FOOD FOR THOUGHT
|||Ingredients of success|
A bowl of noodles: Is there anything more comforting and homey, especially when the weather is chilly, as it's been quite a bit in the past couple of months? Saimin, fried noodles, chicken noodle soup, udon — mmmmm.
My friend Stanley Yamashita e-mailed me the other day to find out why he's having trouble finding an ingredient that's central to one of his favorite noodle dishes, cha chiang mein — fresh wheat noodles served with a pork and brown bean sauce and a selection of crunchy fresh vegetables and aromatics as condiments. It's a cousin of Korea's ja jang myun, but that sauce is dark, almost black, usually meatless and rather rustic — a quick dish for stoking the daily fires.
The sweeter and more refined brown bean sauce used in cha chiang mein once was found in most local supermarkets but seems to be getting scarcer. I was unable to come up with a reason for this, except that there is an unceasing battle for shelf space in supermarkets, and prepared and convenience foods are steadily inching out ingredients used in from-scratch cooking, which are being relegated to specialty shops.
If you're among those who like to cook from scratch and notice ingredients disappearing, take a few minutes to talk to the store manager or department manager (they're usually wandering around the store) and tell them about the products you're missing. It only took one contact and a few scribbled notes left in the produce department to get my Foodland, in Liliha, to routinely stock flat-leaf parsley. Since most people don't bother to make their needs known (Us locals, yeah? Shy!), even a few contacts with a store manager can make a difference.
I checked out my usuals in Honolulu proper: Longs and Star on King; Foodland, Times and Safeway on Beretania. No brown sauce, though they have black bean and other Chinese-style sauces. At Asia Grocery, I found a "ground sauce," which is brown. Success!
Sorry, Stanley, you'll have to brave the popos (shopping grandmas) in Chinatown after all, or drop by an Asian grocery store.
One of the joys of cha chiang mein (there are lots of different spellings, but that's the most common) is selecting the crunchy fresh garnishes it's served with, such as garlic, cilantro, shredded radish, green onion, shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, mixed Chinese pickle and cucumbers. Some people even serve chutney with this dish.
The recipe Stanley uses, which he likes to call "Chinese spaghetti," is from "Chinese Gastronomy" by Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin (1969: Hastings House, New York). It's a very simple one. Some recipes add onion, garlic or ginger. Many specify sesame or peanut oil. Some thicken with cornstarch.
Here it is:
CHA CHIANG MEIN (NOODLES IN MINCED PORK SAUCE)
Garnishes: Finely sliced garlic, sprigs of cilantro, shredded radish, chopped green onion, bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, bamboo shoots, thinly sliced cucumbers.
Chop pork roast and then mince in the Chinese style — using two cleavers, if you have them — chopping rapidly up and down close together, to create a very fine mince. In a frying pan or wok, heat vegetable oil and stir-fry pork briefly; add scallion, wine and brown bean sauce and cook until the oil separates out. Add sugar and water and sauté again until water cooks off and oil separates.
While sauce cooks, place noodles in briskly boiling water and cook until just al denté, about 3 minutes; drain and divide between 4 largish warmed bowls; cover to keep warm. Finish sauce and pour into warmed serving bowl. At the table, pass sauce and garnishes. Each diner takes what they want and uses chopsticks to toss the sauce and garnishes with the noodles.
• Per serving: 500 calories, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 68 g carbohydrate, 12 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 22 g protein
Send recipes and queries to Wanda A. Adams, Food Editor, Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Fax: 525-8055. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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