West Lake beef soup (西湖牛肉羹)
West Lake Beef Soup (xihu beef soup in Mandarin) is a traditional southern Chinese soup with mince beef, shitake mushrooms, tofu, and egg in a thick, clear broth. This hearty and soothing soup has a delicate savory flavor and a great mouth feel, and is perfect for cold weather!
Beef mince soup is a great appetizer or side for family-style meals. It’s an artful soup meant to reflect the beauty of the lake. It’s easy to make when you have the proper techniques, which I share with you in this post.
What is West Lake beef soup
West Lake Minced Beef Soup, is a popular home-style soup from southern China. It is a very mild-flavored soup that is soothing for the stomach.
The soup combines beef mince, soft tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and eggs in a thick, clear broth. While its origins are uncertain, some believe it was created to mimic the beautiful scenery of the iconic West Lake in Hangzhou, China.
In Mandarin, this soup is called Xi Hu Niu Rou Geng. The Mandarin word “Geng” refers to a thick, hearty soup texture—almost like a chowder—as opposed to “soup” which indicates a thinner broth. West Lake Soup is considered a Geng due to the larger amount of starch used to thicken it.
This traditional West Lake beef soup recipe uses simple ingredients to achieve a nourishing and soothing feel. It is lightly seasoned to maintain a delicate flavor, and minced meat and finely chopped ingredients give it a fantastic mouth feel. Here’s what you’ll need for this Westlake beef soup recipe:
- Beef: Select a lean but tender cut, like sirloin or flank steak. Trim the fat before finely mincing. To shorten prep time, you could also use 90% lean ground beef with 10% fat.
- Shitake mushrooms: You can use fresh or dried shitake mushrooms that have been rehydrated. Finely chop the mushrooms.
- Tofu: I opt for soft tofu (not silken, which will crumble easily). Cut into small cubes.
- Ginger: We use slices of fresh ginger to infuse the oil and then remove it from the pan before assembling the soup.
- Coarse sea salt
- Michu or Chinese cooking wine: This is an optional ingredient added to the water before parboiling the beef to help remove the meaty smell and other impurities.
- Avocado oil: Or any neutral oil. We use this to pan-fry the ginger and saute the beef.
- Chicken broth: A store-bought broth works perfectly well. It helps keep the flavor of this soup light and delicate.
- Eggs: We will ribbon the egg whites and egg yokes adding some beautiful pops of color.
- Starch: I use potato starch. You can also use tapioca starch. This is used to thicken the broth.
- Ground white pepper: This is used to garnish the soup. In Chinese cooking, we use white pepper more than black pepper, but you can use either.
- Taki mushroom seasoning: This optional ingredient is a healthy alternative to MSG that adds depth of flavor to the broth.
- Toasted sesame oil: Drizzle to garnish the soup.
- Cilantro (or spring onions): Add a handful to garnish after turning off the heat for a pop of freshness and color.
Substitutions and variations
- Ground beef: For ease, you can also use lean ground beef with 90% lean and 10% fat.
- Beef stock: If you want an extra beefy flavor.
- Fish sauce: Add a dash for extra savory flavor.
- Added veggies: Cut up bok choy, yu choy, and Chinese spinach and add to the soup right before thickening (so they don’t become too mushy).
- Condiments: You can add a teaspoon of garlic chili sauce, Chinese black vinegar, or white vinegar to the soup when serving for extra tang.
How to make Westlake soup
There’s no need to be intimidated by West Lake minced beef soup! While there is some technique involved in making a great broth, I walk you through every step of the way. You’ll find that it’s actually quite easy while yielding beautiful and savory results. Let’s get started!
- Prep the beef. If using steak, slice it thinly against the grain. Mince the slices into very small pieces similar to the texture of ground beef.
- Prep other soup ingredients. Cut the shiitake mushrooms and dice the tofu into small cubes. Slice the ginger into thin, wide strips.
- Parboil the beef. Add salt and Chinese cooking wine to a medium pot of boiling water. Slowly add the beef, stirring to break up clumps. Parboil for 2 minutes. Drain into a colander and rinse under water for 1 minute, breaking up any clumps with your hands. Leave to drain well.
- Stir-fry the ginger and mushrooms. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Stir fry the ginger for 1-2 minutes and then discard. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 1 minute.
- Add the tofu, beef, and stock. Stir gently to prevent the beef from clumping. With the lid slightly ajar, bring to a gentle boil over medium heat for 10-12 minutes.
- Prep the eggs and starch slurry. Separate the whites and yolks of 2 eggs into separate bowls. Whisk each vigorously until foamy. Mixing 3 tbsp starch in water for the slurry.
- Skim soup to remove impurities. Once the soup is gently boiling, use a skimmer to remove fat and scum from the surface to keep the broth clear.
- Thicken and season the soup. Stir the slurry again and pour it into the soup to thicken it. Season with salt, pepper, and mushroom seasoning if using.
- Ribbon the egg. With the soup at a gentle simmer, slowly drizzle in egg whites from high above. Wait a few seconds before gently stirring to separate the white. Repeat the same process for the egg yolks.
- Garnish and serve. After turning off the heat, garnish with sesame oil and cilantro or scallions.
Why separate the yolks from the whites to make egg ribbons?
Separating the egg whites from the yolks allows you to create two separate strains of egg ribbons in the soup — white ribbons from the egg whites and yellow ribbons from the egg yolks. Drizzling the whites and yolks separately gives you greater control over the ribbon-making process.
The end result is akin to a beef egg drop soup with dual-colored egg ribbons that are visually striking.
Tips for making beef Westlake soup with clear broth
The broth for authentic West Lake style beef soup should be perfectly clear, not cloudy or greasy. Locals judge the soup partly on the clarity of the broth. To achieve a clear broth:
- Parboil the beef briefly (i.e. partially cooked in boiling water for a short amount of time), then rinse it clean before adding it to the soup. This is similar to the technique for making brisket pho broth. Rinsing removes impurities that would cloud the broth.
- Use a tender but lean cut of beef like sirloin or flank steak. Trim off excess fat before slicing the beef thinly against the grain. Then mince the slices yourself into very small pieces, as you would when making Thai larb. This results in less fat and more texture than pre-ground beef. You get a better mouthfeel with each bite.
- As the soup simmers, use a fine mesh skimmer or strainer to frequently remove any scum or fat that rises to the surface. This keeps the broth pristine and clear rather than cloudy. Skim the broth throughout cooking and just before serving.
How to make ahead, store, and reheat
To shorten the prep time in this West Lake soup recipe, you can mince the beef ahead of time. You’ll find that the rest of the steps are actually quite quick.
- Make-ahead: Mince the beef a day ahead, if making it from scratch. Store it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook your soup.
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Reheat: Reheat in a microwave or on a stovetop. The consistency will become thinner as you reheat it. You can enjoy it as it is or thicken the soup with more starch.
What to serve with this Westlake soup recipe
Beef mince soup is great as an appetizer or as a side dish with a large family-style meal. Or serve it with steamed rice and enjoy it as a meal of its own. Here are some ideas:
- Rice or noodles: Try this simple air fryer fried rice. Look out for my turkey fried rice and steak fried rice recipes, coming soon! Spicy peanut noodles are a great alternative to rice.
- Appetizers: Start things off with these crispy and chewy rice paper dumplings. I will be posting a recipe for rice paper egg rolls next!
- Veggie sides: Serve with your favorite veggies for added nutrition. I love this crisp and delicious steamed bok choy.
- Use a tender, lean cut of beef like sirloin or flank steak. Trim excess fat before slicing it thinly against the grain.
- Hand-mince the beef for the best texture instead of using pre-ground beef.
- If using ground beef to save time, opt for 90% lean ground beef with only 10% fat. This will help keep the broth clear rather than cloudy and fatty.
- Parboil the minced beef briefly to remove impurities, then rinse before adding to the soup.
- Use a fine mesh strainer or skimmer to frequently remove scum during cooking to keep the broth clear.
- Separate egg whites and yolks. Drizzle them in separately when serving to create two-toned egg ribbons.
- Use potato or tapioca starch to thicken the soup to a viscous, hearty texture.
- Add seasonings like white pepper, salt, and mushroom powder once the soup has finished cooking.
- Keep the soup at a gentle simmer, not a rolling boil, to maintain clarity.
- Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and chopped cilantro or scallions.
For boneless beef soup, opt for affordable lean cuts like sirloin, flank, or round. Trim fat, slice against grain, and mince by hand. Parboil briefly to remove impurities for a clear broth. Simmer just until tender—overcooking makes the beef tough.
Choose lean and tender cuts like sirloin or top sirloin. Similar to Vietnamese beef tomato soup, trim the fat then slice very thin against the grain. Use the Chinese velvet beef technique to tenderize the beef and break down fiber. Gentle simmering results in fall-apart tender beef. Avoid boiling or overcooking.
Use bone-in cuts like oxtail, bone-in beef shank, or short ribs. Sear the bones before simmering to intensify flavor like my Instant Pot Taiwanese beef stew. You can also use a good quality of homemade beef broth to boost the beefy flavor.
