We ate quite a bit of Taiwanese beef noodle soup, growing up in Vancouver. It was one of my father’s favourite noodle soups and he’d look for it when we went out to sup and it grew on us too. I’ve not actually been to Taiwan, of course, but Vancouver does have a good reputation for its Asian food and what I ate as a teenager was all delicious. Anyway, it’s a wonderfully soothing meal-in-a-bowl and while it’s possible to have it in London (I’ve had it at Formosa in Fulham and Mr Noodles recently had a version at Mama Lan in Brixton), it turns out it’s quite easy to make at home. (I’ve since learned that its Chinese name is niu rou mian and it is made all over China.)
The soup itself has a phenomenally simple recipe and it only gets involved once you’re putting together the bowls of noodle soup. The list of ingredients does seem long but if you normally cook Chinese food at home, you’ll have most of it in your cupboards. They’re pretty much just dumped into a large pot and left to simmer for about 4 hours – what results is a hearty, beefy soup that’s eminently slurpable and tender, melt-in-the mouth chunks of beef. All that’s required is a bit of greenery and a tangle of wheat noodles. If you’d like it spicier, add some chilli oil.
Feeling a little restless while the soup was on the simmer, I put my hand to making hand pulled noodles. The idea had been on my mind after I read a recent blog post on Pulled Noodles, Lady Style on Life on Nanchang Lu (I also found this very good explanation of the technique.) This method takes up less space and less mess than the regular hand pulled noodles (lamian or laghman in Uygher) you see made by men pulling the dough to an arm aching degree and dusting flour all over the place and I believe is made at home in Xinjiang by women. I can’t say I was incredibly proficient on my first go but as you can see, I did manage to produce enough to feed the two of us!
500g beef shin
2 tbsps sunflower oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed
4 slices ginger, bruised
4 spring onions, cut in half crosswise
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
2 star anise
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 dried red chilies
1 fresh red chili
2 tbsps Shaoxing rice wine
2 tbsps light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 heaped tbsps chili bean paste
2 tbsps sugar
7 cups water (2.25l)
wheat noodles for four
spinach or pak choy
chopped spring onions
This first step is optional but makes things a little easier at the end. Take a square of muslin/cheesecloth and bundle up the star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and fresh chili.
Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Brown the oxtail and beef shin on all sides before adding the garlic, ginger and spring onions. Stir and fry until fragrant. Add the five spice powder, the spice bundle, the chili bean paste, the Shaoxing rice wine, the light and dark soy sauces and the sugar and pour over the water. Bring it to a boil and then turn down the heat and leave to simmer, half covered, for 4 hours.
At the end of the simmering time, take the meat out and separate it from any bones and cut into large chunks. Set it aside. Strain the soup (I used a Chinese spider), skim any fat if there looks to be too much, and keep hot.
Boil water in another pot and boil your noodles until cooked. Drain and place in a bowl. Top with some beef. Bring the broth to a simmer and add the vegetables. When cooked, drain the vegetables and place on top of the noodles also. Pour some broth over the noodles and sprinkle it all with the chopped spring onions and coriander. Serve immediately.