How to Make Baba’s Chinese Beef Noodle Soup
If you're looking for a comfort food dish the whole family will love, try this recipe for Chinese beef noodle soup.
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There is nothing quite so comforting and satisfying as a bowl of steaming beef noodle soup. The tender bites of beef and chewy noodles in a savory, aromatic broth will warm you through and through. Chinese beef noodle soup (niu rou mian 牛肉麵) is popular across the globe, from a spot in Bangkok that’s been simmering its soup for 45 years to a pop-up in California that sells beef noodle soup kits with 8-hour cooked broth.
My dad (baba 爸爸) created a recipe that might not have the full depth of flavor as these long-cooked soups, but it’s quick and easy— and still the perfect comfort food. Chinese beef noodle soup was one of the most requested dishes in my home growing up, and Baba honed this family recipe over the years for maximum efficiency and flavor. (Bao buns are another favorite family recipe.)
How to Make Chinese Beef Noodle Soup
In 1949, my dad’s family fled China for Taiwan after the Communist Revolution, as did over a million others. After seven years in Taiwan, the family lived in a number of different places before my dad moved to the U.S. His recipe is informed both by his roots and by what’s fresh and readily available in America.
Adjust the level of spice and salt to match your family’s tastes, and you’ll have a dish everyone will clamor for!
- 1-1/2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 2-in. cubes
- 1 tablespoon dried red peppercorn
- 3-5 slices ginger
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar (rock sugar, turbinado sugar or honey)
- 5 star anise pods
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 whole scallions, roots cut off
- 1-3 teaspoons chili bean paste, depending on preferred spice level
- 2-5 dried chiles, depending on preferred spice level
- 4 cups water
- 3 cups root vegetables, cut into 2-in. cubes (my family uses half carrots and half daikon radish)
- Salt, to taste
- Scallion and/or cilantro for garnish
- Noodles of your choice
Tools You’ll Need
Step 1: Infuse the oil with peppercorn
Heat oil in a pot on medium-low and add dried peppercorn.
Stir a few minutes until the peppercorns are dark brown and fragrant. This is the flavor that makes your tongue tingle slightly, and makes the kitchen smell so appealing. Before the peppercorn burns, use a straining spoon to take it out, or pour the oil and peppercorn over a strainer, and transfer the fragrant oil back into the pot.
Step 2: Saute the ginger and beef
Turn the heat to medium-high and add slices of ginger and pieces of beef. Stir for about 10 minutes until the beef is browned on all sides.
Step 3: Add soy sauce, aromatics and water
Add cooking wine, soy sauce, sugar, scallions, star anise, bay leaves, dried chiles, chili bean paste and water to cover beef.
Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Prep and add root vegetables
While your soup gains flavor and your beef cooks, peel and cut your root vegetables into chunks. The idea is for the beef and vegetables to be a similar size and shape once they’re cooked.
Add your root vegetables to the soup, cover, and turn the heat up briefly until the liquid boils again.
Step 5: Simmer
Turn to low and simmer for at least an hour. Really, the longer the soup can cook, the softer the beef and the more flavorful the broth will be. If you have a slow cooker, you can start this beef noodle soup in the morning before work and serve it at dinner. If you’re using an Instant Pot, you can do a quick version, pressure-cooking all the ingredients together for 40 minutes.
Step 6: Make the noodles
When the soup is almost ready, boil some water to make your noodles and chop up something green for garnish. I like scallion and cilantro, though my dad is one of those people who tastes soap when eating cilantro, so I leave it off his bowl. You can also use watercress, baby spinach, bok choy or whatever greens you have on hand.
How to Serve Chinese Beef Noodle Soup
Serve the soup in deep bowls with a splash of sesame oil on top. You can also add salt or more chili bean paste to match your palate. Pack up any leftovers (it will be even more flavorful the next day!) and finish up with a bowl of fruit for dessert.
Tips for Making Chinese Beef Noodle Soup
What is the best cut of beef to use?
You can make Chinese beef noodle soup with a variety of cuts of meat. When time is tight, I purchase precut “beef for stew” (which is usually chuck), but other popular choices are shank, brisket or tendon. I always enjoy it most when there’s some fat or gristle to the meat. If the beef is too lean and clean, it isn’t able to absorb the soup’s flavors as well and can taste dry. If you prefer lean meat, break it down into smaller pieces after cooking so it can soak up more moisture.
What root vegetables should I use?
My family usually uses equal parts carrot and daikon, but I’m a big believer in using what you have and love. Almost any root vegetable will work, like turnips, potatoes or rutabaga—anything that can absorb the soup’s aromatics and enhance the broth with its own flavor, too.
How can I make Chinese beef noodle soup spicy?
My dad enjoys food with a kick (I’d say a spice level of 5 out of 10) while I can hardly handle any (maybe a 1!). That said, this broth is much better with at least a little heat, so I’ve included two ingredients (dried chiles and chili bean paste) to give the soup a subtle amount of spice. You can adjust the amounts to match your spice threshold.
What noodles do I serve with Chinese beef noodle soup?
This dish works well with a variety of noodle thicknesses. I like mine medium to wide and usually use dried noodles, but if you live near an Asian grocery store and have fresh noodles available, that will definitely make for a treat. Whatever noodles you use, be sure not to overcook them, as they’ll continue to soften in the hot soup.