If you need some comic relief, go see a T-ball game. We signed Sonny up for our local little league and had no idea what to expect. Let’s just say, I’ll be happy if Sonny isn’t scared of the ball by the end of the season. None of the kids can catch. Only one kid can actually throw hard enough to reach base to base. Since everyone is still learning the game at this point, the entire team is out on the field at the same time. Imagine ten 5-year-olds running for every single ball that comes out. Talk about pile-ups; it looked more like rugby than baseball. Then once they’ve wrestled the ball from their teammates, they’re usually confused about what to do with it. Once during the first game, Sonny was supposed to be running from first to second base but decided instead to chase the ball hit by his own teammate. That wasn’t as bad as the kid who hit the ball (pretty hard too) then proceeded to run to 3rd base. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life.
The downside to playing sports in the spring in Portland is having to deal with unpredictable weather. Last weekend was so warm and beautiful. People were wearing shorts and flip-flops to the game. This weekend it hailed and didn’t even break 50 F. People were dressed like they were going skiing. I made the mistake of wearing my Chuck Taylors and by the time I got home, my feet were so wet and cold, I couldn’t feel my toes.
While other people in warmer climes are pulling out their grills, I fired up my oven to braise pork shank for noodle soup. It’s a variation of a pork shank stew I ate growing up. Usually it's served with hard-boiled eggs over rice. This time I decided to nix the eggs and do it with noodles. The broth is savory-sweet with hints of anise, fennel, cinnamon and ginger. The pork shank is so tender because it’s braised with the skin on. This keeps the meat moist and when the collagen breaks down, it adds richness to the broth, much like what happens when you braise lamb shank.
Braised Pork Shank Noodle Soup
Serves 4 to 5 adults
- 2 to 3 pork shanks, with skin (about 3 pounds)
- 2 star anise
- 1 3-inch stick cinnamon
- ½ tbs toasted fennel seeds
- ½ tbs toasted coriander seeds
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
- 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbs sugar
- 2 tbs fish sauce
- 2 tbs thick soy sauce (see note)
- 6 cups water
- 1 pack chow mein noodles, usually sold in 16 oz packs (see note)
- 4 or 5 green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
- ½ bunch cilantro, chopped for garnish
- ¼ pound Chinese BBQ pork, thinly sliced (optional)
- ¼ pound fish cake, thinly sliced (optional)
- bean sprouts or sliced bok choy, blanched (optional)
- Condiments: chili garlic sauce or sambal, lime wedges, fish sauce
Note: The flavor base for the broth is thick soy sauce. As its name implies, it is thick with the consistency of molasses. It is also sweetened with molasses. Regular old Kikkoman cannot be substituted. I believe thick soy sauce also goes by the name ketchap manis.
For this dish, I recommend using the chow mein noodles. They have a better texture than ramen noodles or even rice noodles. However, if you can’t find them substitute any noodle you like. Or you could even use rice.
I've only recently discovered these noodles. I like them because they have a nice al dente texture, whereas ramen or rice noodles can get soggy. They are also great for stir-frying.
In a stockpot or large Dutch oven, warm a little oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the pork shanks and brown them well on all sides. Add the spices, ginger, and garlic and fry until fragrant. Add the water, sugar, thick soy sauce and fish sauce. Allow to come to a boil. When it comes to a boil, cover and braise either on the stovetop over low heat or in a 300 degree oven (my preferred method). Either way, it will take about 2 to 3 hours. It’s done when the meat on the shanks is fork tender and the collagen has broken down.
Normally I make this stew a day or two in advance and allow it to sit in my fridge to let the flavors meld. And it makes it so much easier to remove the fat, which will rise to the top and solidify. However, this isn’t necessary. If you plan to eat them the same day, just remove the shanks and allow them to cool slightly before removing the skin and bones and collecting the meat. If you allow the broth to sit for 15 to 30 minutes, the fat will rise to the top and you can skim some of it off. I recommend straining the broth to remove the spices.
Cook the noodles according to package instructions. For the chow mein noodles, I just boil them for 2 minutes and drain. Easy.
To plate, I put a bundle of noodles in the bowl, pile it with the garnishes then ladle the broth on top. I like just a couple of ladles of broth, while Sonny and Hubby like a lot of broth. The condiments go out on the table so everyone can season their soup the way they like.