Alice’s sweet and spicy beef noodles

Tonight’s dinner, sweet and spicy beef noodles, came to us courtesy of my old friend and former roommate Alice. Alice describes this dish as “Chinese spaghetti with meat sauce,” an apt metaphor. You almost feel like you should break out the parmesan cheese and start grating—until you taste the sauce, which is about as far from Italian as a beefy sauce for noodles can get.

You should be able to find all the ingredients for this recipe at a standard Asian grocery store, or depending on where you live, at a regular supermarket. Don’t expect to find a wide selection of rice wine at a Cambodian grocery store, though. Maybe that’s not a problem if you don’t live in Lowell, possibly the most Cambodian place in the country, but it goes to show that “Asian” is not a monolithic ethnicity or cuisine, as many restaurant menus would have you believe.

Alice’s sweet and spicy beef noodles
Adapted from Ming Tsai

Sauce
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil*
3 Thai bird chiles, finely chopped OR red pepper flakes to taste if you want less heat
1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fermented black beans (optional step: rinse and drain)
1 red onion, finely diced
1/3-2/3 cup hoisin sauce
1 pound ground beef (not too lean)
1/2 cup Shaoxing rice wine
2 cups chicken stock (preferably low sodium) or water
Shanghai noodles or other noodles/pasta, four servings

Toppings
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned
2 carrots, diced into 1/4” cubes**
2 cups mung bean sprouts

Brown the beef. I suggest a cast iron pan, and you don’t need any added oil.***

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over high heat. Heat the oil and when it shimmers, add the chiles, garlic, ginger, beans, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the hoisin sauce, stir to incorporate, and cook about 2 minutes more.

Transfer the beef to the vegetable mixture with a slotted spoon. Add the rice wine and stock.

Reduce heat to low and simmer until the mixture has a saucelike consistency, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. Correct the seasonings as necessary.

Prepare the Shanghai noodles as directed. Drain well and divide among 4 bowls. Ladle on the beef sauce and top with the cucumber, carrots, and sprouts.****

*The original recipe calls for canola oil, but I have come to dislike the taste of canola oil in cooking. I know, call me weird, but it tastes and smells funny to me. I’ve started substituting peanut oil in this recipe, and I like it a lot. It tastes cleaner to me.

**Quoth Alice: “Alternative: Sometimes I cook the diced carrots with the chiles, garlic, etc. instead of using it as a topping.” Either way is good.

***You can also brown the beef in with the vegetables after the hoisin sauce step. I’ve done this and prefer to brown the beef separately, which is what Alice recommends too, because browning it in the saucepan with the vegetables produces too much fat for my liking, and I hate skimming fat.

****I usually just mix the sauce in with the noodles in a big bowl and serve that way with condiments on the side. It’s not particularly elegant, but it gets the job done.

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