Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quick lunch: Spicy Szechuan-style noodle soup

I couldn't decide which recipe to post today, so I'm picked one of my own (few) original.

The flavor I was aiming for is the noodle soup you can get at Maratan in Shibuya, Tokyo.
I love that place - they only have a few items on their menu, but you know what they say: stick to what you're good at.

You go in, pick whatever ingredients you want in your soup (veggies, meatballs, mochi, cheese, etc), hand it to the chef and tell them how spicy you'd like your soup to be (1~5 with 5 being the spiciest). My spice-loving hubbie ordered an 8 once (you can go over level 5, it's just 50yen extra per level) and the soup was BRIGHT red.

"Ma" (麻) means "numbing," and "ra"(辣) means "spicy." Oh, and for the record, this is Chinese food, not Japanese.

The reason they call it "numbing spicy" is because they use Szechuan peppercorns. If you try one, you'll know what I mean, because you'll feel a distinct numbing feeling on your tongue. Personally, I really like this type of spiciness, because it's not as painful as others (like bird's eye) and it also has a floral aftertaste.

But enough rambling. Here's my version of the spicy noodle soup:


1 (or more) cloves garlic
4 slices thin-sliced pork (or however many slices you like, of whatever meat)
1~2 cups chicken + pork neck-bone broth (recipe will follow - but any broth is fine)
1 packet soy/shirataki/rice/glass noodles (more on this later)
veggies of your liking (I used bok choy & nameko mushrooms)
1~2 dollops Guizhou black bean chili sauce
1 green scallion, chopped
soy sauce, to taste
salt & white pepper
szechuan peppercorns

1. Heat oil (I use olive oil, but sesame is good too) and a few grinds of salt in your wok/pot over high heat.
2. Toss the garlic (minced or pushed through a garlic press) in, and once fragrant, add your pork slices. Try to make it one layer, or lay them so that you're maximizing the surface area touching the wok. If your garlic burns at any point, remove and discard.
3. The pork will cook fast. Flip the slices as soon as they start turning white. Once there's only a little pink showing, add the broth to the pan.
4. Once the broth boils, add your noodles (if you're using rice noodles, you may need to soak them in warm water beforehand - just follow package instructions). Add veggies.
5. Taste, and add soy sauce. A second before you're done cooking, add the scallions so they lose their raw bite, but stay crunchy.
6. Add the chili sauce and a few grinds of szechuan peppercorns. Serve immediately.

Chicken & Pork neck-bone broth recipe

Bones of 1~2 small chickens
1 bag (about 1lb) Pork neck bones*
3~4 cloves garlic
1 green scallion or leek
1~2 stalks celery
1 carrot, broken in two
1 medium onion, sliced into halves (keep the skin on - this gives the broth a nice golden color)
handful peppercorns
couple pinches of salt
any bits of leftover veggie that you won't use anyway

1. Toss everything in a slow cooker and bring to a boil on high.
2. Turn heat to low and let cook overnight or 8 hours. (basically, forget about it)
3. Strain the liquid into a bowl or tupperware and chill in the fridge until a recipe calls for it.
(a layer of fat will form at the top - feel free to keep or remove)

*You can get chicken and pork neck bones at most Asian supermarkets.
If there aren't any Asian supermarkets near you, just go to the butcher section of your local supermarket and ask if they have any. You can also use leftover bones from your pork chop steaks or roasted chicken.

** If you'd like more precise directions, Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries has a great recipe here.


Shirataki noodles

Soy noodles

Like most Chinese wok cooking, it goes FAST. Cooking time for the above is probably a total of 5 min or less. So it's a good idea to have all your ingredients ready and within arms reach.

If you're not on a low carb diet, feel free to use egg, rice, or glass (bean) noodles. You may want to stay away from udon, soba, or Italian pasta in order to maintain the authentic flavor of the dish.

Shirataki or soy noodles are precooked and only need to be heated, but if you're using raw or dried noodles, make sure you pre-cook them before adding to the broth. You can also place precooked noodles directly in your bowl, and pour the hot broth over it. That way you can avoid having soggy, over-cooked noodles (yuck!).

You can get the Guizhou black bean chili sauce at any Chinese or most Asian supermarkets. If you can't find it, you can substitute using regular black bean sauce & standard chili sauce or dried peppers. Just a word of caution: Guizhou black bean chili sauce is not gluten-free. So if you're highly sensitive towards gluten, please don't try it. I've been able to find gluten-free black bean sauce though. Just make sure to check those labels!

Szechuan peppercorns can also be bought at any Chinese supermarket. What to do with all those peppercorns? I usually keep them in an airtight container, and grind however much I need at a time. They're great on any stir-fry, when you need a little kick. Don't forget to add them when making mapo tofu too :)

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