Alex has a thing for beef hofan. She’s obsessed with it. It was the only dish that she asked for when she got sick over the holidays (we didn’t give her any because her digestive system went on vacation); it’s one of about five dishes that she craves when she is feeling well. A few weekends ago, a time when she was definitely feeling well, she wanted to call the nearest Chinese restaurant to deliver beef hofan. But this is the suburb and restaurants don’t deliver after eight o’clock in the evening. By the time we were able to locate the restaurant’s phone number and make the call, there was no more rider available to make the delivery. And Alex pined. And pined.
What is it about beef hofan that she loves so much? The noodles. The hand-cut noodles. That time she couldn’t get beef hofan delivered to the house, she asked me to cook beef hofan instead. And I told her that those hand-cut noodles were beyond my skills. But why? Surely, just like any noodle, it’s just a matter of stirring flour (rice flour, in the case of hofan) and water to make a dough, rolling it flat and thin, and then cutting it.
Well, hofan is something else. It’s like a thicker version of rice paper — the wrapper for Vietnamese spring rolls. The flour and water mixture is not rolled. In fact, it is impossible to roll because the mixture is like a paste. That paste is spread and left to dry a little until it is firm enough to cut. The thing that the paste is spread on is like a sieve so that the excess liquid just drips off. It all sounds easy writing about it but I saw a video of the process and I need to gather a lot more guts to try it at home. Otherwise, we might end up with more paste — you know, as in paste to stick paper on paper with — than we can use in a year.
The following weekend, Speedy came home with a pack of dried hofan noodles. I’ve cooked with dried hofan noodles before, I knew it wouldn’t yield the same result as hand-made hofan but it was possible to cook a reasonably good beef hofan dish with it. Okay, maybe more than reasonably good because Alex said my beef hofan was really good. That’s my girl.
Traditionally, thinly cut tender beef is used for this dish. Top round, bottom round, sirloin or tenderloin… Cut the meat thinly, season, toss in starch and stir fry. Add the noodles, pour in the sauce and the dish is done is minutes. But what I had that weekend was beef brisket which is a stewing cut that requires a long time to cook — definitely nothing I could stir fry in minutes. So, I simmered the beef first, cooled the meat and then cut it thinly. Then, I stir fried the beef with the noodles.
Recipe: Beef hofan
- about 150 g. of dried hofan
- about 1 and 1/2 c. of beef broth
- 1 star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- a few slices of ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 6 peppercorns
- 2 tbsps. of soy sauce
- 2 tbsps. of sugar
- 2 tsps. of tapioca (or corn) starch dispersed in 2 tbsps. of water
- 1 tbsp. of hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
- a drizzle of sesame seed oil
- 2 tbsps. of cooking oil
- about 2 c. of thinly sliced cooked beef brisket
- a sprinkle of sugar
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a bunch of kailan (Chinese broccoli), cut up
- Soak the noodles in cold water for about 30 minutes. Drain.
- While the noodles soak, make the sauce. Pour the broth into a small sauce pan. Add the star anise, bay leaf, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, soy sauce and sugar. Bring to the boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Scoop out all the spices that you had thrown in earlier. Pour in the starch solution. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Stir in the hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and sesame seed oil. Taste. Add salt, if needed (not more soy sauce because you don’t want the sauce to turn super dark). Set aside.
- You can start the stir frying process once the sauce starts to simmer. That way, the total cooking time is just a little over 12 minutes. But, if you’re not comfortable doing that, finish the sauce before starting with the stir fry part.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan. Add the beef slices, sprinkle in some sugar (to help create caramelization) and cook until the beef starts to acquire some texture.
- Add the onion slices to the beef. Season with salt and pepper. Stir fry for half a minute.
- Throw in the kailan. Continue stir frying just until the greens start to wilt.
- Add the drained noodles to the beef. Pour in the sauce. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the noodles are cooked through (they will turn opaque in the heat).
- Serve the beef hofan at once.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 12 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 3