Archive for April 26th, 2020

Living in Interesting Times: Using What You Have

A big part of public safety right now is staying on your own property whenever possible, so I’m trying to use my own supplies rather than shopping. As you see above, it’s been no hardship. In the past I’ve enjoyed a dish of noodles with roasted scallions at Chinese restaurants, and decided to make something like it (but better if possible) at home.

If you have perennial green onions you will have them forever, and they spread so efficiently that they become quite a weed in time. For this dish I pulled four very large fat green onions, cleaned them, and cut them in 2” lengths, then cut each chunk in fine lengthwise slivers, keeping the white parts and green parts in two separate piles. If you’re using commercial scallions, 8-10 of them is probably equivalent.

Eggs are a home ground food for me, since I have chickens, so egg noodles are a natural and can be used in both Italian and Asian dishes. I make the noodles at home with flour and egg yolks only, and for this dish I used the “bad cuts” that always happen when you process a large batch of noodle dough; sheets that didn’t feed well into the rollers and got distorted or torn. When done with the properly cut noodles, I stack the distorted sheets up and cut them diagonally into broad noodles about 3/4” wide, rather like pappardelle. They look messy but remain delicious. Blanched for one to two minutes in salted water and tossed with a bit of oil so that they don’t stick together, they are ready to finish in the wok. I estimate that I used half a pound, cooked. You could use any egg noodle available, cooked until done but not mushy and tossed with a bit of oil. Of course, if you have fresh Chinese-style egg noodles, use those. For quantity, estimate whatever is two generous servings to you.

Frying noodles is one of the few jobs for which I use a restaurant-quality nonstick wok. If your regular wok is very well-seasoned, you may want to use it.

The third ingredient is soy sauce, and the fourth ingredient is hot oil and its goop. Commercial hot oil is all made with inferior oil and offers little except a belt of heat. Make your own. Start with 1 and 1/2 cups of good fairly flavorless oil (I prefer avocado oil) and heat it gently in a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup fresh pungent red chile flakes, 10 “coins” of ginger chopped, half a cup of unrinsed fermented black beans, and 10 cloves of garlic chopped. Simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat. It should bubble continually but not wildly. Turn off the heat and the oil is ready to use. Always store it in the refrigerator, and the cooked flavorings that fall to the bottom are the goop. I almost always use both oil and goop in seasoning a dish. The ingredients are available by mail or on Amazon (although they are a lot more expensive that way) if you don’t happen to keep these things in your kitchen.

Once you have slivered scallions, cooked noodles, and hot oil with goop, making this dish takes less than 15 minutes. Put a quarter cup of oil in the heated wok over high heat and swirl it around well. Add the white part of the scallions and stir-fry for about two minutes, then add the slivered green parts and a good pinch of salt. How far to cook them is your call. Personally, I prefer them when some of the ends are browning a bit but they are still rather soft and sweet, as shown in the photo at the top. Use a slotted spatula to remove the scallions to a bowl, add the noodles to the scallion oil remaining in the hot wok, sprinkle generously with soy sauce, and add about a tablespoon each of hot oil and goop. Fry vigorously for several minutes, adding more soy as needed and turning rather delicately with a spatula so as not to cut up the noodles. When done to your taste (I like mine a bit browned and crisp in spots,) serve up and pile the roasted green onions on top. The diner stirs them in and adds more soy sauce if desired.

As you can imagine, this is a wonderfully improvisational dish. Use what you have. If the only pasta you have in the house is dried spaghetti, cook that and use it; you can bet that a provident Chinese grandmother would do the same if that’s what she had to work with. Stir-fried shitake mushrooms are terrific fried in with the noodles. Slivers of egg cake (upcoming post) can be fried in. Finely sliced kale or chard can be fried a few minutes in the scallion oil before the noodles are added. Other vegetables, appropriately cooked, find a wonderful home here. The roasted scallion topping is good on fried rice or on wok-fried eggs or, for that matter, regular fried or scrambled eggs or on any rather plain vegetable dish. If you don’t have green onions but do have young tender green garlic, use that instead, for a different but equally good flavor. If using green garlic I prefer fine cross sections to lengthwise slivers, to avoid any stringiness in the green leaves.  Have fun and enjoy the thrill of feeling frugal while really enjoying yourself. There is a lot of tragedy in the world right now, but no harm in lifting yourself above grim reality for an hour or two.