The fact that I’ve been happily making this beef curry noodle dish the same way for years would lead one to think that it would have been one of the first recipes to be published here. I’m sorry I’d hidden this from you for three years, but it’s only because I was afraid you cool kids would make fun of me. First of all, it’s made in a slow cooker, not a much more sophisticated pressure cooker or a Thomas Keller-approved sous vide machine. Then we also have the issue of namelessness: this dish doesn’t have a name. Even Holly Golightly’s cat has a name. This thing? Nope. Not even “Noodles.”
The truth is that this dish started out as a failure. Initially, it was supposed to be a streamlined version of Khao Soi (northern Thai curry noodles), but failed to deliver (too many ingredients short). Then, in an attempt to save the cook’s face, it was quickly re-purposed as a streamlined version of Kuai Tiao Kaeng (aka Kuai Tiao Khaek), but, still being too many ingredients short, that didn’t go so well either despite the addition of soft- or medium-boiled eggs to increase the visual resemblance. [In case you're wondering about the ingredient issue, I guess I should tell you also that this dish was born in an era of students' poverty. My first slow cooker was purchased from a garage sale in a very dingy residential area. I went there, paid $2 for it, grabbed the thing, and ran like heck.]
But over several years, this concoction has become a set formula and blossomed into a delicious noodle dish on its own merit, collecting adoring fans along the way. It’s a good lesson on how you start out wanting to be like someone else, then you wallow in post-failure self-pity until you wise up and realize that who you are is exactly what you were meant to be all along. And this has prodded me out of my shell to present you this noodle dish without shame.
You know how life imitates noodles.
The dish still doesn’t have a name, though. And if you make it — and I hope you will — and someone asks you what it’s called, please feel free to give it a name. Anything. Herbert, Eleanor, Pætur, Bjørn, Jamal, Dionysios, Bobby … anything.
Some things to consider before making this dish:
- You need a slow cooker with at least 5 quart capacity to make the amount specified in this recipe. You can halve or double it depending on how many servings you’d like and the size of your slow cooker.
- The only type of meat which I recommend is beef shank. Everything else turns dry or mushy. I wish beef shank weren’t as expensive as it is. But having been disappointed several times by other types of meat including other cuts of beef, I can’t recommend anything other than beef shank. The amount of collagen makes it an ideal cut for this method of cooking and this dish.
- If you don’t have a slow cooker, or if you don’t like food made in a slow cooker, feel free to stew it in a pot set to simmer on the stove top or cook it more quickly in a pressure cooker. I know for a fact that the amount of cubed beef shank in this recipe requires at least 3-4 hours of slow stewing on the stove top; I have no idea how long it cooks in a pressure cooker so I’ll let you experiment with different cooking times.
- Let’s get back to the beef shank. If you normally buy your beef shank from an Asian grocery store, you already know that it comes boneless. This makes things very easy. All you have to do is buying 3 lbs of boneless beef shank, then cutting it into 2-inch cubes.
- For many of you, the only form of beef shank available is bone-in, cross slices of beef shank that are about 2-inches thick (see photos). Those work as well. Go ahead and buy about 4-4.5 lbs of them. Once you remove the bones (simply run the tip of your knife around the bone to release the meat), that amount should give you roughly 3 lbs of boneless meat. You can throw the bones into the slow cooker to increase the flavor of the broth and fish them out when you’re about to serve the noodles, or you can save the bones to make beef stock later.
- Why 2 inches? I’ll admit: it’s my preference. From my experience, without fail, what starts out as a 2-inch cube of beef shank will shrink to a 1-inch cube after 10-12 hours in the slow cooker. I think a 1-inch chunk of meat makes for a nice Goldilocks-approved size which fits comfortably on a spoon and can be conveniently consumed in one bite. Start out with smaller pieces and they fall apart; start out with larger pieces and they may be under-tenderized within the same cooking time frame.
- Whatever you do, don’t trim off what appears to be tough sinews. Those are the best parts. Keep them.
