Yak noodles, yak on a plate, yak all over the kitchen.
If you’re caught up on your 1990s drinking slang*, there’s no way to phrase this that doesn’t conjure up double meanings.
(*note that I left the US in the early 2000s, so for me just “1990s slang” just means slang. Also, anyone here heard of ska? A brand new sound that’s sweeping the nation, as far as I am aware!)
But we’re here to talk about yak, by which I mean the fuzzy bovine that lives up in the mountains of Tibet, Nepal, and other such oxygen-free places.
As I have discussed elsewhere, China has radically changed the way that it buys food. Massive new capacity in food shipping means that you can now get products delivered to your door quick and cheap. That has really changed how people think about exotic tastes like Mongolian cheese, or Yunnan rose cakes, or yak.
If you don’t know (and honestly why would you?) , yak tastes and cooks a lot like bison or grass-fed cattle. It has very little fat, a dense texture, and a strong meat taste.
So what can you do with it? I made this one yak brisket into four dishes, all of which began with stewing the meat until soft, which took about four hours, but could have been done much faster in a pressure cooker.
I cooked the meat using a typical Chinese method for beef: first dunk the meat for three or four minutes in boiling water to remove the blood (which comes up as foam), then rinse the meat in cold water before cooking. For both the first pass and the stewing liquid, add ginger, onions and white pepper, which serve to offset any gamey taste.
For the stewing broth, I also added salt and soy sauce, star anise, Chinese cardamom 草果, a few Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chilis, and a dried orange peel. The exact mix is very much for your own preference to decide.
After a few hours, the onions had disappeared, and the meat was soft, but still a much denser texture than a farmed beef brisket. The first dish was the meat on its own, cooled and sliced. Top with onions and serve with dark vinegar or pickled garlic.
My Tibetan friends informed me that I should have topped this with the oil from the pot, and boy were they right. The oil adds a sumptuous flavor that is missing in the very lean meat.
But that’s just the tip of the yakberg, folks.
Once you have cooked the yak, you can use it in a variety of dishes.
For example, here is some yak stewed with tomatoes and squash, served with polenta.
Here is yak noodle soup (汤面), with carrots and radish added to the cooking broth.
And finally, here is yak noodles in a sauce (拌面), with carrot strips and a sauce made from dried chilis and doubanjiang chili paste. For this one, I added cumin, which is always a nice flavor pairing with carrots.
I definitely look forward to cooking with yak again, but in the future would recommend buying a much smaller piece, since the meat is so dense, even a small amount is enough for any dish.