I’m not sure what kind of space this dish occupies in our kitchen repertoire. It’s known around our house as “meat broth.” Back in Australia it was our “I can’t be bothered thinking of what to make for dinner” dish, but in a beloved kind of way, because it’s easy, tasty and healthy. Maybe a little on the saltier end of healthy, but the meat’s lean & the bok choy’s fresh. Now we’ve moved and bok choy is a little harder to get, it’s almost reached “comfort food” status, but that was before we found a grocer that sells it within walking distance of our place.
The noodles you’ll need are the hard, round, thick rice vermicelli. They’re easy to find at a more Vietnamese-inclined Asian grocery store. In fact, go to a good Vietnamese restaurant and order a bun bo xao. Those noodles. You need to cook them before the broth in their own water, because they’re going to shed a ridiculous amount of starch.
For the broth, we don’t go too fancy. Our wonton soup is where we use a good home-made chicken broth, because the soup flavour can shine a little bit more. For this one (it’s supposed to be quick and dirty) we just use good chicken stock. The liquid stuff in cartons tends to be too salty. Squishy stock cubes are fine. Yes, my head is hanging in shame just a little. We do dress it up a little. A few drops of sesame oil, a dash of light soy, and some chopped chillies and spring onions dress it up pretty nicely.
The meat is all important – don’t skimp on it. I used to buy Harvey Beef by the fillet and slice that up. No such luck here. I’ve managed to find something filletty to hit with my cleaver here, but it’s not quite the same.
You’re going to need, per person:
- A piece of nice beef about 2/3 the size of your fist, sliced into 5mm slices
- About 4 or 5 bok choy plants, with the leaves shredded (again, about 5mm slices)
- Enough noodles to do your hunger in
- Soup stock (do what you will with it – spring onion & chillies are nice.)
- …and the sauces.
- A shake of sesame oil
- A dash of light soy sauce
- A double dash of dark soy sauce
- A good lug of oyster sauce
- Ground black pepper or black pepper sauce if you can find it. I usually dip a chopstick or two into the jar and mix it through the meat.
Cooking it is dead easy. Cook the noodles, drain ’em and rinse ’em in hot water. While you cook the meat, bring your soup to the boil. Put the noodles back in right before you serve up and return it to the boil.
To cook the meat, it’ll probably need two visits to the wok. The first cook should take care of the meat itself, but it will give off a lot of liquid. You can remove it from the wok and drain the sauce and juices back in to reduce. This will beef it up and turn them into a nice thick sauce. It’s supposed to be a nice dark brown coat on the meat but not really in a drippy way when you put the meat back back in and turn it through. If you’re a bit light on for quantity you can stir in some more dark soy and oyster sauce.
I serve it up by putting the soup and noodles in individual bowls, and putting the bok choy and beef in shared bowls in the middle of the table. Heap the meat on, sink the bok choy into the broth, and dive in with a pair of chopsticks and a porcelain spoon. There’s an old Chinese proverb that loses something in translation, but pretty much says “forks are for chumps.” Put the salt & pepper away, a bottle of light soy and some chilli oil are your table seasonings here.
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