Monday, May 23, 2011

How to use your noodle

What do “The Real Housewives of New York” and Top Ramen have in common?  They’re both on my list of guilty pleasures --- neither is any good for you, but once you get a little taste, you just keep wanting more.  I could probably eat a bowl of Top Ramen every single day, if it wasn’t for that wicked packet of magical msg flavoring that makes it taste “oh so good”, but is “oh so bad for you.” 

My penchant for soup noodles stems from my childhood when my mom made gia-normous pots of beef soup for noodles all the time, mostly on the weekends. A hearty bowl full of noodles with a rich and salty broth, and super-tender beef was a typical Saturday afternoon lunch.  Ever since, “noo-roe-mein” (“beef soup noodles” in Chinese) had “coming home” written all over it.  Back in the day, when my parents hosted poker parties or mah-jong marathons at our home, a favorite “shao-yeh” (“midnight snack” in Chinese) was a round of noo-roe-mein for all the gambling guests.  Kind of like a Dick’s burger for my generation.  In college, coming home on a Saturday afternoon to do laundry while slurping down a bowl of noo-roe-mein was a common ritual.  In more recent years, a festive morning of tearing open Christmas presents with the extended family at my parents’ house has often culminated into 16 bowls of noo-roe-mein to round out the holiday.  And when my husband, kids and I return from a family vacation, there’s no better homecoming than when my dad picks us up from the airport and tells us that a pot of noo-roe-mein is just a phone call away:   “Hi mom!  On our way.  Start boiling the pot of water!”

Just last weekend, my mom and I were watching my son’s baseball game at the neighborhood park.  It was late-afternoon, I hadn’t had lunch, and at the top of the last inning, mom casually mentioned, “I made a pot of noo-roe-mein.  Want some?”  Yummmm…I started counting down the strikes to my 1½ block walk to another noodle homecoming at mom’s. It was then that I decided this had to be my next recipe.  

The Dragon Ladies, at the baseball field last week, right before going home for some beef soup noodles!

One of my sisters, who always has a crazy entrepreneurial scheme up her sleeve, has always wanted to channel her love for noodles into dollar signs.  One re-occurring fantasy involves starting a Chinese noodle cart at Seattle Mariner’s games or other sporting events.  “Lo-mein noodles, noo-roe-mein…people would just love it, don’t you think?  We would do so well,” she has repeated.  I don’t doubt this, but my sister tends to often wear rose-colored (albeit Chanel) glasses, and underestimates the amount of time and energy that a “great idea” requires to pull off.  And guess who would end up doing 98% of the work?  Yup, yours truly.  So, dear Catherine, I fully support your noodle cart business…from afar.  Here’s the recipe to get you started, and I’ll look for you at the next Mariner’s game.  In the meantime, who knows….maybe some Dragon Lady Kitchen followers will try this recipe, fall into our noodle spell, and step up to invest.  Now that’s using your noodle!

Beef Soup Noodles

Two pots are better than one:  Cook up your soup and beef in one pot; then boil your noodles in another.  Store any leftover beef soup separately from the cooked noodles.  They’ll keep better that way, and will make a quick meal in seconds!  Simply prepare a single portion in a bowl and zap in the microwave

Whole star anise plays a key role in slow-cooked Chinese dishes. The licorice aroma may smell strong, but the wonderful flavor subtly enhances the meat and broth.   I found them in the bulk shelf in the spice aisle at my local supermarket.  A handful cost only 19¢.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ½ pounds beef chuck (pot roast)*, excess fat trimmed, cut into 2” cubes
1 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons wine (red, white or cooking wine)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large beefsteak tomato, cut into wedges
2” piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 whole star anise  
6 cups water

1 pound Chinese noodles (found in Asian food aisle in most supermarkets)
4-6 heads baby bok choy, washed, ends trimmed
Sriracha Hot Chili

In a large, enameled cast iron pot or stock pot, heat oil on high heat.  Add beef; stir to sear all sides, about 3-4 minutes.  Add soy sauce, wine, sugar, tomato wedges, ginger and anise.  Cover and bring to boil; reduce to simmer for 1 hour.  If any foam accumulates while simmering, skim off with a small spoon and discard.

Add water, cover and return to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30-40 more minutes, or until meat is fork tender.  Discard star anise and ginger.  Remove from heat.

To cook vegetables and noodles, bring 5 quarts water to boil in a large pot.  When water boils, add bok choy; cook for one minute, then remove and set aside (do not drain water from pot).  Add noodles to same pot of water and cook until done (about 5 minutes; do not overcook).  Drain noodles in a colander.

For each portion, place 3-4 ounces of cooked noodles (about 2 cups) into a large soup bowl.  Add approximately one head of cooked baby bok choy.  Ladle 1 ½ cups of beef soup and beef pieces into bowl, serve immediately.  For spicier palates, add Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce to taste.

*Note:  do not substitute a ‘beef stew’ meat for this recipe.  Beef chuck has the perfect amount of fat content to remain tender and flavorful.  Beef stew meat will become too dry.  Mom traditionally uses beef shank, which has a lot more fat and tendons (a Chinese delicacy for some, but usually a less desirable cut of meat for most).  I have adapted to appeal to the masses.