I’ve been keeping a stash of frozen chunks of leftover beef for a couple of months, thinking that I’d use it for a Sichuan-style spicy beef noodle soup. A brow-wiper for cooler months. While driving home from Los Angeles last week, my husband said, “I’d love some Chinese beef noodle soup.” We obviously had a food mind meld. It was exactly cold in Santa Cruz but what the heck. I had the meat. After we settled back into our house, I retrieved the beef – chuck and cross-rib roasts saved from the pho workshops that I taught earlier this year. The pieces were oddball shapes and sizes but who cared? They’d be cut into small chunks anyway.
They thawed overnight in the fridge and I made this Sichuan-style noodle soup the next morning for lunch. It’s a variation on recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. What I like is the combination of beef with tofu and Sichuan chile bean sauce (dou ban jiang). Similar ingredients are used for solid renditions of mapo tofu but here, the beef is cooked with dried sticks of tofu skin, which resemble nunchucks.
They have great matching texture. Fuchsia says that the original red-cooked dish from Chengdu (capital of Sichuan province) employed dried bamboo but the tofu skin works well too. I definitely agree because tofu skin’s chewy texture and ability to soak up flavors is perfect for the gutsy nature of the broth and beef.
The other cool thing is the use of hoisin sauce to slightly soften the flavors. I liked that hint of sweet earthy depth. I didn’t have ginger on hand so I subbed galangal in the freezer and it worked marvelously well. We also didn’t have Chinese celery and thus plucked rau ram leaves in the garden instead. Use an herb with gusto to pair with the bold flavors of this noodle soup. It keeps well in the fridge for days. With the cool temps of autumn, a warming bowl of soup like this one hits the spot.
For a gluten-free version, omit the hoisin sauce and add a teaspoon of brown sugar, use wheat-free soy sauce, and employ a rice noodle or maybe a soba (buckwheat) noodle.
Spicy Beef and Tofu Skin Noodle Soup
Yields: 4 to 6 servings
- 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) boneless beef chuck, cross-rib roast, or shank
- 3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) chile bean sauce (dou ban jiang)
- 1-inch fat piece ginger or galangal, unpeeled and lightly crushed
- 2 or 3 large green onions, white parts only, lightly crushed
- 1 1/2 star anise (12 robust points)
- 2 generous teaspoons hoisin sauce
- 2 cans (14 oz / 400 g each) low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 sticks of dried tofu skin sticks
- 10 to 12 ounces (300 to 360 g) dried Chinese noodles or 12 to 14 ounces fresh Chinese noodles
- Regular soy sauce
- 1 bunch broccolini, broccoli rabe, gailan, or regular broccoli, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
- About 1/4 cup chile oil, homemade or storebought
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 green onions, cut into thin rings, green part only
- 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, rau ram or other assertive herb
- Fill a 3 to 4-quart (3 to 4 L) pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the beef into chunks the size of a small walnut. Add the beef, return to a frothy boil. Remove from the heat and drain in a colander. Rinse to remove scum. Transfer to a bowl and combine with the rice wine. Set aside.
- Reuse the pot. Heat it over medium heat. Swirl in the oil, add on the bean sauce and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the ginger, green onion, and star anise. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds until aromatic. Add the hoisin, stir to combine. Add the broth and 2 cans’ worth of water. Add the beef and any liquid in the bowl. Bring a boil, lower the heat to simmer, partially covered for 1 1/4 hours to 2 hours (longer time is for shank), until the beef is just tender.
- While the beef simmers, break the tofu sticks into toothpick lengths. Discard the super hard parts. Put in a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak while the beef cooks. When it’s tender enough, drain the tofu. Cut it into shorter lengths, if you want. Regardless, add to the pot and heat through.
- Boil the broccoli in a pot of water. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the pot and divide among the individual serving bowls.
- Reuse the water to boil the noodles (follow the package timing). As that happens, taste the soup. Adjust the flavor with splashes of soy sauce, if needed. Or, thin it with some water or noodle cooking water. Drain the cooked noodles, rinse well.
- To each bowl containing the greens, add a spoonful of chile oil. Top with some noodles.
- Return the beef to a bowl. Ladle into the bowls, garnish with pepper, green onion and herb. Serve.
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop.