I made noodles. They were good. Click on ‘Read More’ for a long story about noodles in general, and a recipe on how to make the ones pictured.
Everybody loves Ramen
Ah, the stir fry. Hallowed quick meal weapon of chefs everywhere, and what better exemplifies the style than stir fried noodles? I’ve been a noodle fan since I can remember, and have developed a taste for every kind I have ever tried, from the good old red-plate ‘Indian Chinese’ stalls around Mumbai with their volcanic Szechuan Noodles (pronounced ‘Sizwon’ of course) to proper ‘Chinese Chinese’ chopsueys and smooth, lemony Pad Thai.
When I was growing up in India, stir-fired noodles were a restaurant only dish, and the home equivalent was Maggi Masala flavour 2 Minute Noodles (I distinctly remember arguing with my grandmother that we didn’t have to cook it for 15 minutes ‘like dal’ — as the noodles continued to bubble away into an inedible paste), which always looked nice and appealing in the commercials with oodles of vegetables and generally stir-fried appearance, but at home what you got was a bunch of limp white noodles in a yellow-brown spicy sauce that was more soup than stir-fry.
(Maggi in fact tried to capitalise on this mishap in the early nineties by introducing ‘Soup Noodles’ — which was the same thing, only the instruction on the back said to add three cups of water instead of two, and it came in a particularly disappointing ‘new’ tomato flavour that they had simply shanghaied from their soup line.)
In the Middle East we had no Maggi back then, but there were a bunch of the oriental intant noodle brands like Nissin (who invented them) and Koka — more on them later.
The was the added novelty of styrofoam pot noodles which did away with the washing up entirely — some even came with tiny foldable plastic forks! — but it was still the same old soupy stuff, and usually the curry flavour was the only decent tasting one. Man can’t live on curry noodles alone, you know.
So, the restaurants still held sway over stir-fried noodles, and while Martin Yan showed up every week with his rapid fire knife and all sorts of exotic chinese dishes, never once did I see a humble stir-fry noodle.
Later, of course, with the internet I found the recipes I wanted, but they usually just called for soy sauce as flavour, so as to make the noodles a base for keeping some other meat or veg stir-fry dish on. I’m a big fan of the one dish meal — there are three bachelors in the house and I’m the only one who cooks — so an elaborate banquet is out of the question. Plus there’s something immensely relaxing about making one thing in one pot, serving it up and having less washing up to do. So I did make stir-fry noodles, and for the most part they were good. It took me a while to get some balance to the ingredients, the sauces, so as to make them moist but still retain the smoky fried flavour, how much vegetable to put in, what kind of vegetables work best. I won’t say I’ve got it down to a science, but I’m confident enough to make it well 99.9% of the time, because now I have a killer app on my side.
Enter Koka. I mentioned them before; they’re a Korean company I think (mostly because their name starts with ‘Ko’ and as anyone who has seen
‘Mongjunggi‘ will attest, their products are, um, used in interesting ways by horny Korean adolescents), and they make the most fabulous variety of instant noodles I’ve found. While their regular two minute stuff is pretty standard, they have some real gems in their arsenal like their Laksa flavour bowl noodles (hot, spicy, coconut-creamy shrimp soup with fiery dots of chilli oil) and their range of Pho rice noodles.
A recent addition to some supermarkets here, however, has been their range of fried noodles. Now, I’ve seen fried noodles before from other companies, and tried them, and they’re pretty good on their own, but somehow they’ve always lacked a certain… balance that is key to good fried noodles. Either they’re too sugary, or too salty, or the onion oil overpowers everything.
(If you haven’t tried fried noodles, then basically they’re the same as instant noodles, only after you boil them for two minutes you drain out the water, toss it in a plate and add in the flavour satchet powder and a small satchet of oil — usually sesame, sometimes with bits of onion, mix well until everything is coated.)
