Monday, May 23, 2011

How to use your noodle

What do “The Real Housewives of New York” and Top Ramen have in common?  They’re both on my list of guilty pleasures --- neither is any good for you, but once you get a little taste, you just keep wanting more.  I could probably eat a bowl of Top Ramen every single day, if it wasn’t for that wicked packet of magical msg flavoring that makes it taste “oh so good”, but is “oh so bad for you.” 

My penchant for soup noodles stems from my childhood when my mom made gia-normous pots of beef soup for noodles all the time, mostly on the weekends. A hearty bowl full of noodles with a rich and salty broth, and super-tender beef was a typical Saturday afternoon lunch.  Ever since, “noo-roe-mein” (“beef soup noodles” in Chinese) had “coming home” written all over it.  Back in the day, when my parents hosted poker parties or mah-jong marathons at our home, a favorite “shao-yeh” (“midnight snack” in Chinese) was a round of noo-roe-mein for all the gambling guests.  Kind of like a Dick’s burger for my generation.  In college, coming home on a Saturday afternoon to do laundry while slurping down a bowl of noo-roe-mein was a common ritual.  In more recent years, a festive morning of tearing open Christmas presents with the extended family at my parents’ house has often culminated into 16 bowls of noo-roe-mein to round out the holiday.  And when my husband, kids and I return from a family vacation, there’s no better homecoming than when my dad picks us up from the airport and tells us that a pot of noo-roe-mein is just a phone call away:   “Hi mom!  On our way.  Start boiling the pot of water!”

Just last weekend, my mom and I were watching my son’s baseball game at the neighborhood park.  It was late-afternoon, I hadn’t had lunch, and at the top of the last inning, mom casually mentioned, “I made a pot of noo-roe-mein.  Want some?”  Yummmm…I started counting down the strikes to my 1½ block walk to another noodle homecoming at mom’s. It was then that I decided this had to be my next recipe.  

The Dragon Ladies, at the baseball field last week, right before going home for some beef soup noodles!

One of my sisters, who always has a crazy entrepreneurial scheme up her sleeve, has always wanted to channel her love for noodles into dollar signs.  One re-occurring fantasy involves starting a Chinese noodle cart at Seattle Mariner’s games or other sporting events.  “Lo-mein noodles, noo-roe-mein…people would just love it, don’t you think?  We would do so well,” she has repeated.  I don’t doubt this, but my sister tends to often wear rose-colored (albeit Chanel) glasses, and underestimates the amount of time and energy that a “great idea” requires to pull off.  And guess who would end up doing 98% of the work?  Yup, yours truly.  So, dear Catherine, I fully support your noodle cart business…from afar.  Here’s the recipe to get you started, and I’ll look for you at the next Mariner’s game.  In the meantime, who knows….maybe some Dragon Lady Kitchen followers will try this recipe, fall into our noodle spell, and step up to invest.  Now that’s using your noodle!

Beef Soup Noodles

Two pots are better than one:  Cook up your soup and beef in one pot; then boil your noodles in another.  Store any leftover beef soup separately from the cooked noodles.  They’ll keep better that way, and will make a quick meal in seconds!  Simply prepare a single portion in a bowl and zap in the microwave

Whole star anise plays a key role in slow-cooked Chinese dishes. The licorice aroma may smell strong, but the wonderful flavor subtly enhances the meat and broth.   I found them in the bulk shelf in the spice aisle at my local supermarket.  A handful cost only 19¢.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ½ pounds beef chuck (pot roast)*, excess fat trimmed, cut into 2” cubes
1 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons wine (red, white or cooking wine)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large beefsteak tomato, cut into wedges
2” piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 whole star anise  
6 cups water

1 pound Chinese noodles (found in Asian food aisle in most supermarkets)
4-6 heads baby bok choy, washed, ends trimmed
Sriracha Hot Chili

In a large, enameled cast iron pot or stock pot, heat oil on high heat.  Add beef; stir to sear all sides, about 3-4 minutes.  Add soy sauce, wine, sugar, tomato wedges, ginger and anise.  Cover and bring to boil; reduce to simmer for 1 hour.  If any foam accumulates while simmering, skim off with a small spoon and discard.

Add water, cover and return to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30-40 more minutes, or until meat is fork tender.  Discard star anise and ginger.  Remove from heat.

