TAIWANESE BEEF NOODLE SOUP
Niu Ro Mian
SERVES 6 TO 8
If there is a national dish for Taiwan, it is beef noodle soup, which is found everywhere from night markets to traditional dining halls. At beef noodle soup shops, the vendors tend to their enormous cauldrons with great affection, as if raising a child. These are master soups that are never emptied, but only added to—more bones, more onions—to build on yesterday’s flavors. I love the idea of a broth that intensifies over time, the way a wok benefits from being properly seasoned over time and through use.
This Taiwanese version of the classic Chinese beef noodle soup is “red-braised” (slow-cooked in soy sauce). The recipe is adapted from my grandmother’s favorite: the soup served at Taipei’s Yong Kang Jie Beef Noodles—a hole-in-the-wall joint that is now a “must” destination on every foodie’s list of where to eat in Taipei.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds beef shank, cut into 4 large pieces
1 pound beef tendons
6 large slices fresh ginger
9 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 small fresh red Thai chiles, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
4 medium Roma tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons chili bean paste (doubanjiang)
1 cup Shaoxing rice wine
4 star anise pods
1 tablespoon crushed Sichuanese peppercorns
1 cup soy sauce, plus more to taste
½ pound leafy greens, such as baby bok choy or spinach
Black vinegar, to taste
2 pounds Asian wheat noodles
Preserved mustard greens chopped, for serving
Fresh cilantro (leaves and stems), coarsely chopped, for serving
Scallions (light green and white parts), chopped, for serving
In a large pot, heat one tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the beef shank and tendons and cook until browned all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer the beef to a bowl and set aside.
In the same pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the ginger, garlic, onion, and chiles and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and tomatoes and continue to cook until the sugar has dissolved and the tomatoes have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chili bean paste and continue to cook for an additional minute. Return the browned meat and tendons to the pot. Add the Shaoxing wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the star anise, crushed peppercorns, soy sauce, and about 2 quarts of water. Bring the liquid to a boil; then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook, occasionally skimming any fat and debris off the surface, until the meat is meltingly tender, about 2 hours or longer for the tendons.
Transfer the beef shanks and tendons to a cutting board. Strain the soup through a colander into a clean pot, and discard the solids. When the beef and tendons have cooled, chop both into 1-inch slivers and add the meat to the strained broth. Bring the broth back to a slight boil, add the greens, and simmer just until tender. Season the soup with black vinegar and additional soy sauce to taste.
Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to the package directions, and drain them. Divide the noodles among large soup bowls, and pour the soup over them. Serve the mustard greens, cilantro, and scallions on the side, so each diner can pile them on in whatever order and amount they like.
Tip: My kids are fans of pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, so I’ll sometimes adapt this recipe by using broad rice noodles instead of the wheat noodles. Both beef-based soups are slow-simmered, are flavored with aromatics like star anise and peppercorns, and are hearty and belly-warming.