Braised beef ho fun noodle soup or what we call “清汤牛腩粉,” is a classic Cantonese recipe that dedicates to the clean broth and the purest beef flavor. The broth got a light sweet aftertaste, which comes from the daikon radish and the gan cao slices. The daikon radish also has a mild peppery taste which makes the beef flavor stands out even more. Even though it looks like Vietnamese pho, they are different. Let me be clear, one is not better than another, they are just two different cuisines. The Vietnamese pho broth is much sweeter; the sweetness comes from the onion and maybe some sugar. It usually serves with lime, basil, chilies, and bean sprouts, while Chinese ho fun is only topped with diced scallions, garlic oil, and maybe some pickles.
Braised the Beef
- 2 lbs of beef Brisket
- 1.5 lbs of beef bones
- 1/2 of a cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 a black cardamon
- 1 piece of tangerine peel
- 2 pieces of Gancao, optional
- 4 cloves of garlic cloves, peeled
- 5 slices of ginger
- 2 scallions
- 2.5 liters of water
Make the Garlic Oil
- 1/4 cup of minced garlic
- 1/4 cup of oil
- 2.5 lbs of daikon radish
- 3-4 servings of Ho Fun
- Diced scallions as garnish
Braise the Beef
I soaked a piece of brisket and some beef bones in water and kept them in the fridge over night. The soaking draws out some of the myoglobin, which is the redness that appears on the meat. That’s why the water looks pink now. If you don’t soak it, that is fine too, but the broth will come out darker, then you can’t call it a clear soup anymore.
Next, blanch the beef. Fill a big pot with lots of water. Add the brisket and the beef bones. Turn the heat to high and bring it to a boil. Be sure to leave the lid partially open otherwise, the pot will over flow and you will spend 20 minutes cleaning your stovetop. Turn the heat to high and bring this to a boil.
Turn off the heat, then remove the brisket and bones from the pot. Discard the blanching water or keep it for other meals because we don’t need the water for this recipe.
Preheat the clay pot over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add a drizzle of oil along with 5 slices of ginger, 4 cloves of garlic, and 2 big scallions. Stir until the scallions are welted. Then add 2.5 liters of water.
While waiting for it to come to a boil, put the following spices into a spice bag: 1/2 of a cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves, 1/2 a black cardamon, and 1 piece of dried tangerine peel; If you don’t have it, use fresh lemon or orange peel without the white bitter layer; 2 pieces of Gancao, this will give the soup a light sweet aftertaste. If you don’t have it, use 2 tsp of sugar. You see me using so little spices. That is because we don’t want the spice aroma to cover up the natural meat flavor.
Once the water comes to a boil, add the brisket, bones, and spice bag. Turn the heat to the lowest and simmer for 2 hours. The heat needs to be low enough that you only see some small simmering activities. We call it “虾眼水,” which means the size of the bubbles is like the size of the prawn eyes. Every stove is different. You should come back once in a while to monitor the heat and make sure the pot is not boiling while you are not looking; otherwise, the broth will turn out cloudy.
Make the Garlic Oil
While waiting, you can make the secret ingredient – garlic oil. Rinse 1/4 cup of minced garlic under running water. Shake off the excess water but no need to dab it with paper towels. A little bit of moisture prevents the garlic from burning before it releases the flavor to the oil.
Add the wet garlic to a sauce pot along with 1/4 cup of oil. Stir constantly over low heat for 8-10 minutes. It gets foamy like soap; that is normal. Once the garlic bits are lightly golden, turn off the heat and wait for the bubbles to be gone. The rest of the heat will continue to darken the garlic a little bit. Pour it out and set it aside. Look at the golden color – so perfect. With this technique, you can make scallion oil and shallot oil. However, you don’t have to rinse shallot and scallions because they have a lower mercaptans content.
Why Rise The Garlic? When the garlic is crushed and chopped, it will release a type of chemical called mercaptans, which makes your knife, and cutting board sticky. That chemical is what we are trying the rinse off because it will bring a bitter taste when deep-fried.
Prepare the Daikon Radish
The beef still has a long time to go. You can peel the daikon radish. Make sure to peel it twice. I found that the daikon radish in the USA is not as sweet as the ones that I get in China. It is more on the bitter side, and it gives the soup a bitter aftertaste. The skin contains even more bitter elements, so it is very important to double peel the skin for a better taste.
Discard both ends and cut the radish into chunks by using the roll-cutting technique. Daikon radish is the must-have item for beef soup in Cantonese cuisine. If you don’t like it or you don’t have access to buy it, use carrot instead.
Add the daikon radish into the pot 30 minutes before the beef is ready so you don’t overcook it. Season the soup with fish sauce. Taste and adjust the flavor. Continue to simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. That’s it. The soup is done.
Fish sauce is often known as a Thai or Vietnamese ingredient. It is widely used in the south of China as well.
Cook the Noodles
This is what we call Ho fun, it is commonly known as rice sticks or Vietnamese pho noodles. If you don’t have it, you can use regular noodles. According to the instructions, you have to soak them in warm water for 5-8 minutes or until soft.
During this time, take the beef out of the broth and let it cool for a few minutes. Slice the beef into thick slaps. Discard the aromatics, the spice bag, and the bones. You can leave the radish in the soup. I also like to sieve out the fat bits and the impurities. Look how beautiful that broth is – so clear and transparent.
Bring the broth to a simmer and add the noodles, then cook for a minute. Unlike wheat noodles, rice noodles don’t release that much starch, so it is completely fine to cook them in the broth. Of course, you can cook it in a separate pot if you want.
Add the noodles to a big serving bowl. Top with a few pieces of beef and radish. Sprinkle some diced scallions. Don’t forget to add the soul-ingredient, 1 tbsp of garlic oil. The heat of the broth will activate the fragrance, which makes this dish a mind-blowing Beef Noodle soup.