TAIWANESE BRAISED TOMATO BEEF NOODLE SOUP | 番茄紅燒牛肉麵
Beef noodles has become one of the most iconic Taiwanese dishes over the time and a favorite of many Taiwanese. The essence of beef noodles lies in the fragrant soup, soft and tender chunks of beef and bouncy noodles. Braised beef noodle soup is only one of the many beef noodle variations, the broth has a darker color with red chili oil floating on top and fills the air with the smell of spices, perfect for this chilly weather.
If you ask a Taiwanese to name 10 iconic Taiwanese food, beef noodles will definitely make the list. It is so popular that many cities host city wide competitions to find the best beef noodles in town. Truth be told I wasn’t a big fan when I was a kid, probably because my dad loved it so much we would have beef noodles almost every other day! Now, I’ve learned that there are more than one kind of beef noodles and the flavor can be so different from one another.
In this recipe I am making the one that tastes closer to what you’d expect to get at a noodle shop, 紅燒牛肉麵 (hong2shao1niu2rou4mian4) means “Red braised beef noodles”. Red braised 紅燒(hong2shao1), is a popular method in Chinese cooking, usually consists of meat braised in soy sauce. This method has been around for so long, no one really knew when it was invented nor where it came from. Originally 紅燒(hong2shao1) is often used on pork dishes, and it gives the pork a deep red glaze, that’s probably how it gets the name “red braised”. Some also think that the chili bean paste and tomatoes are the reason for the name.
Back in Taiwan’s agricultural days, most Taiwanese farmers keep cattle to work for them, a lot of farmers wouldn’t eat beef to show their appreciation. The Taiwanese beef noodle soup was invented by a veteran who moved to Taiwan from Szechuan during the 1950s. He incorporated local ingredients he could find in the area to recreate a “spicy beef soup” from Szechuan and added noodles to it, it became a hit. Because of the local ingredients he used, the flavor is quite different from the one in his hometown, but still holds all the essence and much more. Then it spread. Very soon braised beef noodles are all over Taiwan.
Everyone in Taiwan probably have their favorite beef noodle shop, there’s probably a beef noodle store around every corner. The broth of the braised beef noodles is so good most stores also offer “broth noodles” (湯麵,tang1mian4), beef broth with noodles without the beef for the people who just want the tasty broth at a cheaper price; “broth dumplings” (湯餃,tang1jiao3), beef broth with pork dumplings are popular too. (One of our fav!)
The essence of the braised beef noodle soup lies in- good beef(Midwest beef!), chili bean paste and spices. Some stores develops a complicated flavor with the spices they use, adding in a lot of herbal medicine as well, but in this recipe I’m keeping all the flavors but also keeping it simple. In Taiwan you can usually buy these pre-made spice packs in supermarkets but I love mixing my own. The essentials consists of: cumin, star anise, Szechuan peppercorn, cinnamon stick, black pepper, white pepper, bay leaves and coriander seeds. Whole spice works the best. Put them in a piece of cotton fabric and tie it up then you’re ready to go. You can also use a tea bag if you have one.
We are not big meat eaters, but we love this broth, so I used soup bones to create this dish. I love how it has a bit of meat, some tendon and bones, everything you need to create a good base. That’s what they do in a restaurant too, they often have three different parts of beef- the meat, the tendon and the bones in giant pots to create different depth of flavor, we choose to simplify it. If you like a little more beef and not have to deal with the bones, beef shank and ribs are popular for making beef noodles. You’re looking for beef that is not too lean, braising time may vary depending on the cut of meat, it typically takes about 1~2 hours just keep an eye on it. (Also depends on how soft you want the meat to be)
We got our soup bones(and all the veggies in the recipe) at Rochester Downtown Farmers Market. It was definitely the hero of the dish. The meat was so soft and tender, it slipped right off the bones, the broth is smooth, with layers of flavor and sweet from the vegetables.
Chili bean paste(豆瓣醬,dou4ban4jiang4) is a spicy, salty paste made from fermented soybeans, salt, rice, and various spices. It’s usually more salty than spicy to be honest but the color is gorgeous. It gives the broth a very unique flavor and when the chili combines with the fat from the beef, it forms a red layer of oil on top. You can easily remove the oil once it’s cold if you don’t like it oily, a lot of restaurants will leave a dish of the red oil on the tables since customers enjoy adding the oil to their noodles because it is very flavorful.
The noodles I’m using for this dish are from the “Easy Homemade Noodles | 簡單手工麵“. I like the chewy and denser texture of this noodle and it soaks up all the tasty flavors from the beef broth really well. You can make it however thick or thin you want. If you’re gluten free(or not), glass noodles(made with mung beans) are usually popular with beef noodles as well.
I find this recipe great for meal prep as well, besides using the stew for beef noodles there are a few other ideas you can do with the same pot of beef.
Try Taiwanese Braised Beef with:
Beef Rice 牛肉燴飯
Broth Noodles 湯麵
Broth Dumplings 湯餃
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INGREDIENTS YOU MAY NEED: