Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Forbidden Noodle

I think I've said this before, but Asian food is something I messed up when I was first cooking.  I think messed up is putting it lightly.  I ruined it.  Most of my cooking knowledge at that first-apartment point was watching back-to-back Giada Everyday Italian and Rachael Ray, which convinced me that you cook everything in olive oil.  This meant that, to make stir fry or yakisoba, I'd dump a bunch of olive oil into a saute pan, crank it up to high, let the oil burn and break down and then.  An honest mistake, but I never bothered to Google some directions to figure out how not to have soggy, funny-tasting Asian food at home.  As a result, I was put on a far east experiment ban. 

My redemption began when I discovered vegetable oil.  I don't want to admit how long this took. With its higher smoke point (how hot you can crank up the pan without burning the oil and giving a weird taste to everything you cook in it) and its much more neutral flavor, it can do the job of wok-style cooking without compromising the integrity of all those ingredients you spend so much time prepping.  Speaking of prepping, I love the tools that make prep easier!  Namely?  This cheap, amazing julienne slicer from Pampered Chef.  Cheap as in not all that expensive, it's made well.  Just to be clear and all.  Just run it along carrots or whatever and you get these gorgeous ribbons that cook fast and work well in stir fry-style dishes and salads.  Did I mention it makes prep ten times easier? 

(p.s.  I'm still waiting for my endorsement check, PC!!)

The second secret?  Proper saucing at the proper time.  When I was taking Japanese in high school my sensei made fried rice and yakisoba with Okinami sauce.  Will you be able to read the label?  Maybe not--I've seen it in English and just in katakana.  But at your local Asian market, look for the orange-topped brown bottle with the smiling samurai guy with the Jay Leno chin.  Don't go tossing in a bunch of soy sauce or rice wine vinegar, as I've done tragically in the past.  And don't add it until the very, very, very end of the cooking!  Otherwise it gets crusty and gross. 

Asian-style cooking, unlike the Italian and American-style classics that I grew up very familiar with, didn't come naturally.  I had to go through a lot of failures, a lot of thrown away dishes, and invest some time reading up on what I was doing wrong.  By following the steps from people that actually know what they're doing, I've been able to redeem myself with subsequent successes, and am no longer banned from cooking up Asian noodle dishes.  Victory!!  It's nice to have that extra continent opened up on our rotating easy-but-still-fresh weeknight menu rotation.  They taste like the fun stuff you get at lunch at the bento shop, and are a good way to use up random vegetables you have laying around. 

The Forbidden Noodle!
1 package of refrigerated Asian noodles (either yakisoba or chow-mein style; I like the thinner chow mein noodle personally)
Vegetable oil
3 boneless chicken thighs, marinated in your favorite garlic or teriyaki marinade and sliced into cubes
3 medium carrots, julienned
1/2 large onion, sliced into strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 head either Chinese or regular green cabbage, sliced into ribbons
3 green onions, sliced into 1" strips
Bottle of Okonomi sauce (don't use the whole bottle, just have one around)

Heat the oil in a stainless steel skillet or wok on high.  Add the chicken and stir fry until golden brown and cooked.  Remove from pan and set aside on a plate for later.  Place onions, cabbage and garlic in pan and add additional oil if necessary to stir fry until slightly softened, around 5 minutes.  Replace chicken into the skillet and add noodles and green onion slices, stirring constantly until well-mixed and noodles are heated, about 2 minutes.  Add about 1/2 cup of water to the skillet and cover to allow the noodles to steam slightly, just a couple of minutes (you don't want them to get soggy).  Add okonomi sauce to your taste (I use about 4 tbsp), stir until just combined and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.
Sriracha Sauce, for garnish

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