The second I was asked to participate in this column, I immediately Googled the word "heirloom" and found "a valuable object (a.k.a. recipe)…that belonged to a family for several (more than two) generations."
Oh shoot...we might have a problem. I'm sort of grandma-less. Of course, this is the internet. Fabricating an imaginary grandma or grandpa who left a lifetime of dramatic stories along with a few conveniently timeless recipes, online, is as forgiving as eating peanut butter out of a jar when you're home alone. But let's be honest...
My grandma from my mother's side said farewell when my mom was in sixth grade, and my grandma from my father's side left for a better place well before I could even remember (I suppose we were quite insufferable). As I frantically turned to my grandpa for the sign of the ultimate heirloom recipe, I realized he's never cooked a day in his life. Quite typical.
So instead of a multi-generation heirloom recipe, may I present one still in the making? Fortunately (phew…) my mother happens to be a very celebrated cook in her own community. Although she may have walked into the kitchen out of necessity more than passion or curiosity, everything she pulls out of her kitchen is dearly loved by everyone.
If I must, however difficult it is, choose a dish out of everything she's every made for us, I'll take this -- Sichuan Peppercorn Red-Braised Oxtail -- for I will always remember my first encounter. I can't recall the slightest bit of any other part of that particular day, or even the actual memory of eating it. What I remember, almost 20 years later, is that particular afternoon when I walked into our house in Vancouver -- the immense aroma that was permeating my every step. Funny that every other detail has escaped my memory through time, except that moment of being submerged in the fragrance of something incredible brewing mysteriously in the corner kitchen. I will always remember thinking, "that smells amazing!"
Turned out it wasn't just me, because for every time I've made this dish for the past 10 years , that's the reaction I receive from whoever walks into my apartment: "oh man that smells GREAT!" And if I can, in the most unconventional sense, pass this recipe down to you, then I guess it makes this recipe...fantastically heirloom.
Sichuan Peppercorn Red-Braised Oxtail
1530 grams ox tails 4 tablespoons oil 50 grams (approx 10 large thin slices) of ginger, thinly sliced 12 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped 2 red chilis, optional 3 star anise 2 teaspoons red sichuan peppercorn, coarsely ground 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 1/3 cup rice wine or sake 1/2 cup soy sauce + 1/8 cup for adjusting 1 cup chicken broth, or water 1 teaspoon rice vinegar