Drunken noodles, revised / Stir-fried broccoli tips
This past weekend I had set out to make Yotam Ottolenghi’s Malaysian duck curry. However, upon getting to the grocery and experiencing a bit of sticker shock at the price of duck ($15 for one breast – no thanks), I turned my head in the other direction at the meat counter and landed upon some reasonably priced pork tenderloins. I thought, “I’ll just make it with pork!”. Upon getting home, I realized that pork might not be suited to the recipe. Having already purchased all the other necessary ingredients, I began to rethink dinner. One convenient aspect of southeast Asian cooking is that a lot of the same base ingredients are used in many recipes. Although each region has its own take on various sauces and seasonings, the differences are negligible enough to those of us who have never gotten lost backpacking in Thailand. Eventually, I decided to repurpose the ingredients I had bought, along with some that I already had at home, to make Pad Kee Mao, a.k.a. drunken noodles. When I go out for Thai nowadays, I try to be adventurous. However, back in the day, drunken noodles was one of my go to dishes.
In trying to search the internet for a satisfactory recipe, I found a wide range of approaches. Each called for a different mixture of seasonings and varied widely on the suggested vegetables and toppings. What I ended up with was somewhere between the New York Times‘ and Chowhound’s versions, although I also took a few hints from the well-known Queens joint Sripraphai. I did deviate from all the recipes in a few ways though in order to make do with what I had: I used cubed pork instead of chicken; instead of bell peppers or cabbage, I used chopped long beans; instead of egg, I used frozen tofu. The end result was, despite all the fudging, the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and sour. The only change I would have made to use ground meat, as suggested in some recipes, instead of the cubed pork. The spiciness was medium-hot: about what I’d serve if cooking for others, though I would add a few more chiles to suit my own tastes. I’m posting the recipe for posterity. I served this with some broccoli tips stir-fried with shrimp paste, for added roughage.
Drunken Noodles, Revised
For the sauce
1 Fresno chile, cut into large pieces with seeds
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 oz. palm sugar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
Juice of half a lime
For the noodles
8 oz. chicken or pork (ground or cubed)
7 oz. wide rice noodles (I used a Vietnamese brand labeled as “rice flakes”)
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
A big dash of white pepper
4 bird’s eye chiles, finely chopped and smashed with the back of a knife
2 Fresno chiles, seeded and thinly sliced
6 oz. tofu
5 oz. long beans (or string beans), cut into 3 cm pieces
1/2 cup loosely packed Thai basil leaves
A few lime wedges
For the sauce: With a mortar and pestle, smash the chile and garlic until it becomes fairly uniform in texture and paste-like. Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce and stir well. If using cubed meat, marinate it in the sauce for about an hour, removing it from the sauce with a slotted spoon just before cooking (this step is probably unneccessary with ground meat).
Prepare the noodles: Soak the rice noodles in warm water until soft, though not soggy, about 15 minutes. You should aim for a consistency just a tad more firm than al dente.
Assemble: Heat the peanut oil in a wok over med-high heat. When smoking, add the shallots and fry for a minute. Add garlic and fry for a minute more. Add bird’s eye chiles and white pepper and stir to coat. Add the meat and stir until just whitened, then add Fresno chiles, tofu, and long beans. Continue stirring until the beans begin to acquire a tenderness, about 3 minutes. Form a well in the middle and add the sauce. When it starts to boil, add the noodles, coating as thouroughly as possible to make sure they are evenly cooked. Once the noodles have softened to the point where they are tender enough to eat, add in the Thai basil and turn off the heat once the leaves have wilted. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over noodles.