It's amazing the difference between what you learn at college versus what you learn and retain during those four years. I went to (some) classes, took exams, and came out the other end with a degree, but can I solve the limit of a function when x approaches a constant or recall the dates and significance of the Han Dynasty? Sorry. I do remember all of the places I could use my student ID to buy meals on campus and who played point guard my freshman year (Anwar McQueen). And the first time I had niu rou mian was when Dave and I first started dating, and he took me to Taste of Taipei in the Durant Food Court for one of his favorite dishes. Our palates (and stomachs) demonstrated incredible tolerance back then.
Of course, if we went there today, we'd wonder what we were thinking. But for a couple of college kids who were accustomed to eating instant ramen, Jack-in-the-Box tacos, and sorority-house salad bars, it was heavenly. Later, we discovered the nuanced styles and varieties of niu rou mian at Queen House in Mountain View (fiery chili) and Spices in the Richmond District (numbing peppercorn) who both put Taste of Taipei to shame. But all had a few key ingredients: star anise, ginger, onions, soy sauce, and loads of tender beef. Mine has all of the above plus a bunch of tomatoes which really deepens the flavor of the broth. Not a bad evolution considering it all began at a dirty hole in the wall near Telegraph Avenue.
- 3 lbs. beef (I use a mix of bone-in shank and flank meat)
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 2" piece of ginger, peeled and halved
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3-4 tomatoes, quartered
- 3 tbsp. chili bean paste
- 5 pieces star anise
- 1/4 c. soy sauce
- 1/4 c. dark soy sauce
- 1 qt. beef broth
- 3 stalks green onion, halved, plus 1 stalk sliced for garnish
- 6 dried Szechuan chilis
- 2 tbsp. Szechuan peppercorns (hulls only, black seeds discarded)
- 1 bunch spinach
- 1 lb. fresh Shanghai-style noodles
- Wash beef well under cold water. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer beef for 10-15 minutes. Drain beef, discard water, and wash beef again with cold water. Wash out the pot and return to stove.
- Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil in pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic, and cook until just wilted. Add tomatoes and cook until they start to break down and add color to the other vegetables. Add chili bean paste and cook for a minute or two, stirring to coat all ingredients. Add star anise and return beef to pot. Cook for a few minutes more, tossing with the vegetable mixture. Pour in the soy sauces and the beef broth, drop in the green onions, then add water to cover. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 4-6 hours.
- Prior to serving, boil spinach and squeeze out excess water. Cook noodles according to package directions and divide between 4 bowls. Add a few pieces of beef to each bowl, then top with soup. Garnish with spinach, sliced green onions, and spinach to serve.