Oh beef noodle soup ... there should be some haiku about you somewhere. This is probably one of the things I miss and crave the most about Taiwan. In a good bowl of beef noodle soup the noodles are perfectly al dente (preferably fresh cut), the hot soup is full bodied, the tender beef is juicy, and it always comes with a healthy side of veggies and sour mustard greens. Oddly enough it is so extremely difficult, even in the land of Asian immigrants aka SoCal, to find a decent bowl that's not loaded with a ton of MSG. There are, of course, hundreds of variants of this dish - some with more influences from different parts of China, some with daikon and some with orange peels. This is my version that gives a broth that hits the flavor points similar to beef noodle soup found in Taiwan. Often recipes call for a TON of ingredients and also an extra pot of beef broth made from beef bones - that to me is too much work. At the end of the day as a home cook, I don't want to have 4 different pots out so hopefully you like my more simplified version.
serves 3-4 people
2.25 lbs of beef shank cut into generally the same size pieces so that they can cook more evenly ~ 1 inch slices
2-3 bundles of fresh noodles
2-3 Bok Choy ( blanched)
Sour Mustard Greens to taste ( topping - optional )
1 large onion roughly chopped
1 large tomato (or 2 roma tomato) roughly diced
1 medium carrot roughly chopped ( not too small because I usually pick them out later)
5-7 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of green onion cut into quarters
1 stalk of green onions chopped finely for garnish
4 slices of ginger
3/4 cup of rice wine (mijiu)
2 Star anise
6 cups of water
salt and black pepper to taste
1 Chinese Spice Packet ( I can always find it at any local Chinese grocery store in California but if you cannot I found an online store for you guys - or the ingredients are quite simple : cinnamon, fennel, ginger, cumin and cloves)
2 Tbsp of chili bean paste ( if you don't want to it to be spicy use regular bean paste 豆瓣酱 )
2 Tbsp of oyster sauce
2 Tbsp of soy sauce
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
1 Tbsp of rock sugar ( or you can use white granulated sugar)
This is definitely not something you can whip up in a jiffy - to get the beef to be truly tender and juicy you have to cook it slowly so that it won't seize up and get tough.
On medium-high heat, add a little oil and when it is hot add in the garlic, ginger and green onion. Quickly stir-fry until fragrant about a minute or two then add in the chopped onions and cook until translucent. Brown the beef with the onions and once it is about 90% browned add in the seasonings. Thoroughly coat the beef with the seasonings, stirring until the sugar has melted then add in the tomatoes and carrots. Continue until the tomatoes have almost cooked down ( about 8 minutes ) then add in the rice wine, star anise, spice packet and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to a simmer.
After an hour, add in the additional 2 cups of water, bring to a boil then down to a simmer and cover the lid. Let it cook for an additional 1.5 - 2 hours or until the beef is tender. Salt and pepper to taste ( I never add additional salt but I usually like to add about 1/4 tsp of black pepper).
Once the beef is tender, separate the solids from the broth. I just do this through a colander or sieve. I then pick out the meat and discard the rest of the solids but if you do like carrots you can keep those too. I like to do this so that it keeps the broth looking clean.
Cook the fresh noodles until just al dente. In a bowl place the noodle, beef, broth, bok choy, green onions, and sour mustard greens if you have it. This really makes it more authentic as far as Taiwanese beef noodles go. I will post how to prepare the sour mustard green in a separate post.