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Salt Beef Watercress Soup

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Beef brisket, watercress, salt, and patience are the only things you'll need to make this classic local dish. Comforting and so onolicious! Eat with rice.

Salt Beef Watercress in a bowl, ready to eat
Salt Beef Watercress, ready to eat

Have you heard about Salt Beef Watercress Soup? It's a very local Hawaii dish and one of my favorite ways to cook beef brisket. This dish also goes by a few other names:

  • Salt Beef Watercress
  • Salt Meat Watercress
  • Hawaiian Watercress Soup

Depending who you talk with, Salt Beef Watercress is either a full on soup dish or side dish of beef and watercress that happens to have some broth

I like Salt Beef Watercress as a full on soup dish.

We serve it in a bowl, always with a side of hot rice. To eat, we alternate spoonfuls of soup and rice. Or sometimes we pour the entire bowl of soup over the rice and eat. The *best* way is the way you enjoy it ^_^

The only rule when it comes to eating Salt Beef Watercress?

Got to eat it with rice! From Spam to Garlic Shrimp, we eat everything with rice in Hawaii and this is no exception.

Salt Beef Watercress in a bowl from Feast Manoa
Salt Beef Watercress from Feast (in the Manoa neighborhood of Oahu)

Where To Eat

I recall seeing Salt Beef Watercress on many restaurant menus growing up. We don't find it as often these days, though I have a hopeful feeling this dish will have a popularity resurgence soon. If you spot Salt Beef Watercress on a menu, definitely order it ^_^

This dish is easy to prepare at home, so that's what I usually do. Though if you are in Honolulu try the versions offered at:

  • Feast in Manoa. Manoa is a great eating neighborhood, so be sure to check out all the good eats in the area while you're there. At Feast, they serve Salt Beef Watercress in a soup container with a side of rice, which is exactly how I like this dish.
  • Oahu Grill in Kaimuki which is my other favorite eating neighborhood on Oahu (please be sure to visit Kaimuki when in Hawaii!) At Oahu Grill, the dish is offered on the menu as Salt Meat Watercress.
Fresh watercress stems and leaves
Watercress stems and leaves

Ingredients

This dish is super simple, but you will need patience aka time (which is perhaps the rarest ingredient of all hahaha).

The ingredients you'll need:

  • Beef Brisket
  • Watercress
  • Salt
  • Water

That's it! I assume you already have salt and water and home, so the only things you'll need to purchase is beef brisket and watercress.

Note from a local: The watercress found in Hawaii (stream watercress) is different from the watercress on the mainland (dry land watercress, pictured in this post).

Hawaii watercress has thicker stems, is more hearty and can be simmered much longer (imparting lots of flavor to the broth). Mainland watercress is more delicate. We used mainland-style watercress in this post because that is what most people will find outside of Hawaii.

Brined beef brisket for Salt Beef Watercress
Beef brisket, brined for a week and then simmered twice (just 1 pound pictured here)

How To Make It

There are several methods for making Salt Beef Watercress. I like the one featured in July 7, 2010 edition of the Star Advertiser. Betty Shimabukuro got the recipe from Chef Sam Choy and published in the newspaper. I have the hard copy cut out somewhere at my parent's house, but it's pretty convenient how we can just pull everything online these days.

There are three main steps to the recipe...

Salt The Beef

Start with a hunk of beef brisket. Make a salt water solution (just a fancier way of saying salt dissolved in water), and soak the beef brisket in that salt water solution for one week.

We usually start with a two-pound piece of beef brisket. Put the brisket in a large container. Make the salted water by dissolving salt in water over the stove. Let the salted water cool to room temperature (this step is important otherwise you'll end up partially cooking the beef).

Then pour the salted water over the beef brisket. Cover the container. Let it sit in the fridge for one week.

You're basically brining the beef brisket for a week.

Simmering Step

After you've brined it for a week, we can get cooking!

First thing to do is rinse the brisket. Then place the brisket in a pot and add enough water to cover the brisket. Bring the pot of water to a boil. Then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the brisket from the pot. Pour out the water. Repeat this step once more with a fresh pot of water.

The purpose of doing this step twice is to remove excess salt from the brisket (otherwise the final dish will end up too salty).

Make The Soup

After you've done the simmering step twice, place the brisket on a cutting board and cut into small bite-size pieces.

Place the brisket in a fresh pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1-2 hours (until the brisket is as tender as you like...1 hour is usually enough for me).

Then add the watercress stems and cook for 15 minutes more. The watercress stems add a ton of flavor to the soup.