To cook vegetables and noodles, bring 5 quarts water to boil in a large pot.  When water boils, add bok choy; cook for one minute, then remove and set aside (do not drain water from pot).  Add noodles to same pot of water and cook until done (about 5 minutes; do not overcook).  Drain noodles in a colander.

For each portion, place 3-4 ounces of cooked noodles (about 2 cups) into a large soup bowl.  Add approximately one head of cooked baby bok choy.  Ladle 1 ½ cups of beef soup and beef pieces into bowl, serve immediately.  For spicier palates, add Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce to taste.

*Note:  do not substitute a ‘beef stew’ meat for this recipe.  Beef chuck has the perfect amount of fat content to remain tender and flavorful.  Beef stew meat will become too dry.  Mom traditionally uses beef shank, which has a lot more fat and tendons (a Chinese delicacy for some, but usually a less desirable cut of meat for most).  I have adapted to appeal to the masses.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Meat and Potatoes, Chinese Style

Saucy curry chicken with big chunks of potatoes, over rice.  So comforting on a rainy Seattle day.  Even though the calendar says “goodbye winter”, the Seattle weather forecast for spring always says “lots of curry chicken days ahead”! 

A Chinese recipe with potatoes?  There aren’t many.  But here’s one that fulfills my occasional need for some meat and potatoes comfort food.  It’s hearty, but light, because it uses chicken, basking in a flavorful, golden curry.   The sauce is so plentiful, it’s almost like a stew.  As a kid, I remember how the exotic aroma of curry would infuse the whole house when my mom made this.  I would smash up the softened potato chunks with my fork, and let the puddles of spicy curry gravy soak right in.  Even though there are potatoes in this dish, we always ate this with steamed white rice.  A bit of a carbo overload, I know, but remember my dad’s rice addiction?  (Never a complete meal without rice!)  Old habits die hard, so I still like this over rice.  Once you taste the sauce, you’ll understand why.

Mom used to make this dish with a homemade concoction of curry powder, coconut milk and spices.  However, she recently discovered an incredible packaged Golden Curry Sauce at the Chinese grocery that cuts the preparation time in half, without sacrificing a drop of flavor!  Go to “99 Ranch Market” (22511 Highway 99 in Edmonds, WA 98026) and stock up.  You could probably find this at Uwajimaya, too (just take the photo of the box, pictured below, with you).  Note:  the  photo on the box does not reflect how the sauce will look – it’s not brown, it’s golden (like in my photos).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Curry Chicken with Potatoes

The Golden Ticket:  “S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix”.  As you can see, it’s not really a “mix”, but looks like chocolate squares.  Each 8.4 ounce box has 8 pre-portioned squares with “break lines” that just need to be cut through.  This recipe calls for half the box, which is the section you see here.  Simply cut down the ridges on a cutting board with your kitchen knife.  Note:  this mix comes in “hot” or “mild”.  I use “hot”, but it is not very spicy.  (If you do want it spicy, just add some red pepper flakes.)
If you make this one night ahead, refrigerate and re-heat, this will be extra flavorful!  The meat and potatoes will just soak in all that curry flavor.  So leftovers will taste better the next day, too.

Serves 6-8
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic cloves, minced
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into ¼ slices
5 – 5 1/2 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs, legs and breasts, cut into 3” length pieces
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups cold water
4 squares (about 1 oz. each) Golden Curry Sauce Mix/Hot (found in many specialty Asian grocery stores), divided
2 ½ lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut an angle into 2” chunks

Fresh cilantro leaves
Steamed white or brown rice

Your chicken will stay more tender if you use bone-in pieces, but you need to cut them into smaller pieces, about 3” long.  Mom takes a huge cleaver and expertly whacks off the ends of the chicken legs, and cuts up the thighs and breasts as well.  Ask you butcher to do this if you're concerned about about losing a finger!  You could also use boneless pieces of chicken, but just remember to reduce your cooking time.  Also shown above are some of the prepped potatoes and onions, to give you an idea of size and scale.

In a large, enameled cast iron pot or stock pot, heat oil on medium high heat; add garlic, sauté for 30 seconds.  Add onions and continue to sauté for 2 minutes, until the onions sweat but don’t brown.  Increase heat to high; add chicken,  sprinkle with salt and black pepper.  Stir and continue to sauté until the exterior of all the pieces of chicken begin to cook and change color, about 3-4 minutes.  Add water and 3 squares of the curry; stir to submerge the curry pieces into the water.  Cover with lid; when pot starts to boil, stir thoroughly to evenly distribute curry, then reduce heat to simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken pieces are 75% cooked, about 25 minutes. 

