The first ever noodle soup I made was not kai si hor fun, or prawn noodles, or curry noodles … but Thai beef noodle soup!
Why? Thanks to Youtube queen Marion of www.marionskitchen.com, who made the process look so easy, I simply HAD to try making it. To my surprise, it wasn’t hard at all. That successful first attempt, many many bowls of noodles ago, gave me the confidence boost I needed to tackle the other Asian noodles like curry mee, prawn mee, kai si hor fun – arguably even more laborious and complicated 🍜
Every often, I return to these Thai beef noodles because I love the robust and hearty flavour (and most importantly, they’re so EASY to make). If you’re a coriander hater though, this might not for you. Because what makes Thai beef noodles distinctive is the holy trinity of coriander root, black pepper and garlic or “saam klerr” (the three buddies). But I love coriander so …!
Along the way, I have learned some tips and created my own hacks that make this recipe foolproof – and your life easier!
1. I use bovril instead of beef stock
I don’t know how it is in your country, but store-bought beef broth is expensive where I live. It’s not easy to get beef bones either. So I started thinking of substitutes that would deliver a similar taste profile and after a bit of brainstorming, Bovril came to mind. It’s thick salty paste made from beef stock … duh! Anyhow, I tried it and with some help from other umami condiments like fish sauce and the dark soya sauces, I arrived at a beefy complexity that I was extremely happy with 🙂
2. Simmer on low heat at all times
There are two parts to cooking the soup. First, you sear the beef over high heat so that it acquires browning and seals the juices in. After that, you cover the beef with liquid and cook at a low simmer with the lid on. Do NOT bring to a boil. I am not sure of the science behind this, but when you bring it to a boil first, and then only lower the heat to a simmer, the beef doesn’t become as tender as it should be. Keep the heat low at all times. If you do that, you’ll end up with butter-soft beef like this:
3. I add five spice powder
I found that by adding five-spice-powder, which is commonly used in Chinese cooking, it lends a nice background fragrance to the soup.
On to the recipe!
Thai Beef Noodles
- soup pot or Dutch oven, mortar and pestle
- 200g beef chunks
- 2 nos rice vermicelli or kuetiau
- 3 stalks coriander roots
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1-2 tbsp oil
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2-3 star anise
- 2-3 cloves (optional)
- 1/2 tsp five spice powder
- 600ml chicken stock
- 1 tbsp bovril
- 2-3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/2-1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1-2 tbsp fish sauce
- salt and sugar to taste
- In a mortar and pestle, pound coriander roots, garlic cloves and black peppercorns to a rough paste. This is "saam klerr".
- In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat up 1 tbs oil. Add beef chunks and sear on all sides until they acquire some brownness.
- Add saam klerr and saute until fragrant. Some recipes ask you to add this before the beef. But I find that if I do that, there is a higher risk of burning the spices. Anyway, do what you can control best.
- Add cinnamon stick, star anise and five spice powder.
- Add chicken stock followed by light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, fish sauce and bovril. You can add just half the amount stated for starters to accommodate your tolerance for saltiness, and adjust later.
- Cover the pot with a lid and cook at a low simmer for 90 minutes or until meat is soft. Do NOT bring to a boil.
- Season with salt and sugar. Pour soup over blanched noodles and serve with vegetables - bok choy, choy sum and bean sprouts are great. Enjoy!