Noodle soup is the purest form of cultural expression. Noodle soup is truth. Ok, am I exaggerating a little? Maybe. Noodle soup always tells a story. It is said that during the Tang Dynasty, Muslims brought beef noodle soup to western China. The Muslim populations influenced Chinese food heavily with beef dishes and unique spices. La mian (hand-pulled noodles) supposedly has Muslim origins as well. Over time, beef noodle soups gained popularity and became a staple in Lanzhou and other regions of China. Beef noodle was then brought to Taiwan during the early 1990’s after World War II. It is now considered the national dish of Taiwan.
Are you ready to make this delicious beef noodle soup? It’s a laborious process, but trust me– it’s well worth it. A pressure cooker will reduce the cook time by 1/3, but it’s totally doable without one.
Phase 1. Make the stock.*
- 2 beef shanks bones (2-3 pounds)
- 2 pounds chicken bones
- 1 pork hind trotter (1 pound) -OR- another beef shank bone
- Ginger, 6 slices
- Garlic, 1 head
- 8 scallions
- 2 medium onions, quartered
- 1 medium carrot, chunks
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- 4 quarts water
Over an open flame, char the ginger, scallions, and onion. You want a deep golden color, with some char marks. You can also use a blow torch. This step is optional.
In a large pot, boil the shank bones, chicken bones, and pork trotter (if using) on high heat for 5 minutes. This step is called parboiling, and helps get rid of the impurities, resulting in a cleaner stock. Remove the bones and dump out the water. You want to clean out the pot before using again.
In the cleaned pot, throw in the parboiled bones and the rest of ingredients plus 4 quarts (16 cups) of water. Simmer for 6 hours with the lid on**. You might have to occasionally add water to ensure we have about 4 quarts of water when finished. The meat should be falling apart as all the flavor gets extracted. All the soft cartilage should be completely dissolved by the end.
Strain all the remnants out of the stock. The stock should look glossy and thick. You might find some bone marrow stuck in the shank bones. Go ahead and dissolve it back into the broth! This will add more flavor.
At this point, you can either store this stock in the fridge to be used later or proceed to phase 2!
* Note: This step can easily be substituted with store-bough beef bone broth. This usually can be found in Korean markets or select Western markets.
** Note: If you are using the Instant pot, cook on HIGH pressure for 2 hours.
Phase 2. Braise the Meat
When braising, you must always braise cuts of meat in liquid with salinity higher than than what they would normally consume. Why is that? That’s because beef only has 60mg sodium per 100g. As we braise, liquid will escape the meat, eventually diluting the external solution. Salt penetrates the meat slowly as it braises, so we can’t guarantee the meat will reach the salinity of the external solution during the lifetime of the braise. To ensure a flavorful braised protein, we have to start off with a saltier-than-normal solution.
Here are the ingredients for the braise:
- 6 cups stock base
- 2-3 pounds boneless beef shanks (usually 2 shanks) -OR- boneless short ribs
- Ginger, 4 slices
- Garlic, 1 head
- 4 scallions
- 1-inch piece of rock sugar
- 6 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon (2-3 inches)
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorn
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn
- 1/2 tablespoon coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder -OR- 2 cloves
- 3 pieces sand ginger (optional)
- 2-inch piece licorice root (optional)
- 1-5 whole chili pods (optional, for spice)
- 1 cup Chinese soy sauce (more or less depending on brand)
- 1/2 cup Japanese sake
- 1/3 cup spicy broad-bean paste, pixian doubanjian (Sichuan style preferred)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp Chinese BBQ sauce, shachajian, optional
Preheat oven to 325 F. I use an oven to braise, since I think it produces the most consistent braise. If you don’t have an oven, please go ahead and simmer over the stove on a low heat.***
Optional: Toast the spices on medium heat, until their fragrance is released. Remove from heat immediately to avoid scorching.
Throw all ingredients including the 6 cups of our stock into a medium-sized pot, such as a Dutch oven. With the lid on, simmer inside the oven for 1.5-2 hours, or until the meat can be just pricked with a fork, but not falling apart. This time can differ depending on the cut of meat you choose and the temperature of your oven or fire.
If you are simmering over the stove, use a low heat with the lid covered or partially covered. Try not to let too much liquid escape as you simmer. You can always add more liquid if that happens– but try not to– since that will affect your timing.
Once our shanks or ribs are braised, separate the meat from the braising liquid. Cover and let rest in the fridge. This will make them easier to slice.
Next, strain the braising liquid and combine with the stock base. Give it a taste! If it’s too salty, dilute with some water. Conversely, if it is too bland, season with some salt. The soup should taste fully flavorful, as we should consider the noodles going into the soup with be rather bland.
Once the shanks are cooled to the touch, we can slice and arrange them on a platter to serve. I like to slice them very thin!
*** Note: If using Instant pot, cook on HIGH pressure for 45 minutes.
Phase 3. Some Assembly Required
Time for the fun part… Let’s assemble our noodle soup! You can prepare the stock a day in advance, and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it. I don’t know how to make noodles, so I opted for the easy way out: I bought the noodles at my local market. You can buy any type of wheat noodle, just be sure you do not buy ramen noodles. Cook the noodles per package instructions, blanch the vegetables, and transfer them to a bowl.
Arrange meat slices over the noodles, The meat does not need to be heated, as long as they are sliced thin.
Heat up 2 cups of soup broth (4 ladles) to boil. Pour the hot soup soup over the ingredients, which will warm the meat up.
I love to enjoy my soup with some pickled mustard greens. I think the acidity is necessary to balance the richness of the broth. That being said, pickled mustard greens are not always available in my household. That’s why I sometimes opt to add a dash of rice vinegar instead. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
- Fresh or dry wheat noodles, cooked per package directions
- Braised beef, thinly sliced
- Bok choy or Chinese broccoli, blanched
- Pickled mustard greens, optional
- Scallions, sliced thin, optional
Enjoy! Let me know in the comments if you make it!