Braised Beef Shank & Noodle Soup

I woke up on Friday morning, and it was freezing inside my bedroom.


Then, in an attempt to stretch my arms out, I realized...My body was still completely rolled up in my blanket. While my mind estimated how much colder it would be beyond the protection of that blanket, I groaned and wished to stay in bed until noon. Alas, this was not a possibility. Before I could even try to drift back to sleep...Jon, my 4-year-old nephew, was bursting in, frog-splashing onto my head, and shouting, "Breakfast! I'm hungryyy!" Jacquelyn, his 2-year-old sister, wasn't far behind.

Ah, that's right. Auntie-duty called this weekend.

Once breakfast was out of the way though, I started to think about the rest of the day. The morning's circumstances ultimately led me to soup. It was a cold Friday, the end of the week, and I didn't mind spending a quiet afternoon in the kitchen. What concoction did I end up with this time? Braised Beef Shank & Noodle Soup! Let me take you through my latest experimenting adventure...

Noodle soup is my nephew's favorite, so I bundled up the kids and we set out for our local Asian market. I didn't have an exact plan while walking through the aisles. I was just letting whatever I saw inspire me.

To start off, we wandered through the spice, noodle, and sauce sections. I love the spice sections in specialty markets. I saw the "sangke" (star anise) and immediately thought of Vietnamese pho, so I grabbed a bag.

Short ribs were initially on my grocery list, but some meaty-looking beef shanks got my attention instead. They reminded me of all the times my mom would cook up an enormous pot of Nilaga, a hearty Filipino soup and one of the staples in my house while growing up. (You may remember me making some in the Philippines!)

Some beef bones were also front-and-center. I'm making soup...soup needs stock...stock needs BONES. Me, to the beef bones: "Hop in the cart, join the soup party!"

To simplify things, you can always buy beef stock. Today, I just felt like making everything from scratch.

Back at home, the first thing I did was start braising the meat. I used Asahi, a Japanese beer, as my liquid and cinnamon, star anise, yellow onion, & garlic to add flavor. Why the cinnamon and star anise? I happen to love these flavor profiles from Chinese five-spice, which is commonly used on meat, and they also went along with my Vietnamese Pho-inspiration.

I seasoned the beef shanks with a little bit of salt and pepper, then seared them in a pan with olive oil.

After removing the meat from the pan, I sauteed slices of yellow onion, 2 whole garlic cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 2 whole star anise pods. I deglazed the pan with a pint of Asahi and 1 tbsp of soy sauce. Mmm beer. Don't worry, mothers/aunts/etc.! The alcohol will evaporate! (Nevertheless, beef or vegetable stock can be used instead.) After boiling the Asahi for a couple of minutes, I returned the beef shanks to the pan, covered with a lid, and lowered the heat. The beef needs to braise for at least 2 1/2 hours. Along the way, I tasted the liquid to check for seasoning. The liquid is quite bitter in the beginning. After the 1st hour, though, the bitterness mellows out and the broth becomes rich & flavorful. The marrow in the shank and the thin onion slices melt into the broth, really adding richness.

I decided to make some beef stock while the meat was cooking away on the stove-top. Of course, you can always buy and use canned beef broth to make things easier. In that case, just skip these next couple of paragraphs... (But, really, you know you want to make the stock yourself! Especially if you have big, glorious chunks of beef bones!)
  • I lightly sprinkled kosher salt and drizzled extra virgin olive oil onto 2 1/2 lbs of beef bones. Next, I roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. This caramelizes them  and just heightens the beef flavor.
  • I transferred the bones to a large pot (including the browned bits in the pan), covered with water, then brought the water to a simmer. Then, I lowered the heat so that the water barely bubbles. That's it. I kept this stock very simple. I let the stock cook for 3 hrs, though you can let it go for twice as long if you have the patience. From time to time, I skimmed the fat off of the top.

