Bits and Bits and Bits
"Are you sure you're not feeding me penis?" my friend asked with a frown on his face. "Because this looks just like the penis you made me eat last week."
"First of all," I replied defensively, "I'm offended by the very accusation that I would engage in such subterfuge. Second, I didn't make you eat it; you wanted to try it. And third, this is not penis. It's tendon."
Friends can be so ungrateful. You feed a guy some pizzle just once, and you can never live it down. EVER.
Last week's adventures in pizzle left me with a serious hankering for beef tendon. While beef penis, does, in fact, bear a resemblance to tendon when cooked, tendon has a few distinct advantages. First, tendon only takes four hours of cooking time to soften as opposed to ten. Second, while both parts are essentially types of tissue, the peripheral parts of the tendon carry bits of flesh and fat as well. Third, beef tendon possesses its own unique taste. (The bits of penis, as you'll recall, lacked any real flavor.) Beef tendon, on the other hand, is truly beefy on its own; enhanced with additional seasonings, the tendon has a meaty depth that belies the lack of muscle content.
Beef tendon is commonly served at Cantonese restaurants, where the cut is often stewed alongside daikon. Tendon is also a regular addition to bowls of the Vietnamese noodle soup, pho. My favorite tendon dish, however, is a classic Chinese cold appetizer: beef tendon, thinly sliced and dressed in a pungent mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil.
The cold salad approach, using soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil, is a common way to dress various cuts of Chinese-style offal. At mom-and-pop shops, you'll find pigs' ears and pork stomach dressed in this mixture, with liberal amounts of chopped cilantro and finely chopped green onions mixed in before serving. Tendon, however, is my favorite cut to use with the dressing—after a long cooking time, the tissue is particularly adept at absorbing the flavors of the vinegar and soy sauce.
Finally, instead of simmering, the tendon is gently steamed to achieve the right degree of tenderness. You can cut down on the cooking time by half with the use of a pressure cooker, but steaming is just as easily done as long as you monitor the water level in the pot. No Chinese offal meal is complete without this cold dish.
Beef Tendon Dressed in Soy Sauce, Vinegar, and Chili Oil
- Yield:8 people as an appetizer
- 1 pound beef tendons
- 1/4 cup soy sauce, for steaming
- 1/3 cup more soy sauce for dressing, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons hot chili oil, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons Chingkiang rice vinegar, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil, or to taste
- Finely chopped cilantro, for garnishing
- Finely sliced green onion, for garnishing
Rinse the beef tendons under cold running water; then place into a bowl in a steamer insert along with the 1/4 cup soy sauce. Add a half cup or water to partially cover the tendons. Bring the water to boil; then reduce to a steady simmer and cook for 4 hours. (If you have a pressure cooker, you can cut down on the steaming time by half for a total of two hours cooking time instead of four.) Add additional water as needed to ensure that the bottom of the pot does not dry out.
Remove the tendons from the pot and set aside the simmering liquid for another use. Let the tendons cool to room temperature; then refrigerate until the tendons are completely firm.
Thinly slice the tendons into 1/8-inch slices. (The cooked tendons may be kept in the refrigerator for a week or more, so you may slice as much or as little you need each time.)
Mix the tendons with the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and chili oil. Ideally, let the dish rest for at least 2 hours at room temperature to allow the slices of tendon to fully absorb the flavors of the dressing. After 2 hours, taste a slice of the tendon and add more seasoning, as needed. Toss with the chopped cilantro and green onion. Serve as a cold dish.