I threw together a batch that night, following the classic technique I use for beef shins: searing the beef in a pot and cooking down an aromatic base of onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, scallions and dried chiles in the browned drippings. Then, I toast a bouquet of spices: a cinnamon stick, star anise, fennel and coriander seed, and Sichuan and black peppercorns. (Of these, I found star anise to be the most essential.) Next, I added my broth ingredients and a dab of doubanjiang. (For stir-fries, I’d bloom it in hot oil before adding other liquids, but, in this soup, I didn’t detect any difference either way.)
After returning the short ribs to the pot, I let it cook just until they were done. If you stop as soon as the ribs are tender, they retain a pleasantly juicy bite. If overcooked, braised meat loses its ability to cling onto moisture as you chew, resulting in juices that gush out but leave the remaining meat with a dry, pulpy texture.
Letting the ribs cool overnight in their braising liquid, I immediately noticed that something was off the next morning: While broth made with shins and tendons comes out solidly gelled after refrigeration, my broth was still thin and watery. Turns out the amount of gelatin in short ribs is not nearly as much as I had anticipated. (In retrospect, it made sense. We typically have to reduce short rib braising liquid a huge amount to concentrate its gelatin into a rich sauce.)
There were two solutions. The first was to simply reduce the broth until it got nice and rich. With this method, the broth is more like a sauce that glazed the short ribs and dressed the noodles. The other solution was a simple one. The broth had plenty of flavor but was lacking in gelatin, so I used a trick I frequently employ to make store-bought stock more similar to a good homemade one: I added a packet of unflavored powdered gelatin.
The resulting soup was every bit as sticky and satisfying as the best tendon and shin-based soup I’d had, and the tender, meaty short ribs made me wonder if having extra short ribs in the fridge is really such a problem after all.