Michael Chen is best known for his residential projects and one element of them that the architect especially likes to design is the kitchen. In a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood that its New York namesake, Michael K Chen Architecture, refurbished in 2019, that meant auburn cabinetry; an avocado-green island with a sink on one side and a recess for four stools on the other, so a cook can prepare and chat; and concrete floor tiles with tumble block pattern. He also loves green serpentine stone (“I find a white kitchen so boring,” he says), unobtrusive sockets and high-quality induction burners instead of gas stoves (“if it’s good enough for Thomas Keller…”). “There’s often a real tension in people’s expectations of kitchens between things that are beautiful and things that are functional,” says Chen, 46, “but I don’t see those qualities as contradictory.” His conviction that a space can and should be both, naturally stems from his architectural training, but also, like his interest in kitchens in general, from the fact that he is a kind of cook himself and is therefore able to anticipate the needs of a customer. in this arena.
His own kitchen, with a stone countertop, a Jasper Morrison Flos lamp and an abundance of walnut cutting boards and Japanese knives, is the heart of the Chinatown, Manhattan apartment he shares with his husband, Andy Beck, a lawyer with the ACLU Until recently, the apartment was the site of countless dinner parties where Chen could showcase his culinary skills and since, as he puts it, “acquisition is a bit of an occupational hazard in my job”, the many fine dishes he cooks in the over the years, including asymmetric ceramics by Eric Bonnin of Mociun in Brooklyn, vintage chartreuse Russel Wright lug bowls that have been scored on eBay, and marbled plates from MK Studio that he and Beck bought during a trip he and Beck took to Copenhagen. The pandemic put an end to such gatherings, but in its early days, Chen could still be found in the kitchen, tending his sourdough starter or rolling out pasta dough for homemade lasagna. Then, last December, he decided to try another labor-intensive recipe: his mother’s noodle soup.
Known in Mandarin as niu rou mian, the dish is ubiquitous in Taiwan, where many mainlanders, including Chen’s parents, Robert and Grace Chen, moved during the Communist Revolution of the 1940s. Accordingly, many of the regional characteristics of different noodle soups have been merged, which Chen describes as a medley. “It’s like Taipei’s answer to a hot dog. My parents used to talk about getting this dish from street vendors when they were young – if they had some extra money they would order it with meat, but if not, they would just get the broth,” Chen says.
But while his parents sampled the same street food in Taiwan in the 1950s, they didn’t meet until they graduated from Florida in the late 1960s. Over the next decade, they moved to Contra Costa County, which is just east of San Francisco, where Chen would come to love niu rou mian, or at least the version his mother adapted in line with Northern’s health-conscious culinary mores. -California. “The way our family cooks has a lean nature,” Chen says. “It’s less spicy, less fat, more concentrated and brighter than what you might find in a restaurant.” Though this didn’t make it any less of a treat: Chen’s mom prepared the dish for Christmas Day lunch every year, and extended family would descend on the house to sample.
When the pandemic derailed Chen and Beck’s plans to travel to California for Christmas last year, Beck insisted they have the soup in New York. “It had become a tradition for me too,” he says. And so Chen asked his mom to walk him through every step of her recipe, which involves braising and carefully skimming the contents of multiple jars, each with a different cut of beef — brisket, shin (or shank), and tendons — and a neatly bundled spice pack fragrant with Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, fresh chilies, garlic, ginger and more.
“It’s not the kind of braising you put in an Instant Pot,” Chen says. “It’s meditative. You cook it over the course of an afternoon, very slowly and at a low temperature, taking care not to disturb the meat, which can lead to a cloudy, greasy stock.” The final steps are to cook the Chinese flour noodles and serve it all together in bowls topped with blanched vegetables and pickled mustard greens (which themselves take several days to make). Chen says the final product has a quality, both “ethereal and carnal,” that he didn’t fully appreciate as a kid. It is a gift to taste it now.
Michael Chen’s Beef Noodle Soup
2 pounds boneless beef shank (if not available or desired, a beef shank can be substituted)
1.5 pounds beef tendons (about 3 tendons)
Herbal package (the one below makes one, but you’ll need to use as many as you have pots of meat)
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3 star anise
½ teaspoon fennel seed
2 dried chili de árbol or fresh chili peppers
3 crushed cloves of garlic
4 slices ginger, about ⅛ inch thick and 2 inches long
2 scallions cut into 2 inch segments
2 bay leaves
throttling fluid (for one pan)
1 pound baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, choy sum, or other Asian greens
2 extra liters of chicken stock
6 slices ginger
Chinese flour noodles
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
Pickled mustard vegetables (recipe below)
1-2 sprigs of coriander
Sichuan chili crispy, to taste
Sherry vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
1. Trim as much visible fat from the meat as possible, but keep the connective tissue. Soak each piece of beef in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes and rinse well.
2. Blanch each cut separately in boiling water for 5 minutes, then allow to cool enough to handle.
3. Split the tendons lengthwise and then into 1-inch to 1½-inch pieces. Cut the breast and shin into pieces, about 1½ to 2 inches.
4. Prepare spice packets by combining the Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, fennel seeds, chiles, garlic, ginger, scallions, and bay leaves into bundles of cheesecloth or fillable tea bags. Make one pack per jar.
5. Each piece of meat should be braised separately. Place the diced meat, seasoning packet, and 2 cups chicken stock in separate heavy-bottomed Dutch ovens and add enough water to cover the meat about 1 inch (2.5 cm).
6. Bring the liquid to a boil and immediately lower the heat so that you only see an occasional bubble. Add a healthy pinch of salt. Braise, partially covered, taking care not to let the liquid boil until the meat is very tender but still holding its shape, for about 3 hours. Add the soy sauce, sherry and honey for an hour while simmering. Skim the fat and foam off the liquid as often and as thoroughly as possible. The resulting liquid should be dark but not cloudy.
7. Tendons cook at a different rate and can take anywhere from 2-4 hours. The same precautions apply. Keeping the liquid from boiling, cook until the tendons are very tender and the stew liquid has a syrup-like viscosity.
8. When everything is cooked and soft, make the soup. Heat the remaining chicken stock with some slices of ginger in it. In a separate pan, bring four liters of salted water to a boil. Blanch the quartered baby bok choy or choy sum for 1 minute and remove from the water, but do not drain. Bring the same water back to a boil and cook the noodles until tender, 1-3 minutes (check package instructions). Sewage. Divide the noodles into deep soup bowls, top with the blanched green vegetables; a few pieces of beef and tendons; a ladle of simmering liquid, including some of the tendon braising liquid, which adds tremendous body and weight to the stock; and a ladle of hot broth. Top with chopped scallions and chopped pickled mustard greens. A dash of chili crisp is tasty, as is a dash of sherry vinegar.
Pickled Mustard Greens
Break about 1 pound apart of ripe mustard vegetables. Cut the thick ends of the leaves into inch slices.
Place the mustard greens on a baking rack on the counter to wilt for a day.
Toss the leaves and stems with ½ cup kosher salt, place in a colander to drain overnight. You can weigh down the greens with a can.
The next day, drain the greens, but do not rinse them. Pack them in a clean, sterile jar. Add three cloves of garlic and a chili pepper and fill the pot with boiling water.
Leave the sealed jar at room temperature for at least a day, then let it ferment in the refrigerator for 3-5 days and enjoy. Use within a week of opening.