Thursday, February 25, 2010

Separation Anxiety from my favorite childhood food - Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

When I decided to move to NYC, I had no doubt in my mind that I was making the right decision. It was something I had wanted all my life and even though I had no job, I felt like I was really living the life. I never had ANY anxiety about moving there with the exception of one small thing - what about the foods I like to eat? I have to leave them? The thought of leaving behind all the flavors and tastes I had become accustomed to was similar to breaking up with someone. It was absolutely heartbreaking and I think I had to enter a 12 step program although I'm not entirely sure since I blocked out that entire time period.

If you ever had any doubt that I am addicted to food and an incredible fat ass, I hope I've been able to put your mind at ease.

I have been going to a small restaurant in San Jose, CA called "Li Hwa" since I was maybe 5 years old. It's a complete hole in the wall, next to a Radio Shack and a Hush Puppies store in a vast Target parking lot. The owners were fresh of the boat (probably less fresh now since its been like 20 years) and everything about the restaurant seemed authentic and it was nice to see these new immigrants be able to cook food they were familiar with and be able to build a better life because of it.

I am a creature of habit and enjoy eating the same foods over and over and over again. You could say that their Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup was my equivalent of comfort food. While some like Fried Chicken or Meat Loaf, I like to slurp up a big, hearty bowl of this beefy broth.

While this dish can be served in many different ways, ranging from oily to spicy to mild, I like mine hearty, rich, and a tad bit spicy. The soup is not an appetizer, but a filling main course, with tender pieces of beef floating in it. It's typically served with pickled greens, but for this particular recipe, I chose to just take on the challenge of the soup for now.

I found the recipe on Eat Drink and Be Merry and almost rejoiced. The hardest thing about finding Chinese recipes is trying to figure out what the "Americanized" name for it might be. I spent a lot of time with Google before I figured it out. Turns out, typing in the phonetic name, or Niu Ro Mian", helped tremendously. I made some minor modifications - for example, it's usually served with thick wheat Chinese noodles, but I've also liked it with bean thread noodles (or mung bean noodles) - I think it gives it a little more "oomph" and fills you up more than other noodles.

Try this recipe on a winter's day... like now? In the Snurricane?

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (Niu Ro Mian)

??? water
2 lbs. of beef shank, cubed
2 cloves of garlic
5 slices of ginger
2 green onions (smashed the white part with my knife)
Shaoxing rice wine
soy sauce (used for flavoring)
dark soy sauce (used for coloring)
star anise
five spice powder (wu xiang fen)
salt & white pepper

To Serve:
Bean Thread Noodles (Mung Bean), soaked and ready to cook
Chopped scallions to garnish

1) Add Salt and White Pepper to cubed shank meat. Mix in a little Shaoxing rice wine, dark soy sauce, sugar, and a little bit of oil (olive oil is fine). Let it marinate in the fridge for 15 minutes.
2) Heat up a medium pot until its smoking hot. Add oil, garlic, ginger slivers, and green onions - cook until slightly browned (about 1 minute).
3) Add in marinated beef and cook until dark brown.
4) Fill up the pot with water (about 1-2 inches from the brim) and boil on high heat. Reduce to medium once it comes to a full boil. You will see impurities float to the top - skim off as needed to remove.
5) Add soy sauce, star anise, and five spice powder to taste.
6) Let simmer for at least 3-4 hours. If you have a cast iron pot (like a Le Creuset), you can usually put the soup on very low heat overnight, about 6-8 hours. Feel free to add water as needed, depending on how you like your soup (thicker, more watery, etc)

This is a hard recipe to give exact measurements for because it's really served to your liking - I've had the same dish a million different ways, but I still keep going back to Li Hwa for my favorite.

I feel like I can rest easy now that I have a lot of my favorite "home" recipes figured out. If anyone can give me the recipe for Panda Express' Orange Chicken, I will be your best friend forever.

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