Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pork & Noodle Soup with Cinnamon & Star Anise

A Delicious Bowlful

Hello, hello!  These posts have been few and far between lately, I know.  (Hopefully that will all change soon, though!)  But take note: to counterbalance this smallness in quantity, I’m really trying to go big in the quality department!  And so my friends, I offer to you one of my favorite recipes ever, Pork & Noodle Soup with Cinnamon & Star Anise. 

How can I possibly put into words, the deliciousness of this soup, when all I can normally muster up are drawn out ooh’s and an ahh’s?  Well, I think I need to start with the pork – slowly braised, achingly tender shreds of sweetly succulent pork shoulder.  This is a good start, for sure.  And then, the broth – deep in flavor and and dark in color, salty and sweet and absolutely addictive.  It’s an incredible combination of hugely flavorful ingredients – briny soy sauce, sweetly acidic rice wine, and molasses-flavored dark brown sugar.   And spreading throughout this sweet/sour/salty trio are the warm, subtle tones of cinnamon, garlic and star anise.  It sounds like a lot for a tongue to handle, I know.  But please don’t be timid.  This combination of flavors is absolutely miraculous. One bite and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Star Anise & Cinnamon

Chinese Rice Wine, Soy Sauce, Dark Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Garlic

All this talk about broth, and I nearly forgot about the noodles!  And oh, these bean thread noodles!!  They start our as skinny, brittle threads of spongy weirdness, pale white and wiry, and with no flavor to speak of.  (Check out the picture down below.)  But a quick dip into hot broth, and they absolutely transform, soaking up all the color (and flavor!!) of the soup, becoming shiny, translucent strands of shimmering gold.   Smooth and slippery, they tangle up all the chewy shreds of pork into a giant web of amazing tastiness.  And then atop this rich mess of warm, golden goodness - a bright, fresh sprinkling of sharp green cilantro and scallions.  It’s the last element in the equation, the one that brings everything together, and brightens everything up.

A Good Pinch of Noodles

Bite after bite, slurp after slurp, I promise you just won’t be able to get enough of this soup! We’ve made this time and again, and always end up surprised by how incredibly good it is.  Please, make this for yourselves, and soon!  You won’t be sorry!

Pork & Noodle Soup with Cinnamon & Star Anise
Makes about 6 generous servings

The first step here, of browning the pork shoulder in the hot pan, no doubt lends deep flavor and color to the final result.  That said, you’ll still get great results, even if you skip this step.  And you know that that means?  It means that this is  perfect crock pot recipe!  If crock pot cooking is your kind of thing, just add the pork shoulder through the star anise (forget about the oil) to the pot in the morning, and then later that evening, when the pork is completely  tender, follow through with the rest of the steps. 

Pork & Noodle Soup with Cinnamon & Star Anise
2 Tbl vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder
9 cups water
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup rice wine (easily found in the Asian aisles of most grocery stores)
6 Tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1 large head garlic, sliced in half cross-wise
4 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
about 4 ox bean thread noodles (also called cellophane noodles)
about 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish
about 4 scallions, both white and green parts, finely sliced, for garnish
Bean Thread Noodles (i.e. Cellophane Noodles)
Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes.  Add the vegetable oil and heat 30 seconds more.  Carefully add the pork shoulder into the hot oil.   Brown on all sides, turning every couple minutes, about 10 minutes total.  
When the pork is deeply browned on all sides, add the water, soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, garlic, cinnamon stick and star anise.  Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and lower the heat to maintain a very gently simmer.
Simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, until the pork is incredibly tender, about three hours.  Occasionally skim the surface with a spoon or ladle, to remove any collecting suds or scum.
Slowly Simmering
When utterly tender, transfer the pork to a bowl and coarsely shred the meat.  Discard the pork bones, garlic, cinnamon sticks and star anise.  Return the shredded pork to the broth and return to a simmer over medium heat.  Add the noodles and simmer, uncovered, and stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. 
Serve hot.  Garnish each bowl with a good pinch of scallions and cilantro. 


  1. Wow this all looks so delicious! I have the ingredients to make the carrots and orzo dish already, so I might just have to make it tomorrow. Thanks! Here's my blog.
    -Kourtne from knitting

  2. Kourtne! Thanks so much! I'm thrilled you checked out the blog. And I checked our yours too. What a gorgeous family you have! It was great seeing you at knitting club last night, and I can't wait for next time. Thanks again! Oh, and definitely let me know how the orzo turns out - It's a yummy one!

  3. I'm not sure if you're still active on your blog, but a friend just recommended your site to me and I love it! This looks SO delish!!

  4. Thanks so much! You made my day. Kind words like yours get me excited to maybe start up with all this blogging again! Perhaps soon. :)