say, stop chasing authenticity and exactitude and instead look for what pleases you (and your palate) most. That's the chief reason Bowien's cooking catapulted him out of a two-day per week pop-up inside a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District and into the go-go dining scene of New York City and beyond.
Here's a recipe sneak peek. If you've ever ordered Chinese delivery you may have tasted some version of beef with broccoli. But of course Bowien's is anything but basic: Smoked oyster sauce fills in for standard; tender beef cheeks replace whatever sinewy cut Panda Express likes to use; and gai lan (Chinese broccoli) ups the flavor from average to intrigue. This is going to take more time to prepare than it would take for your local Chinese restaurant to deliver, but the results are worth it. Consider it a weekend project, and when you take the leftovers to work on Monday you'll have zero regrets.
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook will be published by Anthony Bourdain Books/Ecco on November 10.
Serves 4 (or 6 as part of a larger meal)
Pork belly, beef cheeks, lamb breast, chicken feet: These are the cheap but delicious secret weapons of cooks everywhere. At the outset of Mission Chinese Food, we paid very little attention to food costs. I don't mean we were smearing thick layers of osetra caviar on everything, but we figured that so long as we were serving cheap cuts of meat, we could give you an unholy amount of food for your money. One of our first dishes was a sizzling platter of chow fun topped with an entire braised beef cheek. We're talking about a huge mess of noodles and a piece of meat the size of your dad's angry fist, for nine dollars. It was unbelievable. Chris would come in all the time, wolf down a plate of it, and be on his way.
Sadly, beef cheeks eventually went the way of flank steak— they were discovered by the hungry masses and started becoming more expensive. After a while, we couldn't afford for people to come in, order one item, and call it a day. We needed a dish that was better designed for sharing.
As was so often the case, inspiration came from watching the Chinese staff at Lung Shan. To their customers, they would serve your typical broccoli beef—flank steak stir-fried with American broccoli. But they didn't eat that. Instead, at lunch they would sit down to a piece of beef braised with oyster sauce or salted fish and a heaping side of stewed gai lan, Chinese broccoli. Our broccoli beef is modeled after their lunch: braised beef with a slightly funky oyster sauce, plus simply cooked vegetables. In a way, it's the closest thing to a truly Chinese dish we serve.
Also, if you're learned in the art of the pressure cooker, you can make this recipe in a third of the time.
Note: This recipe calls for smoked oyster sauce; you have four options here. (1) Mix some stored-up smoker drippings into bottled oyster sauce to taste. (2) Smoke oyster sauce from scratch as follows: Mix together 1 cup oyster sauce and ⅓ cup Rich Chicken Stock (page 301) in an ovenproof vessel, drizzle a thin layer of vegetable oil on top, and place it on the top shelf of your smoker. Smoke for at least 4 hours over your choice of wood. Stir well before serving. (3) Substitute Smoked Beef Brisket (page 36) for beef cheeks; stick to regular oyster sauce. (4) Use regular unsmoked oyster sauce and just think smoky thoughts.
2 or 3 beef cheeks (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup vegetable or peanut oil
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup red wine
8 cups beef stock or water
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 bay leaves
1 (4-inch) square dashi kombu, wiped with a damp cloth
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
12 ounces gai lan (Chinese broccoli), cut into 2-inch segments (4 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Mushroom Powder (page 299)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch slurry (see page 292)
2 tablespoons Smoked Oyster Sauce (see Note on page 100)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon olive oil
Steamed rice, for serving
1. Prepare the beef: Trim the beef cheeks of any glaring connective tissue (silver skin) and any big pockets of fat, but don't get too fastidious about the fat. Rub the cheeks with the salt and sugar; put them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and let them cure overnight in the fridge.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Heat a Dutch oven or small roasting pan over high heat until smoking hot, then add the oil. Sprinkle the cheeks with the pepper and sear them, turning occasionally, until deep brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the beef from the pot and set aside.
4. With the heat still on high, deglaze the pot with the red wine. Add the stock, soy sauce, fish sauce, bay leaves, and kombu and bring to a simmer.
5. Return the beef to the pot. Place a sheet of parchment paper against the surface of the braising liquid, then cover the pot with the lid or two layers of aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Braise for 2 hours, or until the cheeks are tender and jiggly. Uncover the pot and allow the cheeks to cool completely in the liquid.
6. Cover the pot and refrigerate. (The cheeks will be easier to portion once cold, so it's best to chill them for at least a few hours or, preferably, overnight.)
7. When you're ready to assemble the dish, portion the cold beef cheeks into large bite-size pieces. Reheat them in a small saucepan with a little bit of the braising liquid and keep warm. (You can reserve the rest of the liquid for a future braise.)
8. Prepare the broccoli: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Have an ice bath ready. Blanch the broccoli in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in the ice bath; drain.
9. Heat a wok over high heat. Once it's smoking hot, use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef cheeks to a warm serving platter. Add the oil to the wok and swirl to coat. Add the minced garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the blanched broccoli, salt, mushroom powder, soy sauce, and sesame oil and give everything a few tosses to coat the broccoli. Add the slurry and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Once the sauce thickens to a glaze consistency—this will take about 10 seconds—scoop the broccoli onto the waiting beef cheeks.
10. Spoon the smoked oyster sauce over the broccoli and garnish with the sesame seeds and a quick drizzle of olive oil. Serve with warm rice.