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Winter and soup go together, and there's nothing quite like a bowl of hot Asian noodle soup. Pho gets all the attention these days, but Chinese cuisine also has a wide variety of tasty noodle soups that go beyond the standard restaurant offerings. (Ann Arbor locals: check out the noodle soup offerings at Great Lake Chinese Seafood for some tasty examples.)
Fuchsia Dunlop became one of my favorite cookbook authors when her Sichuan cookbook first came out. She followed that up with the Hunanese Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, its name recalling Mao Zedong, who was born in Hunan province. It's a little flashier than her first book, but filled with interesting bits of the history of Hunan cuisine, culture, and cooking techniques. I've been wanting to try this soup since I first got this book, but it takes a few hours for the beef to cook up right so I had put it off for "some day when I had the time." Recently, when paging through for something to cook, I realized that that evening I did have the time.
And it was worth every minute.
And it's winter! Just perfect is that?
Red-Braised Beef (jin shi niu rou)
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop
This beef dish could be served with rice instead of as a soup. In that case, depending on the number of people you're feeding, you may want to use more than 1lb of beef (and adjust the seasonings appropriately).
Serves 4 to 6
1 lb. braising beef steak (I used stew meat)
2 Tbs peanut oil or beef drippings
2.5 Tbs chili bean paste
a few slices of unpeeled ginger
2 pieces cassia bark (or cinnamon stick, but not ceylon stick)
1 star anise
1 Tbs shaoxing wine (you can substitute sherry)
1 Tbs dark soy sauce
1/4 tsp whole sichuan peppercorns
1 cai gao (i.e. black cardamom pod) or substitute 3 green cardamom pods
Cut beef into bite-sized chunks. Place in a sauce pan with cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Skim the scum/froth off the surface. Remove beef with slotted spoon and set aside. Skim the cooking liquid again if necessary, strain, and set aside.
Heat dripping or oil in a clean pan or wok over medium flame. Add chili bean paste and stir-fry until oil is fragrant and red. Add ginger, cassia, and star anise and continue to stir-fry until fragrant.
Tip in beef and toss to coat. Add enough of the cooking liquid to cover the beef generously, and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 2 - 3 hours, until tender.
The water will gradually reduce, and at the end you should have tender beef bites coated in a red sauce. If the water cooks off before it's done, add some more.
The making of noodle soups is a whole 'nother process described on its own two page spread in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. In brief, to serve this as a soup you need: Chinese rice or wheat noodles, a flavorful stock, and soup seasonings. If you're using dried rice noodles, boil water and pour over the noodles and soak until soft. For each bowl of soup add: a dash of soy sauce, a dash of peanut or olive oil, some chopped scallions, chopped coriander, salt and pepper to taste.) The chili sauce clinging to the beef will also flavor the broth and color it a beautiful red. I served chopped pickled greens as a condiment. It worked out very well.