A nice heartwarming bowl of noodle soup made of red braised beef, beef broth, green Bok choy vegetables and yummy homemade Chinese noodles is just the perfect comfort food for the cold Melbourne weather. This dish obviously originates from Taiwan, and is definitely one of our favorite types of beef noodle soup. The broth is rich of umami and the braised beef is super tender. If served in Taiwan, it is usually accompanied with several other cold side dishes like braised dried tofu or seaweed. It is often topped with pickled mustard greens as well, called ‘Suan Cai‘ in Mandarin, and goes perfectly with the mildly spicy noodle soup. You may ferment these mustard greens (AKA ‘gai choy‘ in Cantonese or ‘jie cai‘ in Mandarin) yourself for a few days or simple get the pre-made store bought ones.
The best Taiwanese beef noodle soup we’ve come across so far is all the way in Taiwan, in a little restaurant called ‘Lao Zhang Niu Rou Mian’. They have different options for broth types to choose from and a big variety of side dishes. Our favourite broth type is the mildly spicy tomato broth. Tomato and beef is an incredible combination, regardless of the type of cuisine! Which is why in our recipe, we’ve added more tomatoes and even tomato paste. The cuts of beef commonly used for this dish is beef shank or brisket or both. Beef shanks can either be cooked as chunks or as a whole which gets cut into thinner slices later on after braising. We like ours in chunks and in this recipe, we will be using beef brisket only. Feel free to use other kinds of stew beef cuts! One of the challenges for this recipe was figuring out the spices as there are too many combinations out there. In the end, we came up with our own spice bag recipe which we believe gives us the flavours that are closest to what we can remember from our experience at our favourite restaurant.
To begin, prepare the spice bag first! Especially if you are not purchasing the dried orange peel. To make it yourself, simple slice off just under the surface a large orange (we use Navel oranges). Make sure to remove any white pith. Cut them in strips so they can dry up faster. Place in the oven for 30 minutes at 100°C, and let it cool before placing in the spice bag. Feel free to make more to store, as they can be stored up to 3 months in the refrigerator. Whilst orange peel is in the oven, prepare and wash other ingredients. When preparing beef chunks, remember to save some of the fats for rendering. Carrots, apples, tomatoes and Daikon can all be cut into chunks.
Remove scum from beef bones by boiling them for about 3 minutes. Drain the water and wash the pieces well and put aside. Next, in a large pot, render the fats till you get about 2 tablespoons of liquid fat. Remove the fat pieces and throw in the garlic, ginger, onions and spring onions to be sauteed in the rendered fat. When it gets fragrant and the onions are slightly caramelised, add in the tomatoes, carrots, apples and beef chunks. Toss and stir fry for about 30 seconds, and add in the dried chilli, spicy bean sauce, soy bean sauce and tomato paste. Briefly toss around to evenly coat beef chunks, then add in the spice bag, beef bones and rock sugar. Next, you pour in light soy sauce, Chinese Shaoxing wine and boiling water until if fully covers all the solid contents. For our pot, we used about 3 litres of water, without having to add much or any water later on as it simmers over 3 hours. We also half cover the pot with a lid.
After the first 2 hours, you add in the Daikon chunks and let the broth continue simmering for another hour. During this last hour, start preparing the noodles if you choose to home-make them, as the dough needs to rest for at least 30 minutes. You may use store-bought noodles as well, but home-made noodles definitely taste better. To prepare the noodles, mix the bread flour, salt and water. Make sure water is poured in very gradually, and whilst pouring, stir the mixture with a wooden chopsticks until shaggy dough forms. Start kneading, either by hands for 15 minutes or with a mixer and a dough hook for 10 minutes long. Once done, roll it into a ball, cover it, and let it rest for 30 minutes. When ready, halve the dough and roll them out separately into 2 mm thickness, dust with flour, fold them into layers and cut to your desired width. Traditional Taiwanese noodles are moderately thin, but we like thick homemade noodles so we cut them into about 1cm sizes. To cook them, it should only take about 3-4 minutes. If frozen or stored, it may take a couple more minutes, and if store bought pre-made ones, follow the instructions.
As for the mustard greens and bok choy, they should only take about 5-10 minutes to prepare, so you may prepare them nearing to serving time only to avoid them getting cold.
Once the broth is done, sift it and discard the unwanted contents. Save and put aside the beef chunks Daikon and carrot chunks. Reheat the broth on low fire, taste and season to your liking. We actually have not once had to add any additional salt or other seasoning for this recipe, which is definitely a bonus!
Time to prepare your bowl! Place the cooked noodles in a serving bowl, followed by some pieces of beef chunks, carrots and Daikon. Place a couple or more strands of Bok choy, and pour in the hot broth. Add a couple or more tablespoons of mustard greens and sprinkle some coriander over, or if you want to be like us, we add a crazy amount. Take your chopsticks and spoon out and DIG IN!