More Chinese soup recipes you might like
If you love this ground beef Asian soup, be sure to check out some of my other trending soup recipes! You’ll want to keep these on rotation through the winter months.
- Chicken corn soup: This is a thick and creamy soup that comes together with just 5 minutes of prep! It’s perfect for using leftover chicken.
- Hot and sour soup with chicken: Another great option for leftover chicken, this tangy soup is loaded with shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and sweet carrots
- Chinese chicken soup: Simply add a whole chicken and an herbal packet to your Instant Pot, slow cooker, or stovetop to make this restaurant-quality healthy chicken soup.
- Niu rou mian: This fragrant and flavorful Taiwanese beef noodle soup is enjoyed in every household in Taiwan, for good reason!
West Lake beef soup recipe
- 0.5 lb Sirloin steak, or flank steak, fats trimmed, or lean ground beef (90% lean, 10% fat)
- 4 oz fresh shiitake, 10 large caps, or 2.5 oz dried shiitake mushrooms (needs to be rehydrated)
- 14 oz. soft tofu
- 0.3 oz ginger, sliced, 3 slices
- 0.5 tsp coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
- ½ tbsp Michu, or Chinese cooking wine
- 1 tbsp avocado oil, divided
- 32 oz chicken broth
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tbsp potato starch, or tapioca starch
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper
- 0.5 tsp Takii mushroom seasoning, optional
- Drizzle Toasted sesame oil
- Large handful Cilantro, finely chopped, or 2 spring chopped spring onions
- If using steak, slice it thinly against the grain. Mince the slices into very small pieces that are almost similar to ground beef texture.
- Cut the shiitake mushrooms into small cubes. Carefully dice the tofu into small cubes. Slice the ginger into thin, wide strips.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and a splash of Chinese cooking wine. Add the beef bit by bit, stirring constantly to break up clumps. Parboil for 2 minutes to remove scum. Drain the beef in a colander and rinse under water for 1 minute, breaking up any clumps with your hands. Leave to drain well.
- Heat a large soup pot over medium heat until warm. Add 0.5 tbsp oil and lower heat to medium-low. Add the ginger and stir fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Discard the ginger.
- Add the mushrooms and remaining 0.5 tbsp oil. Sauté for 1 minute with a pinch of salt.
- Gently add the tofu and drained beef to the pot. Pour in the stock. Stir gently to prevent beef clumping. Leave lid slightly ajar. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, 10-12 minutes.
- Separate 2 eggs, whites in one bowl and yolks in another. Whisk each until foamy. Make a slurry by mixing 3 tbsp starch with 6 tbsp water.
- Once soup boils gently, use a skimmer to remove scum from the surface to keep broth clear. You can also use a spoon to do this.
- Stir the slurry again and pour into soup to thicken, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and mushroom seasoning if using.
- To make egg ribbons, keep the soup at a gentle simmer. With one hand stirring and the other hand pouring, slowly drizzle in egg whites from high above, wait for a few seconds then gently stir to separate the white. Repeat the same process for the egg yolks to create ribbons.
- Turn off heat. Taste and add salt if needed. Garnish with sesame oil and cilantro or scallions. Serve hot or warm.
- For authentic West Lake beef soup, the broth must be clear, not cloudy. To achieve this clarity –
- first parboil and rinse the beef to remove impurities before adding it to the soup, similar to the technique for making pho broth.
- Use a lean cut of beef like sirloin, trim off any excess fat, and hand-mince the meat into small pieces. Pre-ground beef tends to be more fatty and therefore makes the broth cloudy. Hand mincing results in better texture and mouthfeel.
- As the soup simmers, frequently skim off any scum or fat from the surface using a fine mesh strainer. This keeps the broth perfectly clear.
- Why hand chopping/mincing the beef?
- Hand mincing the beef rather than using pre-ground gives you more textural control and a toothsome, tender mouthfeel. Slicing and finely chopping a lean cut allows you to remove fat before mincing, making for a leaner product. While more time-consuming than pre-ground, hand-mincing results in beef that melts in your mouth yet retains substance. For speed, use a food processor to finely chop the meat.
- Can I use ground beef instead?
- Yes, you can. Please use lean ground beef with 90% lean and 10% fat.
- Can I use another type of ground meat?
- You can but it won’t be Westlake beef soup. You can use ground chicken or pork. It will still taste yummy.
- Why parboil the beef?
- Parboiling the beef before adding it to the soup helps remove excess fat and impurities that would make the broth cloudy. The brief parboiling allows the fat and scum to rise to the surface where it can be skimmed off and discarded. This keeps the final soup broth clear, not cloudy, and less fatty.
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