- The only remaining remark to make is about the noodles. I use the same kind of rice noodles that you use to make Pad Thaias I always have them around. But you can certainly use other types of noodles. Ramen-type egg noodles work very well also. Personally, I’m not so hot about glass (cellophane) noodles in this, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be used. The trashiest and the best? Instant ramen noodles. Just toss the seasoning packet, boil the noodles in plain water, and drain. I shouldn’t be telling you this. In fact, don’t mention to anyone that we had this conversation. Please.
- The rest is easy. Why shouldn’t it be? It’s a slow cooker recipe; anything more complicated than this would defeat the whole purpose.
- But if you really can’t help it and must figure out ways to make things more complicated, do this: once you’ve assembled the noodles, top each bowl with a tablespoon each of finely-chopped preserved radishes and fine, crunchy dried shrimp. These additions make the end result much more special. [I've talked about both in my post on Pad Thai ingredients.]
- Oh, three more things: 1. Add the coconut milk at the time specified in the recipe, i.e. after the meat has been sufficiently cooked. If you add it in the beginning, the coconut milk solids tend to seize. 2. The eggs — you can leave those out, if you’d like. Or you can just hard-boil them instead of trying to achieve the runny yolk thing which I’ve done here. The broth is already creamy, and the runny yolks won’t make that much difference. 3. Don’t go ahead and add all 3 tablespoons of fish sauce at the beginning as it will result in the meat being over-seasoned. Add just enough (1 tablespoon) to season the meat while it’s cooking, then add more later to season the broth.
- 3 lbs boneless beef shank, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar or 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
- One 4-ounce can (1/2 cup) red curry paste (I use the whole can; if your heat tolerance is lower, you can use half or ¾ of a can. Watch out if you use red curry paste that comes in a plastic tub; it tends to be much spicier than the type that comes in a can.)
- 2 heaping tablespoons of Madras-style curry powder (If I can’t find a Thai brand, I use Roland.)
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder (This is kind of optional since there’s already turmeric in the curry powder. But additional turmeric results in a curry with more vibrant color.)
- 2 cups water
- One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- One large shallots, peeled and thinly-sliced lengthwise
- About ½ lb bean sprouts
- About ½ lb green beans, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
- About 8 ounces of dried flat rice noodles
- 4-6 large eggs
- About 10-12 hours before you plan to eat this dish, put the beef, red curry paste, curry powder, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, brown sugar, and turmeric in your slow cooker; stir until the beef cubes are thoroughly coated with the seasonings. Pour the water on top. Turn on the slow cooker and set to low (250°F). Leave the slow cooker on, undisturbed, for 10-12 hours.
- About half an hour before the cooking time for the beef ends, soak the dried noodles.
- At this point, open the coconut milk can, and gently stir the coconut milk into the beef mixture along with the remaining fish sauce; set the cooker to either the lowest setting or warm.
- Now, boil the eggs to desired level of doneness.
- While the eggs are boiling, make crispy fried shallots. Put the oil and sliced shallot in an unheated small pan. Place the pan on medium heat and stir almost constantly. The shallots will sizzle slowly then turn crispy and golden brown in about 5-7 minutes (keep an eye on them; they burn easily). Once that’s done, transfer the fried shallots to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside.
- By this time, the eggs should be done. Remove them from heat.
- Put lots of water into a large pot and bring it to a boil.
- While waiting for the water to boil, peel and halve the eggs; set aside.
- Once the water is boiling, blanch the bean sprouts and sliced green beans separately; set aside.
- In the same pot of boiling water, blanch the noodles until they’re soft enough to eat (but don’t overcook!), drain, and divide the noodles among 4-6 serving bowls.
- Divide the blanched bean sprouts and green beans equally among the bowls. Spoon the beef curry over the noodles and vegetables. Arrange the eggs on top. Sprinkle the reserved fried shallots over the whole thing.
- Serve immediately with extra fish sauce, limes, and red pepper flakes on the table for people to season their noodles to taste.