Slow-cooked Wagyu Beef Stew

Shananigans was 3 months old on Friday 27th October. To celebrate we got a new logo, designed by our son Shane at Enter the Panda Ltd.

(update to blog design coming soon to tie in with the logo) and then we took ourselves off to Savour Kilkenny to take part in Foodcamp.
It was a day of firsts – my first presentation to an audience of the story of the blog and my attempts to create authentic Chinese cuisine using the best of Irish ingredients, my first time to have a dish I had cooked tasted by anyone other than my family and close friends and, surely, the first impromptu tasting of a Chinese wagyu stew on live radio in Ireland.

Anne Neary defends her theft of my stew to Sue Nunn!

The recipe that follows is for the dish which was tasted live on air on The Sue Nunn Show on KCLR by chef Anne Neary of Ryeland House Cookery. She “stole” a plateful when my back was turned during the interview – all part of the fun at Savour Kilkenny! I also served it at the Foodcamp long-table lunch and about 40 people must have tasted it in all.
Anne made all the appropriate noises (link to podcast to be introduced in evidence!) and I got similar positive feedback at the Foodcamp lunch even though I felt compelled to warn everyone that the dish was spicy and would normally be served with rice and a cooling cucumber side dish, or perhaps with root vegetables through it.
The recipe came about as a result of the on-going challenge from @Pat_Whelan of James Whelan Butchers to come up with Chinese recipes for the Irish wagyu beef from his Garrentemple herd. I have already made a Garrentemple Shabu Shabu hotpot and Wagyu Steak Naoki Style. Pat was keen to show me that wagyu is not just about expensive steaks – there are cheaper cuts to be worked with which could be overlooked. So he sent me a large piece of wagyu chuck beef to experiment with. What better way to spread the Twitter love than to share the results with  the enthusiastic food-lovers at Savour Kilkenny.
Long, slow cooking is not all that prevalent in Chinese cuisine but it does exist. The Hui, the ethnic Chinese Muslims who are scattered across China, have traditionally prepared big pots of slow-cooked stew and served it as a topping for noodles. Some of the dishes I saw prepared in restaurants by the Muslim Uighurs, when we visited Shan’s family in Xinjiang Province, were cooked in this way When I was thinking about what I might do with the beef, I was hankering for the flavours of Urumqi with their Turkic and Arabaic influences and the scent of the spices of the bazaars always present in the evening air.
I eventually found the basic recipe I was looking for in Fuchsia Dunlop‘s  seminal cookbook on Hunan cuisine, the province Chairman Mao Zedong came from in Southern Central China. Her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook tackles the cuisine of a region whose people love their food hot and is packed with easy-to-follow recipes and insights into the region. I based my stew on her red-braised beef topping for Changde rice noodles, adapting it to suit wagyu beef and longer, slower cooking.
One thing I’ve noticed is that, for stews and the like, the Chinese always boil their meat in water for a few minutes first. This seems to be based on the belief that this will eliminate impurities and bad odours from the meat but it also has the effect of making it even more tender.
Shan came up with the Chinese name for this dish which translates literally as “Red Slow Cooked Beef. “Men” means “slow cooking, simmering to lock the flavour in”. I like the Chinese character to express this which is the second of the four characters below.
Shananigans Red-braised Wagyu Stew – hong men niu rou – 红焖牛肉

Wagyu stew ready for the slow cooker

(Serves 8 to 12 people)

  • 2 kg wagyu chuck steak
  • Wagyu beef dripping – about 8 tbs when melted
  • About 3/4 of a jar of Laoganma* chilli bean sauce
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • A chunk of unpeeled fresh ginger – about 4 cms – cut into thick slices
  • 3 large pieces of cassia bark
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise
  • 4 tbs Shaoxing wine
  • 4 tbs dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 10 – 12 cardamon pods
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • Coriander leaves to garnish


  • 2 – 3 carrots and
  • 2 – 3 parsnips or
  • 1 daikon radish/ Chinese turnip

To serve:

  • Boiled rice
  • Shan’s bashed cucumber – Pai Huang Gua – see recipe in earlier post

Preparation and cooking:

