Why It Works
- Don't have Sichuan peppercorns? Regular black peppercorns can be used to add flavor to the broth instead.
- Slowly simmering a large amount of collagen-rich beef chuck and adding a smashed tomato creates a thick and full-bodied broth.
- The soup's spiciness can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the amount of chili bean sauce and fresh chiles in the soup.
Deeply savory, suggestively spicy, Taiwanese beef noodle soup is true winter comfort food. It's a quintessential hallmark of the island's cuisine, an immense source of pride. Yet it's easy enough to make in any kitchen, even with limited ingredients.
Though this particular brand of beef noodle soup is a claim to fame in Taiwan, it does have a conspicuous Sichuan influence. The reason takes us back to the late 1940s, when China was in civil war. Roughly two million mainland Chinese moved to Taiwan during this time (including my grandparents), as the Republic of China retreated from Mao Zedong's People's Republic of China; the ROC's last military stronghold on the mainland had been in Sichuan province. Initially, members of the military and their dependents were housed communally in Taiwan, in hastily made structures. It is within these military "villages" that many cross-provincial dishes are believed to have been inspired, including this beef noodle soup.
As evidence, the soup incorporates chili bean sauce and Sichuan peppercorns, but is nowhere to be found in Sichuan province proper. Nope, it's a distinctly Taiwanese specialty, and nowadays, tourists from around China consider the dish a must-try when visiting the island.
Don't fret if you don't have Sichuan peppercorns when making this. It's more important that the soup has a cloudy, protein-rich thickness, achieved by using a substantial amount of beef and a smashed tomato for extra body. Some recipes even call for black tea steeped into the soup (a local Taiwanese-grown specialty), and most include star anise for that signature red-braised flavor. A dollop of chili bean sauce and a stray fresh chile or two will give the soup an enticing spiciness that creeps up on you the longer you slurp, while a handful of whole black peppercorns can enhance the flavor instead of Sichuan peppercorns. Slight variations are endless, and to be expected when making a long-simmering stew of such humble origin. A common way to make your cooking more efficient? Throw some hard-boiled (and peeled) eggs into the soup at the beginning of simmering. Use these tan-colored "stew eggs" as snacks or side dishes, with or without the soup itself.
This article has been updated to remove language about the political status of Taiwan as a nation.
3 tablespoons vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank or chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 large slices fresh ginger root
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2-3 small red chiles, such as Thai chiles, roughly chopped
1 large plum tomato, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Sichuan chili bean sauce (doubanjiang)
1 cup Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 whole star anise cloves
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/2 cup light soy sauce
2 1/2 quarts water
2 pounds Asian wheat flour noodles (any width you like)
Fresh spinach leaves, baby bok choy, broccolini, or other small greens, as desired
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add beef and cook without moving until well browned on first side, about 4 minutes. Stir and cook until well browned all over, about 10 minutes total. Transfer beef to a large bowl and repeat with 1 more tablespoon oil and remaining beef.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the same pan and heat until shimmering. Add sliced ginger, garlic cloves, and chiles. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chopped tomato and stir for another minute. Add sugar and stir until dissolved, about 30 seconds. Add chili bean sauce, and stir until the mixture just begins to bubble.
Return beef to the pot. Stir to warm up and coat the meat with the spices. Add rice wine and cook for 1 minute, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Add Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until beef is tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
Using tongs, carefully remove beef cubes from the stew and set aside in a bowl. Carefully strain the soup over a colander or mesh strainer to catch the ginger, peppercorns, and other stray solids. Retain any solids or small beef pieces from the strained mixture that you may want to keep, and return to the soup. Return the beef to the soup and add greens to wilt if desired.
Cook the noodles according to the directions on their package. Strain noodles, and divide into serving bowls. Ladle the warm soup and beef chunks into each bowl and serve immediately.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 18g||23%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||25%|
|Total Carbohydrate 72g||26%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||46%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|