LANZHOU BEEF NOODLE SOUP

It’s obvious that China has no shortage of noodle dishes and Chinese noodle soup recipes. More than you’ve probably ever heard or dreamt of. The variety is as expansive as China’s geography, and EVERYTHING is delicious. But among the many noodle dishes (and noodle soups in particular), one stands out, Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup.

This fact has been confirmed by a quick search on China’s Google, baidu.com. Translating to Lanzhou Hand-Pulled Noodle Soup, this bowl of hot, spicy delight is deceptively simple and has spawned noodle chains across Beijing. In fact, we have a Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup place right downstairs, about 100 yards from our Beijing apartment. My niece Kim came to visit us in Beijing this summer, and after many fancy restaurants and lavish meals, she declared this bowl of noodle soup to be the best thing she had in China. And it only costs $3! We made sure to feed her an extra bowl before leaving for the airport.

If you’ve been on The Woks of Life for a while, you’ve probably learned a thing or two about me from my recipes. I’m not a fussy person, and I love keeping things simple. This recipe is adapted from many conversations with the cooks and staff at our local noodle shop, and after much thought and experimentation, I’ve simplified things for the home cook. We’re not going to make noodles from scratch, so don’t worry. You can’t compromise flavor on the authentic Lanzhou beef noodle soup broth however, which is what brings the dish together.
Rinse the soup bones and pat dry. Roast them on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the beef shank and the chicken (or chicken carcass) to the pot. Bring everything to a boil again. Once boiling, remove the shank and the chicken, discard the water, and clean the pot. This process gets rid of any impurities, and will give your broth a cleaner flavor.

Put the beef shank and chicken back into the pot along with the roasted bones, 10 more cups of water, and 4 cups chicken stock. Make the spice mix by combining all ingredients and tying them tightly in cheese cloth with a bit of kitchen string. Add this to the pot as well and season with salt. Bring everything to a boil.

Once boiling, turn down the heat to low and let everything simmer for about 2 hours. After 2 hours have elapsed, remove the beef shank and set aside. Add the sliced radish and continue simmering for another hour. After that, use tongs to pick out and discard the spice pouch, chicken, and soup bones. Taste the broth for salt and adjust the seasoning if needed. The soup base is ready.

While all that is happening, you can take the time to make your chili oil. In a small pot, add the oil, star anise, cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorns.
Ingredients :
You'll need:
  • 4 lbs beef or pork soup bones
  • 2¼ lbs (1 kg) beef shank
  • ½ of a whole roasting chicken (or a leftover roasted chicken carcass)
  • 10 cups water
  • 4 cups (about 1 liter) chicken stock
  • Spice mix (see recipe below)
  • Salt, to taste (I added about a tablespoon)
  • ½ of a small Chinese radish, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 lb fresh or dried white noodles (they can really be any thickness, as long as they are wheat-based noodles rather than rice noodles, and have a nice chew when cooked)
  • Hot chili oil, to taste (see recipe below)
  • chopped scallion
  • chopped cilantro
  • For the spice mix:
  • 7 star anise
  • 12 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 6 large slices of sand ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1½ teaspoons white peppercorns
  • 5 licorice root slices (optional but very much recommended)
  • 3 pieces dried orange peel
  • 1 black cardamom
  • For the hot chili oil:
  • ¾ cup oil
  • 2 star anise
  • ½ of a small cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes (just the regular kind you'd sprinkle on your pizza)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
Instructions :
  1. Rinse the soup bones and pat dry. Roast them on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the beef shank and the chicken (or chicken carcass) to the pot. Bring everything to a boil again. Once boiling, remove the shank and the chicken, discard the water, and clean the pot. This process gets rid of any impurities, and will give your broth a cleaner flavor.
  2. Put the beef shank and chicken back into the pot along with the roasted bones, 10 more cups of water, and 4 cups chicken stock. Make the spice mix by combining all ingredients and tying them tightly in cheese cloth with a bit of kitchen string. Add this to the pot as well and season with salt. Bring everything to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, turn down the heat to low and let everything simmer for about 2 hours. After 2 hours have elapsed, remove the beef shank and set aside. Add the sliced radish and continue simmering for another hour. After that, use tongs to pick out and discard the spice pouch, chicken, and soup bones. Taste the broth for salt and adjust the seasoning if needed. The soup base is ready.
  4. While all that is happening, you can take the time to make your chili oil. In a small pot, add the oil, star anise, cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorns. Place the pot over very low heat and let everything toast together slowly for 15 minutes. Take care not to burn the spices. Use a slotted spoon to remove the spices, and turn off the heat. Let the oil cool for about 5 minutes, and then add the chili flakes. Slowly toast these in the hot oil until very fragrant (it should almost smell like popcorn), and very red. Stir in the salt and sugar.
  5. Once the broth and chili oil are done, cook the noodles in a separate pot according to the package instructions. Divide the noodles among 6 bowls. Slice the cooled beef shank into thin slices, and fan them out over the noodles. To finish, add a big ladle of broth and radishes, a spoonful of hot chili oil, and a handful each (don't be shy) of chopped scallion and cilantro.