When I was in Taipei three years ago, I had the most memorable spicy red braised beef noodle soup at a hole in the wall place. The noodle shop had three round tables, with roughly12 chairs, and an old fashioned fan on the ceiling. I could hear the sound of the fan moving in a circular motion on and on as the smell of beef broth permeated the air.
Spicy red braised beef noodle soup was all they sold yet the entire shop was packed with customers with more lining up outside. I recall asking one of the waiting staff for a glass of water. She looked at me like I was an alien and replied, “They sell water at the 7/11 right across the street.” It was an odd experience, but I must admit that the red braised beef noodle soup was shockingly delicious. After coming back to New York City, I have never had anything as good as that bowl of red braised beef noodle soup.
So what exactly is red braised beef noodle soup? It’s a bowl of hot steaming noodle soup with sliced red braised beef shank. When soy sauce is added it’s called “red braised.” Chinese red braised beef noodle soup is also a celebratory dish for the Chinese New Year because the long noodles symbolize longevity. Since the Chinese New Year is coming up on February 19th, I’m on a quest to learn to cook the best red braised beef noodle soup myself.
I’m certain that Chef Zizhao Luo of Radiance Fine Asian Cuisine in Midtown East is just the right person to teach me this recipe. Chef Luo is Cantonese, in his late 40s, with an affectionate smile that always makes you feel at ease. In his 30 years as a chef, he has won countless awards and carries numerous burn marks on his arms.
According to Chef Luo, the Cantonese version of red braised beef noodle soup is the best. So that’s what he’s going to teach me. But what’s the difference? Many regions like Taiwan, Sichuan, and Canton, all have red braised beef noodle soup with subtle differences. Taiwanese and Sichuan’s red braised beef noodle soup can be spicy and sometimes they add tomatoes to their broth. However, the Cantonese version is never spicy and much lighter in taste.
I asked Chef Luo, “So what’s the secret to making delicious red braised beef noodle soup?” He relied calmly, “The quality of a chef’s work is a strong reflection of their state of mind. The calmer the mind, the tastier the dishes will be. The same with red braised beef noodle soup.”
He also thinks that every other step is important. One must use fresh ingredients, and boil the beef shank first to remove any gamey flavors. Stir-frying the ginger, garlic, and scallions first, before braising the beef, will add extra dimensions to the beef shank and gravy’s taste, and make the beef noodle soup unforgettable!
Many of the ingredients that we are using can only be found at Chinese supermarkets. These are common ingredients in Chinese cooking, so you can ask someone in the store for help if you can’t find them. This recipe is good for 2 people.
10 oz beef shank
8 oz of Chinese wheat noodles
4 Chinese bok choy
1 scallion, sliced
3 ginger, sliced
3 cilantros, chopped
2 dried red peppers
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of Chinese five-spice powder
3 tablespoons of brown cooking soy sauce
1 tablespoon of chu hou paste
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 piece of sugar cane
1 tablespoon of shaoxing wine
1 box of beef stock
A pinch of salt
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of white pepper
A dash of sesame oil
4 cups of water
1. Blanch the beef in boiling water for 5 minutes to remove extra fat and blood. Take the beef out and allow it to cool for about 5 minutes—it’s easier to cut when the beef is cool. Then cut the beef shank in half, and then slice it into 10 pieces.
2. Heat up a pot, add 2 tablespoons of oil, the ginger, scallions, and red peppers, and cook until their aroma comes out. Then add chu hou paste, brown cooking soy sauce, shaoxing wine, beef slices, and stir fry for about 20 seconds until everything is coated. Then add 4 cups of water, the dark soy sauce, sugar cane, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and Chinese five-spice powder. Cook for 60 minutes over a low heat.
3. After the braised beef shank is ready, in a separate pot, heat the beef stock, with a pinch of salt, sugar, and white pepper, until boiled.
4. In another pot, boil the noodles in hot water for 5 minutes. Test with chopsticks to see if they break. If they break they are ready. Transfer the noodles to a bowl. Then place the beef and some gravy on top of the noodles. Pour the soup into the bowl. Lastly, garnish with cilantro and scallions.
So what’s the conclusion? Between Taiwanese and the Cantonese red braised beef noodle soup, which one do I think is better? I think it’s debatable in both ways. The Taiwanese one that I had in Taipei, the soup was spicy, rich, and with a hint of sweetness. Chef Luo’s Cantonese version is light, satisfying, and with many dimensions of taste. They are both heavenly delicious. How about you? Which one do you think it’s better? Let me know! Happy cooking and eating!