Man, I cannot WAIT for that new Howie Mandel Candid Camera-Punk’d hybrid show, can you? It is going to be off the fucking hook.
Whoa, sorry! Where did that come from? TV rots your brains, kids. Also, stay away from crack.
A while ago I put up a little poll asking you, my trustworthy readers, to vote on what new cookbook I should buy with my hard-earned Amazon kickbacks referral fees. Hot Sour Salty Sweet initially looked like it was going to sweep, but The Splendid Table made a last minute surge to tie things up, leaving me with the tie-breaking vote.
I then forgot all about it for two months until I was doing some Christmas shopping on Amazon, when I picked Splendid Table up for myself. It came this week, and I was immediately drawn to the Hoisin Chinese Noodles with Four Flavors. There are few things upon which hoisin cannot improve, and to have that plus four entire flavors? Unfathomable! FOUR FLAVORS? Truly, the world is full of marvels.
The lone tomato looks so…lonely.
One ingredient is chicken stock, either homemade or the book’s doctored version. Normally I’d just pour some stock out of the box – yes, I know, I should know better, and I DO but just don’t care enough – but since the noodle dish itself is a pretty straightforward stir-fry, I thought I may as well make the doctored version. So into a pot went a box of stock, some wine, garlic, carrot, celery, onion, bay and a solitary canned tomato. Simple enough, plus the book said that organic veggies = no peeling required, making it even easier for the lazy among us.
It made the apartment smell great, but my one problem with this is the use of a lone canned tomato. Canned tomatoes don’t really come in pouches of one, and now the rest of the can is sitting in the fridge, putting a lot of pressure on me to use it before it goes bad. With the advent of winter I’m finally over the constant strain of coping with unused CSA vegetables, so I don’t need this additional tomato guilt on my back; I have enough things to talk about in therapy.
Who woulda thunk?
The recipe also called for a pound of ground pork butt. Which I totally would have purchased, but I had a hard time justifying buying pork when there were several pounds of pork butt already sitting in my fridge. This week was Brian’s office Christmas party, and everyone was bringing in foods reflective of their ethnic backgrounds. Brian is a Jew of Ukranian/Polish extraction, so Carolina-style pulled pork was the natural choice. Plus, who doesn’t want to spend 10 hours smoking pork butt in the dead of winter? Good times!
I guess I can’t really complain because I stayed inside our cozy apartment baking cookies while Brian huddled over the smoker regulating the temperature. However, I do object to the fact that the smoke smell has completely obscured the lovely smell of the 7-foot Frasier fir in the living room, even 5 days later. My childhood Christmas tree smelled like meatballs, but that’s because it was a fake that spent twenty Christmases in my Italian household. Real trees should not smell like pork.
Anyway, we had one leftover container of smoked pork that hadn’t yet been sauced. I figured that although it had had a pre-smoking spice rub, the flavor would still be neutral enough and the flavors of the stir fry strong enough that the finished dish wouldn’t taste like some freakish Asian-Southern fusion. I minced the pork more finely, tossed it with sherry, sugar and minced garlic, and left it to sit while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.
I got a little too pissed off at A&P when they didn’t have water chestnuts. Canned quail eggs, but no water chestnuts? Really?
With the stock and pork out of the way, everything else was just chopping and simple prep. I diced scallions and water chestnuts, measured out the needed amount of stock, cooked up some fresh Chinese egg noodles and whisked together a simple sauce of hoisin, soy and srirhacha.
I also prepped the “four flavors,” which don’t go into the stir-fry but are mixed into the noodles according to your whim after serving: radishes, cucumber, mung bean sprouts and spinach. I was mildly doubtful, because two of the four – cukes and mung beans – don’t really make me think Flavor! Texture and crunch, sure, but not Flavor! But I’m not the one with the radio show.*
*If I did, it would be AWESOME. Also it would quickly be crushed by the FCC.
Super fun happy stir-fry action!
The actual cooking is fast, so I recruited Brian to do the stir frying in a screaming-hot skillet while I took as many photos as possible per second* trying to get a decent shot of each step.** First the pork went in, just to heat through since it was already cooked. Next, the scallions and water chestnuts for 45 seconds (Brian counted), followed by the hoisin sauce (1 minute) and stock (2 1/2 minutes).
No, I don’t have a wok. I don’t have the 3 zillion BTU burner needed to properly stir fry either, so I can’t really care.
*With my camera: 0.6
**Dear Santa: I have totally been good enough this year for a Nikon D90 and a Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens. I wish you existed. Love, Me.
Not actually a big nooder.
Last but not least, the noodles go in and are tossed to coat and cooked for a minute with the meat sauce – kinda like a hoisin-based pork Bolognese, and that doesn’t possibly sound like it could be bad.
So I’m sorry for the misleading post title, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now that these were normal-sized, lo mein-style noodles.
Brian once went to our local cheap Chinese joint to get some take out and ordered chow fun, which are wide, flat noodles. An old man, sitting behind the counter not apparently working or serving any purpose and openly smoking a cigarette, gave Brian – who is not a large man – the once-over and said, “That’s a big nooder.” Duly warned, Brian went ahead with the chow fun anyway, which he was able to master handily. But I am now unable to serve noodles without first warning him of their size.
BEHOLD THE BEVY OF FLAVORS!
I got the fabled “four flavors” together while we heaped our bowls with noodles.
Avert your eyes if the quantity of flavors is too much for you.
I mixed my flavors in, watching as the spinach ribbons barely wilted into the noodles.
I should not make fun of the four flavors. I should know to trust (1) the NPR ladies and (2) the Chinese. The noodles were delicious on their own – the pork sauce was meaty rich and sweet, just spicy enough and with the always-fun crunch of water chestnuts. The four flavors elevated it further. The cucumbers, as they warmed slightly in the noodles, took on a slightly sweet flavor. The radishes were spicy as all get-out, and the spinach lent its own gentle bite. The mung beans, I’m still not sure what they bring to the table flavor-wise but I love ‘em anyway because of the crunch factor. I slurped down a big bowl of noodles, Brian two.
I don’t know that spending the time to make the fortified stock was really necessary, since I don’t know if the flavor is actually strong enough to make a difference given the other assertive flavors in the dish. On its own, though, it was pretty impressive for makeshift broth and will soon become the base of some tortellini in brodo.
I think The Splendid Table is going to be a nice addition to our cookbook library in general. Despite the book’s propensity to use a
different font sizes
and colors, it’s filled with quick recipes putting slight twists on what might otherwise be weeknight standards and suggestions for other books to build out a useful and comprehensive cookbook library of your own. I approve.
Final score: Us 1, Nooders 0.