When the searing summer sun threatens to melt me into the sweltering sidewalk, I like to sneak out to Koreatown during lunchtime, if my work shcedule permits and order this dish, an ice cold homage to cooler days. I might even have a soju with it. Then I walk back to the office with a melting green tea mochi ice cream in hand. It’s a comforting, clandestine ritual to help break up the day and let me have just a taste of the summer heat. The only evidence being the sticky wrapper from the ice cream and the smell of heat as I walk by.
If you don’t want to be rude in Koreatown you have to slurp this one. High summer is the season for naeng myun — cold noodles. The buckwheat noodles are served in huge bowlfuls in an icy-cold tangy broth with crunchy pickled daikon and quick pickled cucumbers, slivers of crisp-sweet Asian pear, a boiled egg and slices of tender beef brisket. Mind and marrow, this soup will engage you and cool you down in no time.
Naeng myun is a light, refreshing dish from North Korea. If served perfectly there are chunks of slushy ice in it. The soup is traditionally made with a combination of beef broth and dongchimi brine (the clear liquid used for pickling a particular type of daikon kimchi). I couldn’t find this and didn’t leave myself enough time to ferment the radish myself so I went with white cabbage broth instead. I could barely taste the difference. The result is a heightened interplay between sweet and sour with a hint of salty, crunchy and mushy. The best word I can think of is “tangy.” The noodles are piled high and sometimes need to be cut up because they’re so long.
The hardest part for me in making naeng myun is striking the right balance between homemade beef broth and the dongchimi (watery radish kimchi) brine. The brine isn’t sold on its own. You have to buy a large tub of the kimchi at a Korean grocer or make huge amounts of it yourself. While you’re there you can get the rest of the ingredients. Serve with a dollop of Asian hot mustard and a splash of vinegar.
The only other requisite is a set of really big bowls. Mixing bowls bowls would not be out of order here.
Mul-Naengmyun (Iced Cold Noodle Soup) 물냉면
Much guidance from Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking
- 8 oz beef brisket
- 7 cups water
- 4 cups brine from Radish-water kimchi (or if you can’t find it then white cabbage kimchi)
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 Asian pear (or if you can’t find, use Bosc pears)
- 10 ounces buckwheat noodles
- 1 English or Japanese cucumber (or a kirby)
- 1 large hard boiled egg, shelled and cut in half
- 2 tsp korean mustard (optional)
For the Brisket and the Broth:
Rinse the brisket under cold running water, then soak in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes to remove any blood (this will keep the broth nice and clear).
Bring the 7 cups of water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Drain the brisket and put into the pot. Turn the heat down to medium and cook COVERED for 1 hour. Turn the head down to low and cook for another 50 minutes.
Remove the brisket from the pot and set broth aside to cool. Let the beef cool then slice it. Cover and refrigerate.
Combine the beef broth and kimchi brine in a metal bowl. Add the salt and 1/4 cup of the sugar and stir to dissolve. Cover and freeze until the mixture is slushy, a few hours.
For the Toppings:
Mustard paste (optional):
Mix 1 tbs of mustard powder and ½ tbs water. Put it in a warm place to ferment it for 5 minutes. Set aside.
Slice ½ cup’s worth of cucumber into thin strips. Add a ½ pinch of salt, ½ ts of sugar, and ½ ts of vinegar. Mix it up and and set it aside.
Slice ½ cup’s worth into thin strips. You can use either Korean pear or bosc pear. Soak it in water and add ½ ts sugar so it doesn’t change color. Set it aside.
Hardboil an egg, cut it in half, and set it aside.
For the Noodles:
Put a half package of buckwheat noodles into a big pot of boiling water. Stir them with a wooden spoon so that the noodles don’t stick to each other. Keep boiling for about 3-5 minutes until cooked.
When the noodles are cooked, move the pot to the sink and pour cold water over them. Drain some of the water out and pour more cold water over them again. This will help the noodles get chewier.
Rinse and drain the noodles a couple of times until not slippery.
Divide the noodles between two shallow individual serving bowls. Divide the partly frozen broth between the bowls. Arrange the beef, radish kimchi, cucumber, pear and egg halves on top. If you want to add heat, mix the mustard seed powder with 1 tsp water and spoon a little in each bowl.
Serve with korean side dishes (banchan)