I also used another kind of stock for my soup broth: shrimp stock. There are usually a couple of containers in my freezer for when I want to make wonton or shrimp-noodle soup. But, for blog-photo purposes, I made a fresh batch. :) To make shrimp stock, you'll only need the shells and heads. It's so effortless to do and freeze for later use! It's as simple as:
    • Saute the shells in a little bit of olive oil or butter, until pink and slightly browned.
    • Add enough water just to cover the shells. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
    • Strain the stock, return it to the saucepan, then simmer/reduce, on low, for 20 more minutes.

      Why did I use shrimp stock? Because I had some and this is usually how many of my recipes start out...I had ____ on hand, so I turned it into _____. However, it wasn't a totally meaningless addition. It brought a subtle sweetness to my soup and added to the broth's depth of flavor.

      Once the beef shanks were done braising, I could finally prepare the broth for the soup. I removed the meat (and marrow!) and sliced it all into bite-size pieces, then I strained the braising liquid. In another pot, I combined 2 cups of beef stock, 2 cups of strained braising liquid, and 1 cup of shrimp stock. I also added 1 cinnamon stick, 2 whole star anise, and 1 large bay leaf. This broth gets simmered for at least 30 minutes, then I tasted and adjusted the salt as necessary.

      The last thing that I prepared was the noodles! I chose cellophane noodles because they're my favorite for soups. They have the thickness and texture that I prefer. (Probably because I grew up eating them in different Filipino noodle dishes.) You may also know "cellophane" noodles as "glass" noodles, Chinese vermicelli, or mung bean threads. At an affordable $0.69 per package, I usually stock up on a ton and have them handy for whenever I feel like having noodle soup. You can boil them right in the broth. Or, if you're preparing them ahead of time, they can be boiled in a pot of water. They turn transparent and "glassy"-looking when ready, after about 8 minutes.

      I assembled my bowls by putting the noodles in first, topping with braised beef, and garnishing with sliced scallions. Originally, I had plans to make the broth spicy. Spicy broth, though, does not mesh well with young children...A quick wave of the sriracha bottle over just my bowl fixed that dilemma perfectly.

      At last, hot broth is ladled into each bowl. I like to squeeze in a wedge of lime to go along with the sriracha, for a tangy and spicy kick. This soup is rich, beefy goodness that I could eat all day long. If not for the fun of making your own stock, try this recipe for that tender, yummy braised-beef! It requires a bit of preparation and definitely some patience, but the bowl sitting in front of you at the end of the day will always be oh-so-rewarding.

      Braised Beef Shank & Noodle Soup (serves 4)

      Print Recipe
      Braised Beef:
      2.5 lbs Beef Shank (2 large pieces)
      Salt & Pepper
      2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
      1/4 of a Yellow Onion, sliced
      2 whole Garlic Cloves, peeled
      1 Cinnamon Stick
      2 whole Star Anise
      2 1/2 cups (or a 1-pint bottle) Asahi Beer
      1 tbsp Soy Sauce

      Noodle Soup:
      2 cups Beef Stock
      2 cups Braising Liquid, strained
      1 cup Shrimp Stock
      1 Cinnamon Stick
      2 whole Star Anise
      1 large Bay Leaf
      Cellophane Noodles (*Most packages have the noodles in 2 oz. bundles.)
      Braised Beef Shank
      Sliced Scallions, for garnish
      Lime Wedges, for garnish
      Sriracha (optional), for garnish
      1. For Braised Beef: Season each side of the beef shanks with salt and pepper. In a pan over medium-high heat, brown the beef shanks in extra virgin olive oil. Sear each side for 2 minutes. Remove the beef from the pan and set aside on a platter. Then, add the slices of onion, whole garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Saute for 1 minute. Next, deglaze the pan with the beer and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then return the beef shanks to the pan (submerging in the liquid). Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 - 2 1/2 hours until the meat is tender. After the beef is cooked, slice or shred. Set aside until ready to use.
      2. For the Noodle Soup: In a large pot, combine beef stock, braising liquid, and shrimp stock. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, and bay leaf. After simmering this broth for 30 minutes, taste and adjust the saltiness to your liking. Cook the cellophane noodles in this broth until transparent and "glassy"-looking, about 8-10 minutes. Divide the noodles and broth into large, individual bowls. Top with braised beef and garnish with sliced scallions and a wedge of lime. Enjoy!