Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More from the Mekong: Homemade Rice Noodles with Greens and Gravy

The Setting: An overcast day spent inside an apartment littered with toys.

The Soundtrack: GCB on Hulu.

Steaming up the Slow-Cooker: Chipotle Pork.

The Scenario: A new batch of successes (and better-luck-next-times) from Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Guaytio ladna, or "Our Favorite Noodles with Greens and Gravy" was the dish I knew I HAD to make when I first flipped through the pages of Alford and Duguid's Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

I adore Thai noodle dishes, so when I found one with a name that sounded like it could have been plucked from the pages of a soul-food cookbook, you know I had to keep reading.

Brimming with bok choi and pork and served with an accompaniment of Chile-Vinegar Sauce, it just kept sounding better and better.

The ingredients were easy enough to source...all except for the pesky dao jiao, a Thai fermented soybean paste, which evaded me.

I debated omitting it completely but after much deliberation decided to swap in some organic red miso, a fermented soybean paste of the Japanese persuasion.

I figured they're both fermented soybean different could they really be?

Of course, if similar logic were applied to ketchup and salsa or an extra-dry, extra oak-y Chardonnay and a sweet, sparkling Moscato d'Asti, I'm sure recipes could be ruined in the wake of such presumptions...but let's just assume the miso was a good substitution.

Since the authors insisted the dish was best with fresh noodles and included a recipe for Fresh Noodle Sheets, I excitedly strapped on my noodle-maker hat and went to town on some homemade rice noodles.

The fresh-noodle-sheet process is a football field's throw from the fettuccine- or ravioli-making I have done in the past. With a runny, almost translucent batter poured into a hot, nonstick skillet, the method is actually more akin to crepe-making.

When all my noodle sheets were poured and set and oiled and stacked, I beamed like a parent whose kid just scored the winning goal to wrap up a championship season. When I sliced them into strips and separated the individual noodles, a chest of ice or cooler of Gatorade could have been ceremoniously sloshed over my head in victory.

But you know what they say, you shouldn't go counting your trophies before they're cast.

Perhaps I made the noodles too thin, or perhaps it was a no-no to make them ahead and stash them in the fridge for a day.

I'm not sure the "why" of what happened next, but as I rinsed off my well-oiled noodles in a colander under running water, the beautiful ribbons of rice noodles broke up into jagged, white shards.

After stir-frying, the shards puffed and clumped and became somewhat reminiscent of spaetzle, only gluier.

The noodle clumps weren't entirely unpleasant, but next time I think I'll stick with store-bought.

This dish deserves it.

The following recipes are reprinted with permission from Artisan Books; my notes are in red. Please excuse the was not a good photo day in casa de Crumm.

Our Favorite Noodles with Greens and Gravy (guaytio ladna--Thailand)

2 pounds fresh rice noodles or Fresh Noodle Sheets (page 121 see below) (or substitute 1 pound wide dried rice noodles)
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
2 to 3 T minced garlic
Scant 1/2 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, thinly sliced across the grain into 1- by 1/2-inch pieces (or substitute lean beef or boneless chicken.sliced similarly)
1 tsp sugar
1 pound bok choi, Shanghai bok choi, or other cabbage-family greens, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wise spears and well washed (3 to 4 cups loosely packed)
1 T fermented soybean paste (dao jiao), mashed until smooth I used red miso instead...I don't know if the authors would sanction this, but it tasted great to me!
1 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T Thai fish sauce
1 1/2 T rice or cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups mild chicken, beef, or pork broth or water
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 3 T water
Generous grinding of white or black pepper
Accompaniment: 1/2 cup Chile-Vinegar Sauce (recipe follows)

If using fresh noodles or noodle sheets, rinse under warm running water. This may have been my issue. I sliced, then rinsed. Avoid my blunders--rinse first! Stack the sheets, if using, slice into 3/4-inch-wide noodles, and separate gently with your fingers; set aside.

If using dried rice noodles, soak in warm water for 15 minutes to soften, then drain and set aside. Place all the other ingredients by your stovetop. Have a platter and 3 or 4 dinner plates (one per guest) nearby.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Pour in 1 1/2 T of the oil and swirl to coat the wok. When very hot, toss in approximately half the noodles and stir-fry gently for about 2 minutes, pressing them against the hot pan, then turn out onto the platter and repeat with the remaining noodles, using only 1 T oil. Divide the noodles among the four dinner plates.

