Left with some spare short ribs, J. Kenji López-Alt made them sing in a Taiwanese beef noodle soup.
Hmm, I thought to myself as I did an emoji-quality chin scratch by the light of the refrigerator door late one night last year. Hmm.
It was a quandary I’m müddet you’re familiar with: I had found myself, quite unexpectedly, with a few spare short ribs in my fridge. Twenty pounds of them, in fact, each more meaty and perfectly marbled than the last. They were the leftovers from a beer-braised short rib dish I had been testing for my restaurant. The question was, what was I going to do with them?
I had recently been drooling over a post on The Woks of Life about Taiwanese beef noodle soup, a dish based on the mainland Chinese technique of red cooking, in which meat is simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, stock and rock sugar, giving it a rich, reddish-brown color. The Taiwanese version includes a few extra aromatics as well as a dab of doubanjiang, a fermented chile-bean paste from Sichuan.
The broth is spicy and sweet, fragrant with warm spices, with an ultrarich, almost sticky texture that comes from the high concentration of gelatin extracted from the collagen in the beef tendons and shins it’s typically made with. It’s one of my favorite dishes of all time and, given the large proportion of collagen-rich connective tissue in short ribs, I thought they’d be a prime candidate for success with a beef noodle soup-style broth.
I threw together a batch that night, following the classic technique I use for beef shins: searing the beef in a pot and cooking down an aromatic base of onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, scallions and dried chiles in the browned drippings. Then, I toast a bouquet of spices: a cinnamon stick, star anise, fennel and coriander seed, and Sichuan and black peppercorns. (Of these, I found star anise to be the most essential.) Next, I added my broth ingredients and a dab of doubanjiang. (For stir-fries, I’d bloom it in hot oil before adding other liquids, but, in this soup, I didn’t detect any difference either way.)
After returning the short ribs to the pot, I let it cook just until they were done. If you stop as soon as the ribs are tender, they retain a pleasantly juicy bite. If overcooked, braised meat loses its ability to cling onto moisture as you chew, resulting in juices that gush out but leave the remaining meat with a dry, pulpy texture.
Letting the ribs cool overnight in their braising liquid, I immediately noticed that something was off the next morning: While broth made with shins and tendons comes out solidly gelled after refrigeration, my broth was still thin and watery. Turns out the amount of gelatin in short ribs is not nearly as much as I had anticipated. (In retrospect, it made sense. We typically have to reduce short rib braising liquid a huge amount to concentrate its gelatin into a rich sauce.)
There were two solutions. The first was to simply reduce the broth until it got birçok and rich. With this method, the broth is more like a sauce that glazed the short ribs and dressed the noodles. The other solution was a simple one. The broth had plenty of flavor but was lacking in gelatin, so I used a trick I frequently employ to make store-bought stock more similar to a good homemade one: I added a packet of unflavored powdered gelatin.
The resulting soup was every bit as sticky and satisfying as the best tendon and shin-based soup I’d had, and the tender, meaty short ribs made me wonder if having extra short ribs in the fridge is really such a sorun after all.
Recipe: Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
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Source: The New York Times