Udon with Braised Sweet and Spicy Beef Short Ribs
Beef short ribs are rich, and they make for great winter dishes. Here the short ribs are braised in a caramel sauce spiced with chilies, star anise, and five-spice powder until fork-tender. Green beans are added to the stew and cooked until just tender. The succulent meat and green beans are served over the noodles with some of the braising liquids. If you like, serve Japanese pickled ginger on the side for a delicious counterpoint to the sweet and spicy flavor notes.
The longer it rests, the tastier this dish will be, so braise the ribs the day before you plan to serve them, if possible. I tend to serve less noodles than normal with this hearty dish. The pork butt (shoulder) makes for an equally delicious variation.
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup rice vinegar
4 12-ounce bottles amber ale
3/4 cup thin soy sauce
3 ounces ginger, thinly sliced
6 dried whole red chilies or fresh red Thai chilies
8 scallions, trimmed and lightly crushed
1 garlic head, cloves peeled and lightly crushed
6 whole star anise
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
4 pounds beef short ribs, or 4 pounds pork butt, cut into large chunks
1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 pound fresh or 8 to 10 ounces dried udon, or 12 ounces fresh Chinese wheat noodles
In a large pot, heat the sugar and vinegar over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and turns into a rich golden color, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the ale and soy sauce and stir to melt the hardened caramel. Add the ginger, chilies, scallions, garlic, star anise, and five-spice powder and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the meat, and simmer partially covered, until the meat is fork-tender or falls off the bones about 4 hours for short ribs and 2 hours for pork butt.
Before you're ready to serve, scatter the green beans on top of the meat and cook, covered, until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a medium to large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook the noodles in the boiling water until tender yet firm, about 5 minutes for dried udon, 10 seconds for fresh udon, or 2 minutes for fresh Chinese wheat noodles. Drain. To serve, divide the noodles among individual shallow bowls, and top with the tender braised beef or pork, green beans, and juices.