Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup)

niu rou mian with braised beef shanks and braised short ribs

What I'm about to admit might be a little unbelievable and slightly embarrasing...

I've had niu rou mian every day for the past week. There's something so wrong, yet so right about that. What's a girl to do with braised beef shanks and niu rou mian stock just sitting in her fridge? Eat it, of course. The most surprising part? I'm still not sick of it...I've just ate it all so there's no more left.

Each warm bowl of soup was just as comforting as the last, and comforting was what I needed during finals week. Niu rou mian is the new brain food. I like to think it helped me study.

I wouldn't say my version of the beef noodle soup is authentic, but then again, who is to say what is authentic? This is the version I grew up with, the kind my mom had on rotation. There are little tweaks here and there, but that is the beauty of this dish. The basic ingredients are all there, but it's up to your own tastes and preferences how much of each you add. Here's a little insight on how I do it...

The Liu Family Niu Rou Mian

3-4 lbs beef shanks (Preferably with the bone and marrow still attached to make for a richer stock, or separated by tendons. If it is separated by tendons, the meat will have to be sliced before serving)
1 can chicken broth
1 yellow onion
1 tomato
soy sauce (make sure it's good soy sauce, not some weird Trader Joe's version)
shaoxing wine (rice cooking wine)
rock sugar (the best is the "red" kind from Taiwan)
spices (I use a special packet of spices I bring back from Taiwan, but star anise would work fine)
dou ban jian (hot chili bean paste)
noodles (I actually use a dry flour kind from Nijiya Market)

1. Place the beef shanks in a pot of water and bring to a boil. This prevents the impurities in the beef from getting into your stock later. Remove the beef shanks and place in a clean pot.

2. Add one can of chicken broth (family secret!) and add enough additional water to cover the beef.

3. Cut both the tomato and onion in half before adding to the pot.

4. Add soy sauce, shaoxing wine, rock sugar, and spices in ratios that work for you. The best way to do this is to taste test. To get more flavor into the meat, don't be afraid to add a good amount of soy sauce. I like to thin this braising liquid with more chicken broth or water at the end to make the stock. If you want some spiciness in your stock, add some dou ban jian to taste. I grew up without it, but I think it adds a flavor that many associate with niu rou mian.

5. Bring to a boil and let simmer for at least 2 hour, or until tender. The meat will harden when cooled, so keep that in mind.

6. Before serving, cook noodles, reheat the stock, and slice the beef. Combine and garnish with cilantro and green onions.