A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful good fortune to shop at an Asian supermarket in the Boston area with my brother-in-law, Al, who is Chinese American. Besides the joy of hearing him speak to store employees in Cantonese, I benefitted tremendously from his ability to review the labels and help me find the best choices from my list.
On the other hand, to be honest, I am always a bit tentative talking to him about my attempts to infuse my cooking with Asian flavors, as I am sure it is not even close to what he had growing up, watching and listening to all the food preparation in his home.
In any event, he helped us find frozen dumplings for frying or for soup; tiny, tiny, preserved fish to sprinkle on top of dishes for a dash of extra umami flavor; and any number of sauces and condiments to replenish our pantry supply of Asian ingredients.
Closer to home, we have been able to find a wide range of international ingredients in local grocery stores or at specialty markets here in the Berkshires and in the Albany, N.Y., area. And the good news about this recipe is that it’s so flexible that you don’t have to fret about having the exact ingredients. I feel like it’s one of my non-recipe recipes, since you can make plenty of substitutions to suit a wide range of food practices whether for health, ethical, or religious reasons.
Mostly you will want to have fresh ginger and garlic, some sort of scallion or other allium, some vegetables, and ingredients for the sauce. Beyond that you can add a protein or not, top with an egg or not, and garnish with chili crisp, or not. Once you get the hang of it, you will find you can adapt it to whatever you have on hand. We often find ourselves making this when we get Asian greens such as bok choy or napa cabbage in our CSA share, which is about to start up again for the season.
Notes: If you can’t find fresh noodles, dried will be fine, but remember that 16 ounces fresh would be a smaller package of dried noodles. For the eggs, I have a sous vide immersion stick that I use to cook them, so I start that an hour ahead. But before I had that device, I used to make 6-minute boiled eggs when the rest of the dish was almost done. Alternatively, you could make a poached or fried egg just before serving, or leave the eggs out entirely, if you prefer. Personally, I have not tried this with tofu, but it would be a great way to make this vegetarian/vegan. My suggestion is below, but since I have not tried this, use your best judgment on how to incorporate tofu into this dish.
STIR-FRIED ASIAN NOODLES
Serves 4, can be adjusted depending on the size of the noodle package
4 eggs (optional)
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine, or pale 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 cubed firm tofu
2-4 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
3-5 scallions, chopped (shallot or onion sliced thin can be substituted)
4-6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced
1 medium head napa cabbage, shredded; 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 crisp for garnish (optional)
If using a sous vide device, about an hour before you intend to eat, begin cooking the eggs at 63.5 C. (See notes above for other options. For other methods, you will need to time it to coincide with the last steps of the recipe.)
Put a pot of water on to boil for the noodles
Combine the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, and chili oil in a 2-cup measuring cup with a spout or a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat in a wok or a large sauté pan until shimmering. Add the ground meat and cook, stirring quickly, until cooked. Remove to a bowl and set aside. If necessary, add a little more oil, allow to become hot, and add the ginger and garlic. Stir-fry for about a minute until fragrant. Add the scallions and mushrooms and continue to stir-fry until well cooked. If you are using bok choy, also add the stems at this point.
Depending on the package directions, start the noodles as you come close to finishing the stir-fry. (You want to try to time it to be able to remove the noodles directly from the water into the wok. If this is not possible, drain and rinse the noodles before you start stir-frying according to the package directions.)
Add the bok choy leaves if using, or the napa cabbage at this point. Return the meat to the pan, or, if using tofu, add at this time. Stir-fry until the greens are wilted.
Move the pot with the noodles as close as possible to the wok, and using tongs remove the noodles directly into the stir-fry. Add the sauce and mix to combine.
Plate the noodles and make a small well in the center to add an egg to each serving, if using. Garnish with chili crisp if desired.