Maggi in India even tried to make a variety a few years ago (they called it ‘Chinese Noodles’ — what were the rest of the range, Indian?) but it was so awful I still have an unopened packet in the back of the cupboard saved for when my enemies come calling.
Koka, meanwhile has managed to make the best variety of fired noodles. They taste excellent on their own, and one packet makes enough for a light snack. They even come in two flavours; a mild, traditional stir-fried noodles variety, and a spicy Singaporean one, which I used in the following recipe.
Look, this isn’t going to be one of those things you see in pro cook books (especially by the French) which give measurements down to the millilitre and accentuate every instruction with loud, all-caps words like SLOWLY, GENTLY and YOU STUPID COW YOU WILL NEVER GET A MICHELIN STAR BUT I’M MAKING MILLIONS OFF THIS BOOK HAHAHAHA. I’m assuming you know your way round a kitchen, and understand that moderation is usually the best way forward, especially in stir-fry.
So, first up, get your vegetables sorted. I like to use any and sometimes all of the following:
Bean Sprouts — Downright essential. You can get them in most supermarkets, or try to sprout them at home, but either way you need to get them when each shoot is at least a couple of inches long. Buy them as close to cooking time as possible, as they don’t store very well in the fridge. A medium-sized handful per person is what I use.
Carrots — Julienne these, again two inches long is fine.
Snow peas — stack them, cut in half across the length. Or leave ’em whole if they’re small enough.
French Beans — slit the big ones down the length, leave the little ones alone.
Capsicum/Bell Peppers — long strips, half a centimetre in width. Red ones are sweet, Green ones are a little bitter, yellow ones are in-between. If you can get all of them, great!
Bok Choi/Cabbage — any robust leaf will do. I’ve even got away with iceberg lettuce once (it didn’t taste like anything). Haven’t tried spinach yet, but it may wilt too easily. Soya greens may also work. Should try those out. Fine strips, same size as the peppers.
Mushrooms — do not use tinned ones (the horror!), but a few finely sliced button mushrooms are fine. Shitake is the best. Anything that can stand being tossed around.
Brocolli/cauliflower — I suggest brocolli since it’s more robust than cauliflower, which tends to crumble. Cut them up into long, little floret ‘trees’ and blanche them for a minute, refresh in cold water and set aside (you can even save time by dunking them in with the noodles when you’re cooking them rather than separately).
Celery — loads of flavour, very nice surprise to get its sweet and peppermint spice in the middle of tangy noodles. Slice the stick fine on a 60 degree angle, and don’t use too much of it. Around an inch per person.
Spring Onion Greens — as fine as you like, but usually one half of an inch is a good balance of size vs flavour.
Onions, garlic and ginger — these are more Indian touches than Chinese, and if you don’t want them you can omit them, but I think they add great background flavours for the rest of the stuff to play with. Slice the onion as fine as you can, the garlic can either be sliced or you can just crush it and throw it in if you don’t mind large pieces of it, and the ginger should be julienned a little finer than the carrot (if you’re using Indian ginger then it’s stronger, so either learn to cut it to translucent sticks or just grate it).
…right, that’s a general checklist of the vegetables. You can add in whatever you like as long as it cooks in time and doesn’t disintegrate. You can add in meats too, just make sure they’re cooked or will cook in time, and that they’re generally chunky stuff. So strips of leftover grilled chicken breast are good, while mincemeat may not be. Go for dry, delicately flavoured stuff if using leftovers. You don’t want to be tasting yesterday’s mutton vindaloo in today’s noodles!
Now the important bit: Quantities. I use a medium-sized bowl as a measure, and use one packet of noodles per person. I always use one medium handful of beansprouts, and small quantities of onion, celery, ginger and garic as these should not be overdosed on. 1-2 cloves of garlic, half inch of strong ginger, half a small Indian onion (a quarter Spanish white or brown onion is more than enough). Then I fill up the rest of the bowl with equal parts of the rest of the veggies.