Wipe out the wok, then place back over high heat. Add the remaining 1 1/2 T oil and, when it is hot, toss in the garlic. Stir-fry briefly until starting to turn golden, about 20 seconds, then add the pork slices and a generous pinch of the sugar. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until all the meat has changed color. Toss in the sliced greens and stir-fry, pressing the vegetables against the hot sides of the wok, until they turn bright green, about 1 1/2 minutes or more (depending on the size of your wok).

Add the soybean paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and the remaining scant tsp sugar and stir-fry to mix, then add the broth or water and the cornstarch mixture. Stir to mix, then cover for 30 seconds to a minute, until the liquid comes to a boil. Remove the cover and simmer, stirring carefully from time to time, for another 2 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened a little and the greens are tender.

Use your spatula or a ladle to distribute the meat, greens, and gravy over the noodles. Grind pepper over generously and serve hot, with a bowl or cruet of the chile-vinegar sauce.

Serves 3 to 4.

Note: For a vegetarian option, substitute 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste) for the fish sauce and use about 1/2 pound pressed tofu instead of pork. After frying the garlic, sear the tofu slices by pressing them against the hot sides of the wok for about 2 minutes, then proceed with recipe as above.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.

Chile-Vinegar Sauce (nam som--Thailand)
It sounds strange, but this sauce was an awesome addition. It adds a cooling layer of sweet and sour to really round out the flavors of the noodle dish--don't skip it!

1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 to 3 T sugar
1/2 mild chile (such as Cubanelle, Hungarian wax, or banana chile), sliced into rings I used 1 whole Anaheim

Put the vinegar in a small bowl and stir in the sugar until it is completely dissolved. Add the chile rings. Serve with a small spoon so guests can spoon a little onto their noodles.

Stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, this will keep for 4 to 5 days.

Makes about 1/2 cup sauce. Or about 1 cup if you use 1 whole huge chile.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.

Fresh Noodle Sheets
Definitely try this recipe if you are feeling adventurous. I will make another attempt at this at some point, but if you have luck with it before I do, please come back and share your success stories!

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup tapioca flour or potato starch
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup vegetable oil (see note)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, starches, and water. If necessary, strain through a sieve to get out any lumps. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes to 2 hours, covered. It will be very liquid, like a very thin crepe batter.

Place a heavy well-seasoned or nonstick 8-inch skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-low heat. Place a baking sheet beside the stove and spread about 2 tablespoons of oil on it, which you will use to coat the noodle sheets as they cool. Lightly oil a large plate and set it nearby.

After the skillet has heated for 5 minutes, drop a few drops of oil into it and rub the entire surface of the pan with a paper towel to distribute it evenly and remove any excess. Stir or whisk the batter well and, using a ladle or measuring cup, pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around to coat the surface. Immediately cover with the lid and cook for 1 minute. (Steam will build up and cook the top surface while the bottom surface is cooked by the heat of the pan.) Lift the lid (do not let any water from the underside of the lid drip onto the rice sheet): The rice sheet should look shiny, with small bubbles; if it is still pasty and sticky, wipe the underside of the lid, replace it, cook for another 20 to 30 seconds, and then check again. When the rice sheet is no longer sticky on top, lift it out of the pan with a wooden spatula and place, top side down, on the oiled baking sheet.

Dry off the underside of the lid, whisk the batter well, and make the next sheet (you don't need to oil the pan each time, just for every second or third sheet--or not at all if your skillet is nonstick). When the cooked rice sheet has cooled slightly, flip it over to coat the other side well with oil, then transfer to the large plate; until the sheets are cool, they are sticky and may, even with the oil, stick together. Cook the remaining batter in the same way, remembering to stir or whisk the batter well before you lift out each ladleful. Once you get the temperature and procedure under control, you may want to speed up your production by using two pans in tandem. Make sure to keep the baking sheet well oiled; you will probably have to add more oil at the halfway mark. I added more oil frequently throughout the process.

Makes 8 to 10 fresh rice noodle sheets, 7 to 8 inches across. Mine made mch more, but my pan is on the small side, and I may have also made the sheets too thin by using too little batter in each sheet.

Note: The oil you use to coat the noodles right after they're made is rinsed off before they are used in a dish, so don't be dismayed by the amount of oil called for.

Troubleshooting: Like crepes, Fresh Noodle Sheets take a while to master. Use the first one or two as test samples and adjust the pan temperature and batter thickness and quantity as necessary.

If the batter is immediately sticking to the pan rather then swirling around when you pour it in, lower the temperature slightly. If there is still a problem, add a little more water to make the batter more liquid.

Once the sheets have cooled, store on the plate wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. They will harden a little, but will soften again when sliced and stir-fried or heated in broth.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.


Stay tuned for dessert from the Mekong when the journey continues!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

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