  • Cut the beef into large cubes – with wagyu there is virtually no trimming required and no waste.
  • Place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming off the mucky froth that rises to the surface. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and leave aside in a colander to cool and lose any excess liquid. Strain the remaining cooking liquid (through muslin if possible) into a jug or pot.
  • Heat the wagyu dripping in a large, deep saucepan over a medium heat – if there is too much just drain off the excess into a bowl. You can use it again.
  • Add the Laoganma chilli bean sauce to the dripping and stir, over medium heat, until the sauce and oil have combined. Add in the red onion, ginger, cassia bark, cinnamon, star anise and stir fry until you release the heady aromas of the spices and the onion begins to soften.
  • Then turn up the heat and gradually add in the beef, stirring constantly until all the beef is coated with the rich red sauce. Swirl in the soy sauce and the Shaoxing wine and stir to mix, then add sufficient of the reserved cooking liquid to barely cover the meat. Reserve any remaining liquid.
  • Add the bay leaves and the remaining ingredients – Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds, cloves and cardamon – tying them in muslin if you have a small piece or bag to hand, but don’t worry, you can strain them out later if you wish.
  • Bring to the boil, then transfer immediately to a slow cooker and cook on “low” for about 6 – 7 hours. Check the beef for tenderness after 6 hours, keeping the time you have the lid off the slow cooker to a minimum.
  • When the beef is cooked to melt in the mouth tenderness, allow to cool then refrigerate over night.
  • The next day, remove and discard any excess fat that has set on the surface – it will be a bright orange colour.
  • Remove the meat from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon and place, along with the larger spices and ginger slices, in a large cast-iron casserole dish or saucepan. Strain the remaining liquid, to remove any smaller seeds and bay leaves, and return it to the pan.
  • Check the seasoning while it is heating and balance if necessary with soy sauce and Shaoxing wine – I found the rich intense flavour from the long, slow cooking was just right. Reheat thoroughly over a moderate heat and serve garnished with fresh coriander.

*available in all Aisan supermarkets, the Laoganma sauce is made with black beans, chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. The literal translation of it’s name is “old dry mother sauce”. The photo below will help you recognise the label but be careful to get the one that does not contain MSG – the newest bottles have the ingredients listed in English on the rear. If you are unable to find the Laoganma label you could substitute Lee Kum Kee chill bean sauce made with broad beans which may be easier to find but it will not give the same richness of colour or flavour.
I love the deep red colour and the rich, spicy flavour and aromas of the beef. But you can lighten the overall effect of the dish, and add variety in colour and taste, by adding in chunks of briefly par-boiled carrots and parsnips or Chinese turnip, also known as daikon radish, for the last 20 – 30 minutes of re-heating, so long as the pot has reached simmering point. You may need to add additional reserved cooking liquid or water to ensure the meat and vegetables remain barely covered with liquid and to adjust the seasoning to re-balance the dish.
This is a special dish with an intensity of colour and flavour which mellows and deepens with the long slow cooking and the overnight rest. It tastes even better on the third day.
Finding the courage to take this dish out for public inspection, at my first ever public presentation of Shananigans, 3 months to the day after starting the blog, means it will always have a special place in my portfolio of recipes.
While the use of wagyu beef makes this an exceptional dish, the recipe would work equally well with good quality shin beef as the long slow cooking would melt down the fat. If using shin beef in the slow  cooker you may need to allow up to an hour longer to achieve a melt in the mouth texture.
Mashed potatoes can be used as an alternative to rice.
Cinnamon sticks can be used as a substitute for cassia bark.
If you don’t have a slow cooker, simply cook on the hob on a low simmer for about 3 hours. In this case you will need to cover the beef more generously with the cooking liquid and keep an eye on it to make sure the beef is covered with water at all times and doesn’t dry out.
Whichever method you use, I strongly recommend allowing it to rest overnight so that you can remove the fat and ensure there is no oily after-taste in the dish.
The quantity can be halved to serve 4 to 6 people but it may be more efficient to make the larger amount and freeze half if necessary.
Enjoy and if you try this dish or variation of it, please let me know how you get on.