It’s important to note that only the raw vegetables meats should fill up the bowl now. A full to the brim bowl of veggies/meats after frying adding noodles will result in a full bowl of stir-fry that’s a full meal. Another way of measuring might be that the veggies should be twice/thrice the volume of the brick of uncooked noodles.
Let’s get to work. Have all your stuff ready to go, all cut up, all unwrapped, and get two cups of water boiling, and on the other start heating up a wok. Timing is an asset here, as you want the water to be boiling vigorously just as the wok reaches a good heat — it should be really hot.
Drop the noodles into the water and make a note of the time. Depending on how firm you like your noodles you have between 1.5-3 minutes to stir-fry the veggies, so splash some sunflower oil into the wok and drop all your veggies except bean sprouts and spring onion greens in. Stir like mad, toss, toss, let it fry a bit, toss again. After two minutes of vigorous cooking add in the bean sprouts and green onion, then a dash of soy sauce and toss again.
Good smell, huh?
I like my noodles firm, so I take them out at 1:30, into a colander, shake off a little of the water, then promptly plonk them in the wok over the vegetables. Open up the seasoning and oil satchets that were in the noodle pack and shake/squeeze each onto the noodles. Now you need to make sure that the flavour powder coats all the noodles and does that nice semi-syrupy thing the food engineers at Koka designed it to do, so if you have an extra cooking fork around use it to toss the stir-fry around like a salad. You should be able to tell when it’s all done; all the noodles should have stopped being white and taken on a nice brown colour. Drop the forks and toss the wok a few times to integrate the vegtables into the noodles more.
Note that you’re never going to get a perfectly uniform integration of noodles and veg, so do the best you can in the wok and put it in the bowl, where you can fiddle to your heart’s content with a fork, getting all the vegetables tucked in between those noodles.
Serve immediately. That’s it.
Um, turn the stove off!
Well, how was it? Good? Good.
In case you can’t find the fried noodle varieties, then you can still make it. Just make sure you buy some sesame oil and Chinese sauces from the supermarket — sweet and sour, hot chilli, whatever you like — and don’t use the flavour packet from the noodles. Follow the recipe as above but once you add in the noodles toss a little, then add in the sauces and sesame oil and toss some more until it all caramelises a bit. If you’re using a non-stick wok then do use the largest flame you can on the highest temperature. Stir fry needs to be very quick and very hot, and as the name suggests you have to keep stirring or tossing (which, once you get the hang of it, is loads of fun). If the temperature’s too low then you’ll end up with soggy noodles, and if you use the store-bought sauces you’re almost guaranteed to have a less intense flavour. It just won’t taste very exciting no matter how much of the sauce you add in.
If you’ve looked around the noodle aisle in the supermarket you may have come across these large packs of yellow noodles with the label ‘Pancit Canton’ — these are a Philipino variety that are made with coconut oil and do not need to be boiled beforehand. Just break off a chunk and put it into the stir fried veggies, and they tend to soften after all the sauces have been added in. Pancit Canton can also be directly put into soups at serving time, or you can make a chopsuey sauce and just pour it over them. As a fan of extra-crispy noodles too, these are great and do away with the tedium of making deep fried crispy noodles yourself. The coconut-oil flavour is usually mild enought to disappear at serving time, but this depends on the manufacturer. Some are stronger than others.
Rice noodles are more delicate, and usually they only need to be soaked in hot water beforehand, not boiled (the pack usually comes with instructions). Pad Thai sauce is becoming available more readily, and it’s a great dish if done properly. You can — and should — use more delicate veggies with rice noodles (seafood is great too), but accent them at the end with some crunchy stuff like bean sprouts (tossed in after you shut off the flame), crushed roasted peanuts and spring onions. It’s an entirely different flavour set as compared to smoky, intense stir-fry noodles, but it’s just as awesome.
Hope you enjoyed this. It’s long, I know, but I trust you learned how to make a good dish. If you try it out do take a picture and send it to me (or a link to it).