Beef noodle soup is an incredibly old dish. It is believed to have been invented during the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), when it was known as ‘Lanzhou beef noodle soup,’ named for Lanzhaou – the largest city in the Gansu Province of Northwest China.
A version made with braised (slow-cooked) beef became popular in Taiwan, and this later imprinted the dish with with the moniker ‘Taiwanese beef noodle soup.’ In the intervening 1,400 years, any hope of an original, ‘authentic’ recipe has been lost, but the principle of how to make it remains the same: the inedible bits of a cow are boiled up to extract the last ounce of flavour; this is spiced up a bit with local flavourings, and the hot soup is used to sequentially cook each ingredient depending on how delicate it is. Finally, contrary to the Taiwanese braising steak, barely seared, lean beef is cooked to just done in the steaming mixture.
Eat with chopsticks and a spoon, and serve some spiced soy and coriander on the side.
Chilli beef noodle soup
- 4 eggs
- 350g fillet steak or topside of beef (avoid cuts with too sinew or too much fat)
- 1 litre beef broth (see notes)
- 200g noodles (ramen or udon are cool, but really anything except spaghetti will get you there)
- 4 heads of pak choy, sliced
- 150g shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 thumb-sized piece of root ginger, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- Large pinch of MSG (optional if you are a pussy)
- 4 red birds eye chillis, sliced
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
- Soy sauce
Begin by boiling the eggs. Prick the bottom of the eggs with a pin. Lower into rolling, boiling water and cook for 8 mins. Immediately run the pan under cold water to cool the eggs and prevent a sulphur ring forming. Peel the eggs under a running cold tap and slice in two. Set aside.
Next, sear the beef. Rub the beef over with groundnut oil and season well. Bring a frying pan up to very hot and quickly sear the beef on all sides, but do not actually cook the centre. Rest the beef for a moment, and then slice it as thinly as you can. Set aside.
Bring the broth up to the boil and set to simmer. Add the ginger, garlic, MSG and a quarter of the sliced chilli. Use the broth to cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. One minute before the end of the noodle cooking time, add the mushrooms. 30 seconds later, add the pak choy.
Serve the noodles, broth and vegetables into bowls, and immediately add the beef to finish its cooking. Dress with sesame oil, coriander and remaining chilli as a garnish to taste. Arrange the eggs in the bowls. Pour some soy sauce into a bowl with more sliced chilli to dip the beef if liked.
Eat with chopsticks and a spoon.
To make the broth, put a kilo of beef bones in a stock pot with about 4 litres of water. Bring to the boil and simmer on very low with a loose lid for a day. Skim and strain. Freeze the excess broth for another day. This dish is, of course, highly adaptable. We have done it by swapping the beef out for cooked king prawns, also added at the last moment. Try varying the chilli if using different varieties. Thinly sliced carrot would go well, and waterchestnuts too.