I'm back from a week in the mountains - communing with nature, sleeping under the stars - and have concluded that the Rockies are indeed breathtaking (literally, in some cases). Some of the Wild West lived up to my expectations, some of it still surprised me (the lack of black people, for one). We had a great time visiting friends and discovering spectacular vistas. From lakes mirroring the Continental Divide to dusty, abandoned mining towns to fields of wildflowers framed by snowcapped mountains, I saw a whole new part of the United States. But one of the best sights I had was flying parallel to the island of Manhattan at midnight on our way home, lights a-glitter. There's no place like home...
Before we left, I scrambled together a quick meal to tide us over. As much as I adore all Asian food (I have Fuchsia Dunlop's book practically committed to memory), I rarely make it at home - figuring I'm not nearly well-versed enough in the art of combining all those sauces and powders and finely chopped vegetables and meats into something worth eating. In New York City, isn't it easier just going out for dinner? (No place like home!) But the New York Times profiled Charles Phan of San Francisco's Slanted Door a few years ago, and the two recipes excerpted seemed so easy, so perfect for the home cook that I could not resist.
I chose to make a dish of sauteed chicken with rice noodles, and Ben helped me in prepping the ingredients (I'm still working on being a better co-chef, rather than barking at him to chop faster - can't he see that the oil is practically smoking?). He diced the chicken into beautiful little dice, far prettier than what I would have done. I sauteed the chicken briefly, then added sliced vegetables and an amalgamation of sauces and wine. After that, I added an egg to the pan to scramble, a pile of soaked rice noodles and the reserved chicken and vegetables. Then I tossed this all together like a woman possessed.
The resulting tangle was highly flavored...almost too much so. The dish tasted very gamey. I couldn't eat more than a bowl of it, and Ben conceded that the fish sauce overpowered it for him (this is a man who thinks anchovies are the incarnation of the anti-Christ). I love love love fish sauce, but perhaps it was the combination with the chicken here that turned this dish into something I was looking forward to eating into something I'm not sure I'll make again.
But that's okay - after a week of mountain food (Denver scrambles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and more granola bars than you can shake a stick at), I'm perfectly content to let the experts at my favorite Asian places feed me. Thank goodness for them all. There's no place like home.
Rice Noodles with Chicken
Serves 2 (amply) or 4 (less so)
1/3 pound rice noodles
1/4 cup canola or corn oil
1/3 pound boneless chicken, shredded or diced small
1/2 to 1 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup snow peas, slivered
1/2 cup shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or white wine
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 or 4 scallions, trimmed and slivered, for garnish
1. Cover noodles in hot water while preparing the other ingredients. Heat a pot of water until steam rises.
2. Put all but a tablespoon of the oil in a wok or large skillet, and turn heat to high. When it smokes, add the chicken, and stir until it loses its color; it doesn't cook through. Remove with slotted spoon.
3. Add bean sprouts, peas and shiitakes. Sitr until wilted and beginning to brown. Add sauces and wine. Remove from the pan.
4. Drain noodles and dip them in the boiling water with tongs or in a strainer for about 5 seconds. Drain. Add remaining oil and the egg to pan, still over high heat. Stir to scramble. Add drained noodles and cooked ingredients, and toss, lifting (scrape, if necessary) repeatedly, until all are mixed together and hot. Garnish with scallions and serve.