…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
As an individual lacking any Asian lineage, I often resort to watching somebody else’s grandmother making signature dishes on YouTube. Between this wellspring of information and my own extensive knowledge of the local Asian market, I am beginning to feel comfortable experimenting with Asian-ish home cooking. And, as it so often happens, when the laundry hampers look like this:
I feel the need to flee. I have my MA in Something Impractical, and sometimes feel that my years of education and training are underutilized in my pursuit of chud-free floors, organized closets, and pristine grout (dear God, please let my children be well-adjusted). My current favorite escape is the Asian Market, which has largely supplanted my affinity for the shoe store. Conveniently, I already have an enviable collection of heels, which I lovingly refer to as “foxies,” and they are immensely helpful in doing laundry on those days where my Asian foodstuff coffers are full. And no, I don’t care how ridiculous I look schlepping baskets of dirty laundry while wearing yoga pants and a pair of smashing pumps.
When I’m having a particularly tough day with the kids, I will often throw everyone in the Momvan and head to Sunrise. Immediately upon approaching the strip mall in which the magical shop is located, a sense of relaxation and giddiness set in. BitchyExasperatedMom swiftly transforms into EnthusiasticEXUBERANTmom. I am keenly aware that I should not fit in here, and yet? I absolutely do. The weekday butcher knows me and my penchant for all things fatty and strange. The owner has been known to bring her toddler grandson over to my preschooler to play together in the curry paste/fermented fish products aisle (I bought some belacan, and fully intend to make this one day.) One of the great things about Asian cooking is that it is really vegetarian friendly. I can purchase one pound tubs of fresh tofu (non-GMO) for $.99. I am fortunate to live in an area that has access to this product, and you will typically find two tubs of both their soft and firm tofu in my fridge. I keep tofu around for those nights when I forgot to soak the beans, didn’t take meat out of the freezer to defrost, or just want to reinforce my shamey ramen with some protein. But I’m not here to talk about vegetarian fare. On one of my more recent trips to the Asian market, I picked up a pork hock at the butcher counter. They looked really good, the weather was perfect, and I wanted to spin one around on my rotisserie. Get a rotisserie. You will have zero buyer’s remorse. I salted the hock and let it sit in the fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for about four hours. Then, I put it on the grill and did this.
It took about 2.5-3 hours for it to get tender. This is what it looked like when it was done:
However, this post is intended to be mainly about Asian noodles and how to handle them. Some have funny names that may remind you of physical ailments, but I buy them anyway:
Some of the more common varieties are rice, bean (also known as cellophane or glass noodles), sweet potato, wheat, and buckwheat (the only acceptable use for buckwheat, IMO). Sadly, the instructions on the package often look like this:
The nutrition information is equally helpful:
Here’s the front of the package:
I think we can all agree that overcooked or undercooked noodles are a major drag. And as it happens, I have screwed up a lot of these noodles. But I have found some measure of success. Allow me to tell you how… Rice and bean noodles do well when soaked–20 minutes for thin noodles, 40 minutes for thicker varieties. Just get a big bowl, fill it with cold water and put the noodles in (do the whole package–the cooked noodles keep well in the fridge for a good 3-5 days, and you can just add them to a soup or a stir fry (or nuke them for 45 seconds, hit ’em with a shot of fish or soy sauce, some sambal, and some sesame oil and have yourself a snack.) Bring a big kettle of water to a boil, and then cook according to their size (stir them with chopsticks–they are superior to any spoon). The really thin types need only 90 seconds to two minutes. The medium thickness will require 4-6 minutes, and the thicker types might take 6-8 minutes. But you have to taste them as you cook them. Start tasting 30 seconds before the minimum cooking time. And here is the trick–as soon as you are satisfied that they are done to your liking, drain them in a colander, and immediately fill the cooking kettle with cold water. Dump the noodles in the cold water, swish them around with your chopsticks, and then drain them again. Fill the kettle again with cold water, and keep doing this until the water stays clear and the both the kettle and the noodles are cold. Drain well and set aside. You could dress the cooked noodles with sesame oil (or a neutral oil, if you prefer), but I have found that even if they appear to be stuck together, they come apart easily when added to soup or a hot wok (in the case of stir fry.)
And there you have it. A noodle shop in your house. I took some Shanghai bok choy, sliced it thinly, and threw it in a hot wok with a tsp of canola oil and a pinch of salt, and stir fried it for two minutes. Then, I added the cooked cellophane noodles (I used about half of the package–enough for two servings), a handful of chopped scallion, 2 tbs or so of minced garlic chives (or regular chives), a hearty tsp of sugar, a dash of sesame oil, and a shot (or six) of fish sauce (soy sauce would also work) and tossed them in the wok for a minute or two until everything was hot. Slap it on a plate, and top with the pork (or your choice of delicious protein) and a hit of sambal.