西安羊肉泡馍：西安 (Xi an) is the capital city of Shanxi Province and it is also the starting point of the Silk Road. The food there always reflects its rich and cultural heritage. 羊肉 (Yang rou) is lamb; 馍 (Mo) is a slightly leavened bread. 泡 (Pao) is describing the cooking method of how they steep or soak the crumbled bread into the flavorful lamb soup. I will admit that this is a complicated and time-consuming recipe but as always it definitely worth it. I will go through all the little details to show you how to make it from scratch. The post is a bit long, please stick with me, and let’s dive deep into northwest Chinese cuisine.
MAKE THE LAMB BROTH
The broth is the soul of Yangrou Pao Mo. I am making the lamb version today. If you are not a fan of lamb meat, you can use the same recipe but switch it to beef. Niu Rou (Beef) Pao Mo is also traditional and popular in Xi an.
Soaked 3 lb of lamb bones and 1.5 lb of lamb meat in clean water and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day, discard the liquid.
Note: Lamb is naturally pungent and bold in flavors. Soaking is an easy way to moderate the taste, so your soup doesn’t come out too gamey. Of course, if you like it strong, you don’t need to soak it.
Blanch the bones and meat. Add 4 liters of water into a big pot along with the soaked lamb bones and meat. Turn the heat to high. Bring this to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, use a fine sieve to skim the foamy scum that is floating on top of the water. Usually, I will discard the water and start a new pot but because I soaked the meat and bone overnight so I am going to keep this pot of water.
Note: the foamy scum has a gamey aftertaste, which does affect the flavor negatively. It is not pretty looking, and it can mess up the presentation.
In a spice bag, add the following ingredients and put it into the pot. Simmer the lamb for 1.5 hours.
- 1 tbsp of fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp of Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 pieces of bay leaves
- 2 pieces of dried red chilies
- 5-8 slices of ginger
- a hand full of scallion
Note: If you don’t have a spice bag, you can throw all the aromatics into the water directly but you will have to let the broth go through a cheesecloth at the end.
Keep The Muslim Root: Did you notice that I didn’t use Chinese cooking wine for the broth? Normally I will, but this is actually a Muslim recipe, so using Chinese cooking wine is not authentic.
1.5 hours later, take out the meat. The meat is super tender at this point. If you try to slice it, it will fall apart. Let it chill in the fridge for a few hours. Then it will become firm, and you can slice it thinly.
Continue to simmer the lamb bone for another 1 hour. Then the broth will be nice and creamy. You just sieve out all the bones, and the broth is done. Since this recipe is pretty complicated, you can definitely make the stock ahead of time and store it in the fridge.
MAKE THE TUO TUO MO BREAD
坨坨馍 (Tuo Tuo Mo) is a tough flatbread that you can barely chew with your teeth. I know it doesn’t sound good already but don’t worry, let me tell you the legend about this dish. Zhao Kuangyin, the Song dynasty’s founding emperor, was poor and homeless before he became the emperor. One day, he was so hungry, and he only had 2 pieces of bread left, which are dry and tough. It happened that there was a mutton soup restaurant on the side of the road. The restaurant owner saw him pitiful and give him a bowl of lamb soup. Zhan Kuangyin broke the bread into small little pieces and soaked it in that soup. It was like the most delicious thing that he has ever had.
After Zhao Kuangyin became the emperor, he went back to that small restaurant and asked the cook to make the soup again. After the meal, he gave the owner a lot of money as a return, which spread out the name of this dish.
To this day, the recipe has lots of improvements and variations compared to the legend. We don’t put old and dry bread in the soup anymore. We make chewy bread on purpose.
Dissolve 1/2 tsp of alkali powder into 240 grams of water.
Pour the alkali solution into 450 grams of all-purpose flour. Get your spatula to give it a nice pre-mix.
You can knead the dough by hand for 8-10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic, but I will use a KitchenAid as I have serious athirst. Let it run at low speed for 10-12 minutes.
once it is done, cover the dough and let it rest for 1 hour.
Note: Alkali powder is called “食用碱” in Chinese. It makes the bread a little bit chewier. It enhances the Maillard reaction and brings out the natural fragrance of the wheat. However, it is optional, and the dish will still turn out delicious even if you omit it. It not an easy ingredient that everybody has access to, but you can make a replacement by baking some baking soda.
We also need to make a tinny yeast dough. In a small bowl, add in 2 grams of instant yeast, 25 grams of water. Stir to dissolve. Add 45 grams of all-purpose flour. Mix and form it into a smooth ball. Cover it and let it proof for 1 hour.