Add potatoes and remaining 1 square of curry mix.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Serve over steamed white or brown rice; garnish with fresh cilantro leaves, if desired.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dragon Lady Lo-Mein, The Sequel: Extra Secret Revealed!

Dragon Lady Lo-Mein made with fresh noodles.  The dried noodle recipe is good, but the fresh noodle version is great -- a little lighter, and more flavorful.

Happy new year!  Thank you for all your nice comments and emails on the Dragon Lady Lo-Mein.  So glad you like it!  Now that you have the basic recipe down, I have one more secret to divulge.  To make this dish taste extra special, try making them with fresh noodles, not dried.  The original version calls for dried because I try to post recipes that use ingredients you can find easily (ie:  “in the Asian food aisle of your local supermarket”).  But if I think it’s worth the effort, I will occasionally incorporate an “ancient Chinese secret” that requires you to go off the beaten path to find.  So time to get out of your bubble, go beyond the ‘hood, and head to the International District, to seek out:  “the noodle jail.”

I buy my fresh Chinese noodles at Tsue Chong Co., 810 South King Street (206-623-0801) in Seattle’s International District, aka “Chinatown”.  This is the same place where you can order

Dragon Lady Lo-Mein with Fresh Chinese Noodles

*NOTE:  This recipe is slightly different from the original Lo-Mein recipe, which calls for 1 pound of dried Chinese noodles.  Since the fresh noodles come in 2 pound packages, I adjusted the recipe accordingly.  Also, since the fresh noodles are thinner, softer and therefore absorb more flavor, they don’t need as potent of a sauce mixture.  Cooking instructions for the noodles differ, as well.  Pay attention, or you will end up with soggy noodles!

This is what the package of fresh noodles looks like.  Find it in the refrigerated case at Tsue Chong Co., aka “the noodle jail.”  If you don’t see them, just ask.  
Oodles of noodles!  After you separate and untangle the vacuum-sealed package of noodles, your mound of noodles will look twice as big.

Serves 8
2 2/3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon corn starch
5 tablespoons +3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons + 6 tablespoons oyster sauce, divided (in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores)
½ cup sesame oil (in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores)
2 pounds asparagus, rough ends trimmed; cut at an angle into 1 ½” pieces
2 pounds fresh Chinese noodles (I use Rose Brand, available at Tsue Chong Co. in Seattle’s International District)
2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
Hot Chili Oil

Trim off excess fat from chicken thighs, and cut meat into 1/2” pieces.  Place in a shallow bowl.  Sprinkle corn starch on chicken and turn to coat.  In a small bowl, whisk together 5 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons oyster sauce.  Pour over chicken and turn to coat.  Set aside. 

In a large stock pot, bring 5 quarts of water to boil.  While waiting for water to boil, open package of noodles and carefully separate and untangle the noodles(when they are vacuum sealed, the noodles tend to clump and stick together).  Your pile of noodles should look twice as big as when they were in the package.  Gradually add noodles to boiling water handfuls at a time; stir carefully (preferably with wooden chopsticks) every 20-30 seconds, and cook 4 minutes (water will not re-boil).  Do not overcook!  Drain noodles in a colander, and rinse thoroughly with cold water.  Shake out excess water completely.  Transfer noodles to a large, deep dish.   In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 6 tablespoons oyster sauce and sesame oil.  Pour over noodles and toss to coat evenly.  Set aside.

In a large wok or sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat; add chicken and marinade juices, stir-fry until 90% done (about 5 minutes).  Remove chicken from wok into a clean bowl and set aside.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to wok; add asparagus, sprinkle lightly with salt; stir-fry until heated through (about 1 minute).  Add chicken and juices back into wok.  Continue stir-frying for 2 more minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked.  Pour over noodles, toss gently and serve with Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce or Hot Chili Oil on the side.

NOTE:  *This recipe can be made in advance and refrigerated.  To re-heat, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350◦ for 15-20 minutes. 
**You can also vary the toppings.  Instead of chicken and asparagus, you can substitute the “Stir-Fry Beef and Broccoli” or “Shrimp and Peapods” recipes from my other postings.  Just prepare the noodles as indicated in this recipe, and pour the alternate stir-fry recipe on top of the noodles.