A couple days ago I saw a recipe for Korean Short Ribs on the A Good Appetite blog. The author, Kat, wrote: "Isn't it amazing how a recipe gets around the internet? I found this recipe for Korean Short Ribs on Dinners for a Year & Beyond, she found it on A Year of Crockpotting, who had gotten it from City Mama. It's also interesting to watch how it changes. City Mama made it as a stew with beef chuck then on Crockpotting it became beef or pork ribs. The other thing I noticed is everyone uses a different amount of jalapenos. Maybe its just me, but I love seeing how a recipe like this develops from person to person."
Since mutating recipes is kind of my mission statement here, and because her pictures make the dish look fabulous, I had to make my own version. From the Subject line of this post you can see that my first change was to switch out the short ribs for veal ox tail. That's one more point on my Omnivore's Hundred as I haven't cooked with ox tail before. And this counts; nobody uses tails from actual oxen anymore. It's all cows. I only used veal because I figured the smaller rounds would fit better in my crock pot.
Something you don't see in the subject line is that I noticed the recipe is pretty close to a Chinese dish called red simmered pork, although that generally uses less sugar. I pushed the seasonings in that direction so the "Korean" above is probably inappropriate. But I left it there for continuity's sake.
One other point, I'm pretty sure the box my crock pot came in says it's a slow cooker, but it's only got one setting and that's pretty hot so I'm going to call that a crock. I suspect every such device, or at least every model, is different and you just need to get to know yours to figure out your cooking times. Exactly what cut of meat you use makes a difference too, of course. In this case, Kat's ribs were holding together at six hours. My ox tail pieces were falling apart after three and a half.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first step was to give the meat a good sear, two minutes per side: top, bottom, left and right.
Meanwhile, on the bottom of the crock I put:
1/4 large onion sliced very thin
5 serano peppers quartered (which is rather a lot)
2 inch knob of ginger, smashed
I covered that with:
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup light soy sauce
1 drizzle sesame oil
A quick stir to dissolve the sugar and in goes the ox tail.
After three hours I added a chopped fresh bamboo shoot that I had picked up at an Asian grocery that morning. I had remembered seeing chunks of bamboo shoot colored a deep red from soaking up a sauce like this so I figured they'd work well. Checking The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook confirms the idea. The author also suggests adding scallions, garlic, star anise, dried cabbage, salt fish, lily buds, cloud ears, carrots, turnips, celery, hard boiled eggs, squid, peastarch noodles, tofu, mushrooms, and/or abalone. That just counts as one of the thousand, by the way; good cookbook. Star anise and salt fish jump out at me as particularly good ideas. But that's next time.
This time, after a total of four hours, here's the result:
Sorry I can't get a better close-up. Go to Kat's page to see more detail.
As I mentioned above, the meat is falling off the bone tender and the fat is almost all melted away. I had hoped the marrow in the center of the bones would have melted too, I didn't think that happened, but after a night in the refrigerator the sauce solidified so a good bit of gelatin did seep out. While warm, the gelatin gives the sauce enough body to cling to the meat. I think there's a bit of a glaze there too; I might consider a quick turn under a broiler to bring that out if I thought the meat would survive the experience.
You can see from the ingredients that the flavor is nothing exotic, just salty, sweet, meaty and hot, but there's nothing wrong with that. Even after four hours of simmering the flavors haven't completely melded; the meat is seasoned by the sauce, not overwhelmed by it, and the bits of pepper floating around still have a bit of bite to them. It's familiar and homey in that crock-pot sort of way and plenty tasty. I do have the urge to complicate matters, but that's just me not the dish calling out for it. Some things are best simple and this may well be one of them.