A few weeks ago I had the wonderful fortune of shopping at an Asian supermarket in the Boston area with my brother-in-law Al, who is Chinese-American. Aside from the joy of hearing him speak Cantonese to the store staff, I benefited tremendously from his ability to check the labels and help me make the best choice from my list.
On the other hand, to be honest, I’m always a little hesitant when discussing my attempts to infuse my cooking with Asian flavors with him, as I’m sure it’s nowhere near what he had, growing up, watching and listening to the food preparation in his house.
In any case, he helped us find frozen dumplings for frying or soup; Tiny, tiny, preserved fish to sprinkle on dishes for a pinch of extra umami flavor; and any number of sauces and condiments to replenish our stash of Asian pantry ingredients.
In our local area, we have been able to find a wide variety of international ingredients at local grocery stores or specialty markets here in the Berkshires and the Albany, NY area. And the good news about this recipe is that it’s flexible enough that you don’t have to worry about the exact ingredients. I have a feeling it’s one of my no-recipe recipes as you can make many substitutions to accommodate a variety of dietary practices, whether for health, ethical or religious reasons.
Most of the time, you’ll want fresh ginger and garlic, some sort of spring onion or other leek, some greens, and ingredients for the sauce. In addition, you can add a protein or not, top it with an egg or not, and garnish it with chili chips or not. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you can adapt it to whatever you have on hand. We do this a lot when we get Asian vegetables like bok choy or napa cabbage into our CSA stock that’s about to start the season.
Remarks: If you can’t find fresh pasta, dried pasta is fine, but remember that 16 ounces of fresh would be a smaller package of dried pasta. For the eggs, I have a sous vide dip stick that I use to cook them, so I start this an hour ahead of time. But before I had this device, I would make 6 minute boiled eggs when the rest of the dish was almost ready. Alternatively, you can prepare a poached or fried egg just before serving, or omit the eggs altogether if you prefer. I haven’t personally tried this with tofu, but it would be a great way to make it vegetarian/vegan. My suggestion is below, but since I haven’t tried this yet, use your best judgment to incorporate tofu into this dish.
FRIED ASIAN NOODLES
For 4 people, can be adjusted according to the size of the pasta pack
4 eggs (optional)
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine or light dry sherry
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
2-4 tablespoons canola oil, divided, plus more if needed
1 pound ground pork, chicken, or beef; or diced firm tofu
2-4 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3-5 spring onions, chopped (thinly sliced shallot or onion can be substituted)
4-6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
1 medium Chinese cabbage, grated; or 1 bok choy or 2 baby bok choy, stems and leaves chopped and kept separate
16 ounces fresh ramen or lo mein noodles, or a smaller package of dried Asian noodles
Chili crisps for garnish (optional)
If using sous vide, start cooking eggs at 140°F (63.5°C) about an hour before eating (recipe.)
Boil a pot of water for the noodles
Combine Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, and chili oil in a 2-cup measuring cup with a spout or small bowl. Put aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring rapidly, until cooked through. Pour into a bowl and set aside. Add a little more oil if needed, let it heat up and add the ginger and garlic. Fry, stirring, until fragrant, about a minute. Add the spring onions and mushrooms and continue to sauté until well cooked. If you’re using bok choy, add the stalks at this point as well.
Depending on the package directions, start the noodles when they are near the end of the pan. (You should try to time it so that you can take the noodles straight out of the water and into the wok. If that’s not possible, drain and rinse the noodles before you start frying according to the directions start with the packaging.)
Add the bok choi leaves if using, or the napa cabbage at this point. Return the meat to the pan or, if using tofu, add it now. Fry, stirring, until the greens have wilted.
Place the pot of noodles as close to the wok as possible and use tongs to remove the noodles straight into the pan. Add the sauce and mix to combine.
Arrange the pasta on plates, making a small indentation in the center to add an egg to each portion, if needed. Garnish with chilli crisp if you like.