We made 2 types of dough. The big one has akali powder but has no yeast. It will not rise. The small yeast dough will be fully proofed. 1 hour later, mix these 2 pieces of dough together. I just throw the small yeast dough into the Kitchenaid. Let it run at low speed for 10 minutes. You can knead it by hand for 6-8 minutes if you don’t have a stand mixer.
Note: By combining bother of the dough together, we can make sure that the bread is slightly leavened. That way, it can absorb the flavor of the broth without being soggy. You don’t want fluffy bread that has too many bubbles because it will turn mussy once you put it in the soup.
Divide it into 8 even pieces. Knead each one into a round, smooth ball. Cover it and let it rest for 15 minutes to relax the gluten. Because the dough has been kneading for 10 minutes in the machine, the gluten is so intense right now. If you try to roll it flat, it will bounce back immediately.
Roll all the balls into flat pancakes. The diameter should be 5-6 inches across.
Turn the heat to low and heat the skillet a little bit. Place your bread in. Each side will take 2-3 minutes. You just go by the color. Once you see that one side has those charred marks, you can flip it and cook the other side. It is ok if the bread is undercooked because we will cook it again in the lamb soup.
Finish 8 of them. Cover with a lightly damp cloth and let them cool.
THE TOPPINGS AND SIDES
The lamb soup and the flatbread are the foundation of this recipe. Base on that, we will serve it with different toppings and sides to elevate the flavors, in which, sweet preserved garlic plays the principal role. The garlic fragrance is very gentle. I often snack on it. It is not spicy and pungent at all. The flavor is sweet and sour, very delicious. Yan grou Pao mo is rich and filling. Trust me, you definitely want a little crunchy pickle to balance the heaviness. I don’t know where to buy them because the local Asian stores around where I live don’t carry it. You can use other types of pickles though, such as the Japanese sushi ginger. It is also sweet and sour. Pickled olive from a jar like that is not as sweet but it does a great job at balancing the heaveness. I understand sushi ginger and pickled olive are not authentic but they work and they are easy to get. If you really want to try the traditional style, you can click here to learn how to make sweet preserved garlic.
Beside the sweet preserved garlic, you will also need to soak some dried ingredients.
- Dried day lily flower (金针菜)– It is also known as dried lily buds or golden needles. It has a unique woody, earthy aroma.
- Dried wood ear fungus (黑木耳) – also known as black fungus and jelly ear. It gives a nice crunchy texture which I really like. If your wood ear mushrooms are big, you can go ahead and rip them into 1 inch * 1-inch size.
- Mung bean noodles (绿豆粉丝) – Once rehydrated, take a pair of scissors to cut them into 4-5 inches long.
Note: These 3 are typical Chinese dried ingredients, and they could be a bit hard to find. Asain grocery stores will be the best bet to look for. You can click the ingredient name to check out the product if you want to buy them online. The price will be a little higher compared to going into the store, though. Also, since they are just toppings, it is totally ok to omit them. The soup will still taste delicious.
You also need to prepare some garlic chili paste (I am using Lee Kum Kee brand, but you can use your favorite one), some diced scallion, and cilantro.
ASSEMBLE THE YANG ROU PAO MO
When you order this meal in a specialized Paomo restaurant in Xi an, they will give you a big soup bowl, a number, and some flatbread. The amount of bread depends on the size of your appetite.
Then you can take your time to break the bread into small little pieces. The size should be like the soybean size. Don’t go too big; otherwise, it takes too long to cook. I am a thin eater. I usually use 1.5 bread. But if you have a big appetite, you can put 2 or 3. The bread is quite dense. It will take some time and strength to finished. The restaurants do serve the bread in small pieces, but those are cut by the machine. The edge is straight and clean. The locals prefer to tear it by hand to get that jagged appearance, which will help catch lots of flavors from the broth. There is a saying that the cook will judge you if you are a true eater or not by the way how you break your bread.
Once you are done, you can mark the bowl with the number they gave you and pass it to the chef. They will cook it for you. In the restaurant, Yang Rou Pao Mo is always cooked by a single portion because you already touched the bread and broke it into the size you like. You don’t want it to be mixed with others. But if you are a family and comfortable with each other, it won’t be a problem.
Put some lamb slices, day lily, wood ear mushroom, mung bean noodles onto the crumbled bread.
Bring 2 cups of the lamb broth to a boil and throw in the full bowl of ingredients we just prepared. Keep cooking for a couple of minutes. Add some salt by taste. Serve the soup in the bowl and you are done!
Sprinkle a little more scallion and cilantro as a garnish. Top a little bit of chili paste. Serve the sweet preserved garlic on the side, and you are done.