Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fried noodles

Stri fry noodles is somethng that anyone who cooks and even vaguely likes Chinese food will make at some point. They seem so incredibly obvious - the name says it all, surely. Hot wok, noodles, garlic and ginger plus whatever protein and veg you have available, add some liquid, preferably rice wine and stir rapidly over a high heat. If there's a bit of coriander in the fridge chop it in at the end and it's all to the good. You have stir fry. Technically speaking this is precisely what you have.

For many years it was pretty much how I made them and often as not it was fine as dinner, fairly quick and not much mess, light if not really elegant. But over the last few years as I have begun to use more and more Asian cookbooks, both current and ancient out-of-print ones that I indulge myself with occasionally, I have started to realise how much more this dish can be. What my origninal method lacks was any kind of subtlety to the finished dish, any nuance or melding came mostly through luck or through trying to replicate something I'd eaten in a restaurant and not through any particular skill on my part.

The results were borne of ignorance rather than inability. One of my favourite Chinese books is Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook, last printed more than thirty years ago but still brilliant today. The woman was a culinary genius on a domestic scale. I was looking for something else the other day when I happened again upon her list of one dish meals, a tempting list that I had once resolved to work through from top to bottom, an ambition not yet achieved. Fried noodles was one of the 'yet to makes' and, with noodles and some pork in the freezer and a sweetheart cabbage in the fridge I decided its time was now. It took quite some time to prepare everything but it was a fascinating lesson in how to construct every element so that each ingredient was considered so that they all stood out and worked together.

Fried Noodles

You could use many other combinations of ingredients, consider this to be the building blocks and the key to understanding how they go together.

Makes 2 generous bowls of noodles with a little over for one lunch next day

1/4 cup dried tree ears
6 dried mushroom
2 cups boiling water
100g raw prawns
1/2 tspn salt
500g fresh noodles
1 small cabbage - sweetheart or Chinese
150g pork steak
3 spring onions
2 tbspns soy sauce
1 tbspn sesame oil
2cm knob of fresh ginger thick as your big toe
1 tbspn rice wine or sherry
1 tbspn corn flour
9 tbspns peanut oil
1 tbspn salt

Put the tree ears and dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set aside to soak for 20-30 minutes.

Peel the prawns, devein them (cut the thin black intestine out that runs down the back) and, if large, cut them into 2cm pieces. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, mix thoroughly and set aside.

Pull off the tough outer leaves of the cabbage and discard. Wash the other leaves then shred crosswise into pieces roughly 2cm wide; you should end up with about 3 cups.

Cut the pork into thin shreds about 5cm long and 1/2 cm wide and put into a bowl.

Clean the spring onions, then cut both green and white parts into 5cm lengths, then slice them lengthwise into fine shreds. Add the spring onion shreds to the pork shreds along with the soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix well and set aside.

Peel the ginger, then slice it into shreds about 1/4cm wide, the width of a matchstick.

Drain the tree ears and mushrooms, then rinse them well under running water. While you are rinsing the tree ears pick them over carefully to remove any impurities, such as little pieces of wood tha may still be embedded in them. Remove the hard stems from the mushrooms and slice the heads into thin slivers 1/2 cm wide. Keep the mushrooms separate from the tree ears.

Add the rice wine and the corn flour to the prawns and mix well.

Rinse the noodles thoroughly with warm water and drain in a colander.

Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds then add 6 tablespoons of peanut oil. It will be ready to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear. When the oil is ready toss in the ginger and the mushroom shreds. Stir-fry them for 30 seconds, scooping them off the sides of the pan and stirring them in the middle of the wok. Add the meat mixture and stir-fry for antoher 20 seconds.

Now add the tree ears and continue to stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Keep stirring while you add the prawns, keeping everything moving for another 45 seconds, then tip the whole lot into a large bowl. At this point the prawns will only be partially cooked.

Thoroughly wipe out the pan with paper towels and put it back onto a high flame for 15 seconds then add 3 tablespoons of fresh peanut oil. When the oil is hot enough for cooking put in the sliced cabbage. Stir-fry for a few seconds, scooping the cabbage shreds off the sides of the pan and tossing them into the centre. Add a scant tablespoon of salt and continue to stir-fry for about a minute.

Now add the drained noodles. (You don't have to stir-fry something like noodles too energetically; just use your cooking shovel to spread them around and keep them from sticking to the sides of the pan.)

After the noodles have cooked for about 2 1/2 minutes, return the meat and prawn mixture to the pan. Stir the ingredients so they are all evenly distributed, then let everything cook for 5 minutes more, stirring the noodles occasionally to make sure they all get fried. Longer cooking will produce crispier noodles, which is a good thing. Some crispy bits add another texture.

Serve immediately.

Expect no sauce on the finished dish just a lovely melange of noodles and pork and cabbage.


azélias kitchen said...

Interesting reading your instructions for stir frying the meat/prawns first and then take them out and continue with the rest.

It's something I've being doing for a while from seeing someone else but can't remember who now. It stops creating too much steam in my wok where everything ends up being 'stewed' rather than stir fried. It's difficult when making a meal for a family of 5 as you end up with too much in the wok!

bron said...

I've done it with other dishes where I cook some, take it out, cook more then bring it all together but never before with noodles. Definitely made for a better bowl of noodles where there's lots of ingedients like this.

If you stir fried the meat/prawns first altogether then did noodles/cabbage in two goes you could feed all five (almost!) at the same time. But I can see that it's a challenge.