Right before serving, stir in the watercress leaves. Ladle into bowls. Serve with rice. Eat and enjoy!

Salt Beef Watercress in a bowl, ready to eat
Salt Beef Watercress, ready to eat

Key Tip

This recipe makes 4-6 servings (depends how hungry you are).

Before adding in the watercress stems and leaves, I portion out how much soup/brisket I plan to serve and add watercress stems and leaves to only that portion.

When I'm ready to prepare the next serving (usually for breakfast or lunch the next day), I then add the watercress stems and leaves to that batch.

Basically the tip is: only add watercress to the amount of soup you're planning to serve for that specific meal. Watercress is best fresh or just lightly cooked, so you don't want leftover watercress in soup.

Questions

How long does this dish keep?

The soup will keep for up to a week in the fridge. Just heat in the microwave or over the stove (stove is the preferred method).

What can I add to this dish?

Good question! I sometimes add cubed soft tofu to the soup. It gives it more heft and makes it feel like a complete meal. Sometimes I just double up on the watercress, just because it is soooo delicious.

Other similar dishes?

If you're into Salt Beef Watercress, also try our recipe for Chicken Long Rice, which is another one of those local comfort food type dishes. They're both simple dishes, but incredibly satisfying.

Salt Beef Watercress Recipe

See below and enjoy ^_^

Salt Beef Watercress in a bowl, ready to eat

Salt Beef Watercress

Yield: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 7 days
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 7 days 2 hours

Beef brisket, watercress, sea salt, and patience (one week to be exact!) is all you'll need to make this classic local dish. Comforting and onolicious. Eat with rice.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef brisket
  • 1 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
  • 2 bunches watercress

Instructions

  1. Make the salted water. Over medium heat, combine the sea salt with 8 cups of water. Stir to dissolve the salt. Once the salt has dissolved, remove from heat and let the salt water solution cool to room temperature.
  2. Place the beef brisket in a large container. Pour the cooled salt water over the brisket. There should be enough water to cover the brisket entire (add more water if not). Cover and place in the refrigerator. Let it sit in the refrigerator for one week.
  3. Remove brisket from the salt water solution. Rinse and place the brisket in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the brisket. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Discard the water and repeat Step 3 (boil and simmer the brisket for 15 minutes).
  5. Discard the water and place the brisket on a cutting board. Cut the brisket into bite-size pieces and place them back into the pot.
  6. Add 6 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 1-2 hour (until the brisket is as tender as you like).
  7. Add the watercress stems and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  8. Stir in the watercress leaves. Ladle the soup out into bowls and serve with a side of rice. Eat and enjoy ^_^

Notes

Source: Star Advertiser (July 7, 2010)

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Mahalo for Reading!

Mia

Monday 4th of January 2021

Hi I’m curious...week as in 7 days or 5 days? I’m assuming 7 and I wanted to confirm before I make this! This looks so good! Thanks!

Kathy

Monday 4th of January 2021

Aloha Mia! 7 days :) Enjoy! - Kathy

Alan

Tuesday 13th of October 2020

Yup, another good dish that brings back fond memories -- You are right, most Hawaiian food restaurants always used to offer this dish, but not anymore.....I wonder why? I actually prefer mine with salt pork instead of beef, since I like fatty things (I know, I know, it's bad for my health). And I noticed that I think you use "dry land" watercress instead of what I call "stream watercress". I used to pick lots of watercress for my Mom to make soups and salads in the old days when you could find stream watercress in lots of streams on Oahu and on Maui, where I frequented. I don't know if Sumida Farms is still operating, but they were the provider of stream watercress on Oahu. I prefer stream watercress since it is heartier with long stems, which I like.

Looking at your posting, it makes me think of another old time dish that I loved -- ong choi with pork and harm har. Ever make that? I used to love that dish. But you cannot find ong choi here in AZ since the AZ Dept of Health has banned its sale.

I read your postings all the time. I love your local foods and recipes!!

Kathy

Tuesday 13th of October 2020

Hi Alan! Good eye on the different types of watercress ^_^ I'll work on a post about the "dry land watercress" versus "stream watercress." That so neat how you could pick stream watercress...I wish we could still do that these days!

I have not heard of ong choi with pork and harm har, but that sounds super DELICIOUS. Do you have a recipe for that? I'll also try look through my local cookbook collection to see if I can find a recipe. It would be fun to remake it! Thanks so much for reading, I'm so happy you like the blog ^_^ - Kathy

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