Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How To Impress Your Man - Taiwanese Oxtail Noodle Soup

One day in 2012, Wes handed me a key to his bachelor pad.  He didn't make a big fuss out of it, but there had to have been some intent behind the act of walking up to the key copier at the Chinese supermarket and surrendering his key at the counter, with thoughts of doom on repeat in his head.  Soon after that happened, I made a trip to the same Chinese supermarket myself, on a mission of my own.  I wanted to validate his action.  So, I pulled out my good-potential-wife secret weapon: niu rou mian (牛肉麵)Taiwanese braised beef noodle soup.  My mom has been making it for as long as I can remember, I swear that the aroma can make any bad day a good one.  Secretly, I gathered my ingredients and brought them all to Wes's kitchen while he was still at work.  I was afraid that the stew would not be flavorful enough compared to all the beef noodles he has eaten at those many Chinese restaurants in the SGV. Thankfully, all went well and Wes hasn't been opposed to eating it now and again.  And I guess he hasn't been opposed to marrying me - looks like my mother's recipe sealed the deal.

Update 11/16/2020: I called my mom and asked her for some details, as she has been making this a lot recently with the pandemic and all.  I refined the recipe that I had before based on her specifications when I made this again for dinner tonight!

These are some of the absolute essentials of Taiwanese cooking: sesame oil, rice cooking wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, scallions, tomato, onion, and star anise.  My mom always, always, always had these things on hand, as do I.

I also really like to add daikon radish root into my beef noodle soup.  The chunks are delicious to gnaw on and they give the soup a nice flavor.

I will put my best attempt out there to give a recipe, but honestly, I never measure the ingredients.  If my visual perceptual skills serve me well, then the proportions should not be wildly off.


2.5 - 3 pounds of beef*
4 medium size tomatoes (cut into wedges)
1 eight-inch-long daikon radish root (peeled and cut into 1" pieces)
1 large onion (sliced)
4 scallions (pounded and chopped into 2-inch lengths; save a little for garnish)
8 cloves of garlic (pounded)
2-inch piece of ginger (pounded)
5 or so pieces of star anise
4 dried chilies
1-2 tablespoons of Chinese bean paste (豆瓣酱 , or doubanjiang)**
3/4 cup of soy sauce (plus more for adjusting later)
1/3 cup of sesame oil
1/2 cup of rice cooking wine (i.e. Taiwanese michiu)
Salt (to taste)
Optional: rock sugar***
Bok choy
Chili oil (for serving)

*I use oxtail or any cut of beef with beef bones and sometimes will mix in some stew meat.
**You could also use the spicy Chinese bean paste and skip the dried chilies
***Sometimes people put a little bit of rock sugar to balance out the flavors, but to me and my mom it isn't necessary, so I'm honestly not sure how much to put!  


1.  First, boil out the impurities from the meat.  Place the meat into a pot and fill with water.  Let it come to a boil.  Skim the gunk that rises to the top, and let it come to a boil again for a minute, and skim.  Then, pour everything out and rinse off the beef in a round of clean water. 

2.  Add the beef, tomatoes, onions, daikon radish, garlic, ginger, scallions, and star anise into a stock pot.  Add boiled water into the pot, make sure that everything is well-submerged (double the amount of water as the level of the solids).  Let it come to a boil, and then lower to a simmer for an hour.  

3. In a small saucepan, sauté a spoonful of bean paste - watch out, it splatters!  Add the soy sauce. Let it come to a boil and pour this sauce into the stock pot.

4.  Add the rice cooking wine, sesame oil, and dried chili peppers into the stock pot.  Let it come back to a boil, then decrease the heat to low.  Simmer for 2 hours, or really as long as you want!  The meat becomes more and more tender the longer it simmers.  Wes likes a little bite to his meat, I like it fall-off-the-bone, so it's just up to you.

5.  Check on the stew and add extra seasoning (sesame oil, soy sauce, bean paste, salt) depending on how it looks or tastes.  Everybody likes it different, but you can't go wrong with adding more soy sauce if the flavor is not strong enough for you.  If it's too strong, add water, turn up the heat, and let it slowly reduce a bit with the cover off.  It's very instinctual, which is why I like it.

6.  Boil salted water in a separate pot and cook noodles as instructed on package, then strain.  I prefer this brand for the chewiest noodles. could make your own fresh noodles with just flour, water, salt, and a little arm strength.  We used this recipe recently and it turned out great, just dust with plenty of flour to prevent the noodles from sticking together while you're folding and cutting them.

7.  Blanch some bok choy (you can use the same water that you just cooked the noodles in).  

8.  Toss the cooked noodles in a little sesame oil and soy sauce if desired, then spoon some stew over the top, add a few pieces of bok choy, and sprinkle with chopped scallions.  You could also serve with chili oil on the side.

If it didn't take hours and hours to make, maybe I would do it more often.  We could try to make it more efficiently in the Instant Pot, but for some reason it just wouldn't be the same.  The process wouldn't be as fluid, with the constant tasting and readjusting, and the aroma would not be as pervasive.  Nostalgia and nurturing is a big part of what makes this bowl of noodles what it is.  Hopefully, I will be able to pass it on to the next generation, but for now it is encapsulated in this blog!

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