Saturday, March 6, 2010

Too Sunny for Saturday Lunch Beef Noodle Soup

I should have checked the weather forecast before deciding on beef noodle soup.  But I've been promising Maggie to make this for a few weeks now.  This was our specialty at my family's restaurant when I was growing up.  I remember two vats of beef and beef stock cooking every Saturday at our restaurant for the Sunday lunch service.  One was for the lighter stock made of beef bones and one was the thicker sauce of braised beef shank.  Since 1991, after living in Taiwan for a year, we have been frequenting the Szechuan Noodle Bowl in the international district.  It is a modest little restaurant delivering the closest to, in my opinion, real Taiwanese beef noodle soup, green onion pancakes, and kuo tien in this area.  If you are looking for service, niceties, and ambiance, this is not your spot.  But if you are searching for the best beef noodle soup and green onion pancakes in town, stop in, and you will not be disappointed.
When we were in Taiwan recently for a wedding, we requested of our friend Eddy, to bring us to his favorite beef noodle soup joint.  Eddy always has the best restaurants in town on his radar.  The place he took us to was just slightly larger than a street vendor's stand, but it blew us away.  The soup was rich and savory, and the noodles had the perfect balance of elasticity and chewiness.  You could tell they were freshly made.  Eddy, once again, delivered us to the best spot in town.  It wasn't until after we sat down and ordered, that Eddy told us he no longer ate beef.  Now that's a good friend.
For my beef noodle soup, I did as my mom did, two vats, one stock and one beef.  I started the stewing last night.  The two pots contain basically the same ingredients but the stock gets more water, while the stewed beef less water and more quantity of the same ingredients.
1 package of beef bones, about 2 lbs
2 large pieces of beef shank, about 3 lbs
5 - 1/2" thick pieces of ginger
5 garlic cloves
1/2 onion thinly sliced
4 green onions
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 star anise
1 tsp szechuan peppercorns


Take your beef bones and beef shank, cover in water and bring to a boil for several minutes.  This cooks off the outer impurities.  Remove bones and shank and discard water.  I should mention you can probably only find beef shank at an asian market.  More popular are veal shank or lamb shank in your neighborhood grocery store.  
In one large pot, I sauteed the ginger, garlic, onions in the oils until fragrant, then add in the star anise and peppercorns.  Transfer 1/3 of this mixture into another pot.  Place the bones in with the 1/3 mixture, a few tbsp of dark soy and cooking wine and cover with approximately 3 qts water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer.  Simmer for approximately 4 hours.
For the beef shank, slice the shank into 3/4" thick pieces.  Combine with remaining ingredients of first pot and add in a few tbsp of dark soy, cooking wine and sugar along with 5 or 6 cups of water .  Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer.  Depending on the shank, I've cooked it for as little as 1 hour or as much as 3 hours.  You have to check on it from time to time.  My disclaimer on the measurements is that I don't do any.  I just eyeball it, so these are approximates.  Taste along the way and it will be ok.
To serve, I purchased fresh white noodles - well, fresh in that they weren't dried, and were in the refrigerated section.  Boil for 2 minutes, toss in the baby bok choy pieces in the same water.  In the bowl goes the noodles, then the bok choy, some slices of beef then enough stock to cover the noodles with the addition of some of the sauce from the beef.  A chili oil and minced pickled mustard greens are offered as condiments.  The chili oil is a pick up from the restaurant in Taiwan.  They use the oil skimmed from the top of the stock and mixed with chili powder.  This gives you the spice without altering the taste of the soup.  Chris passes on the pickled mustard greens, but I love it.  Add a little vinegar to the soup if you like.  We do!  The girls love the braised baby bamboo shoots on the side.  
Bellies full, we are off to enjoy the sunshine!

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