Niu Rou Mian 牛肉麵 (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup)

updated Feb 3, 2020
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Around the World in 30 Soups: This month we’re collaborating with chefs, cookbook authors, and our own Kitchn crew to share a globetrotting adventure in soups from countries and cuisines around the world. Today’s stop: Taiwan.

We turned to Cathy Erway, author of The Food of Taiwan, who drew from her own Taiwanese heritage to speak to us about the essential beef noodle soup.

Taiwanese beef noodle soup, or niu rou mian, is a must-have for anyone visiting Taiwan — and a source of homesickness if you’re Taiwanese and abroad. Fortunately, it’s very easy to make at home. With its long-simmered slices of tender beef and hearty broth with hints of chile and star anise, it’s a comfort food of mine as well.

My mom, who was born and raised in Taiwan to parents from China’s Hunan Province, would often make hongshao (meaning “red-cooked,” or soy sauce-based) stews on the weekend, often with beef and some hard-boiled eggs that dyed brown in the broth. (The eggs would then be saved for snacking with or without the rest of the stew.) She always used star anise and a bit of chile sauce, so her formula was pretty similar to the typical Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup broth.

It’s widely believed that this hallmark of Taiwanese cuisine was created within the military villages set up to accommodate the influx of mainlanders at the middle of the 20th century. There is nowhere else a noodle soup quite like it, although the dish has conspicuous influences from Sichuan province: chili bean sauce and Sichuan peppercorns. Some call it Taiwan’s “national dish,” while others argue that Danzai Noodle Soup is more representative of older, more traditional Taiwanese cuisine. Regardless, its deeply savory, delicious broth has made it a popular favorite on the island, and amongst visitors, too.

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (Niu Rou Mian) 牛肉麵

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons

    vegetable or peanut oil, divided

  • 2 pounds

    beef stew meat, preferably boneless shank, cut into 2-inch cubes

  • 6

    thick slices peeled fresh ginger

  • 6

    garlic cloves, smashed

  • 2

    medium scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped

  • 2 to 3

    small fresh red chilies

  • 1

    large plum tomato, coarsely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons

    granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    Chinese chili bean sauce

  • 1 cup

    Shaoxing rice wine

  • 1/2 cup

    light soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup

    dark soy sauce

  • 2 1/2 quarts

    water

  • 1 tablespoon

    Sichuan peppercorns

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    five-spice powder

  • 2

    whole star anise

To continue:

  • 2 pounds

    fresh Asian wheat noodles (any width)

  • 1

    medium scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced

  • 8

    small heads gently blanched baby bok choy, or substitute with spinach, sweet potato leaves, or other leafy green vegetable (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add as much of the beef as will fit on the bottom of the pan without too much overlap (you will need to work in batches). Cook, flipping with tongs, until both sides are gently browned, 5 to 6 minutes total. Repeat with the remaining beef, adding more oil as needed. Transfer the meat to a dish and set aside.

  2. Heat another tablespoon of the oil in the same pot until just hot. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions, chilies, and tomato. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very fragrant and the vegetables are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook until dissolved and the mixture is bubbling. Return the beef to the pan and stir in the chili bean sauce.

  3. Stir in the rice wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any browned bits. Let boil for a minute, then add the light and dark soy sauces, the water, peppercorns, five-spice powder, and star anise. Bring just to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Skim the scum that rises to the top of the pot with a slotted spoon. Cover and cook at a low simmer for at least 2 hours, preferably 3 hours.

To continue:

  1. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Divide among individual serving bowls. Ladle the soup into each bowl with chunks of the beef, top with scallions and the blanched green vegetables, if using, and serve.

Recipe Notes

To make a true Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, you should look for boneless beef shank, a cut that contains swirls of cartilage which become soft and gelatinous once cooked.

Using dried noodles: If you can't find fresh noodles, use 1 pound of dried Asian wheat noodles and cook according to package directions.

From The Food of Taiwan by Cathy Erway. Copyright © 2015 by Cathy Erway. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company)

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