Tuesday, August 16, 2011

noodle bowl with green curry broth

Every semester in English 102, I teach a unit on food. Every semester I assign Perri Klass's delightful article, "How to Invent a Family Recipe," for my students to read. And every semester, when we discuss the article in class, my mouth starts watering so much I can hardly talk, at the thought of spicy broth and noodles.

As I often do, yesterday I was craving some noodles in broth with maybe some chicken and vegetables. To put it another way, I was hankering for what I've recently nicknamed "slurpy pasta" (as distinguished from, say, "cheesy pasta").

For the broth, I took my inspiration from Heidi Swanson's vegetarian recipe blog, 101 Cookbooks, which I've followed since late 2007, when I had just moved to Manhattan and was trying to cook more adventurously. Swanson takes the most alluring photos of her food, and the woman loves interestingly flavored broths and vividly colored vegetables - also some of my favorite things to eat. She often does slurpy curries, and they always look so prettily yellow or red or green in the pictures that I've long wanted to try my hand at one of my own.

Then there are noodles. Oh, my sweet heavens. Noodles, noodles, how I love thee. D and I recently ordered takeout from Saigon Noodle House in Birmingham. My selection, the Bún Laksa Tômor B7, Thick Vermicelli Noodle in Coconut Curry Soup with Tofu and Shrimpwas as delicious as, I assume, it was full of MSG. About an hour after dinner, I kept asking D, "What's wrong with me? I feel so irritable and tired and puffy." (Let me anticipate your question: no, I did not have PMS that dayalthough when I do, it does admittedly tend to be epic.) He theorized that it was the MSG making both of us feel awful, which I found heartbreaking, because I seriously doubted it would be possible to order those noodles again in the future minus the MSG in the broth, since the restaurant probably doesn't prepare it specially for each individual order of noodle soup.

Which brings us to now. Because we've been going out to restaurants a lot this summer, we've resolved to eat healthier for the next few weeks, so this is what I came up with last night for our first dinner with better intentions. I decided that it couldn't be that hard to figure out a tasty curry broth, and if I made it myself, there should be a way to control the sodium in it, too. I kept adding things and sampling it until it seemed good. I would recommend that, if you decide to try this recipe. Tinker with the seasonings until it hits you the right way.

(By the way, another excellent reason to make this recipe was that it gave us a chance to use both the chopsticks and the ceramic soup spoons we bought from Pearl River Mart last year!)

The final reason I'm posting this recipe is to share a versatile technique that I've used, reused, and riffed on for a few months now: poached chicken, which is yet another recipe that my grandmother apparently perfected. Here's my own version, created through trial and error and based on that old no-goof, perfect hard-boiled eggs recipe that has you bring the eggs up to a boil and then cut off the heat, slap a lid on the pot, and let them sit in the water until they're cooked. Similarly, letting this chicken gently steep for a while in its own hot broth instead of boiling the heck out of it causes it to turn out perfectly tender and moist. It can be used for just about anything, but let me offer a few sample suggestions: put it in a batch of the Barefoot Contessa's tarragon chicken salad (just skip the step of roasting the chicken, as the recipe directs), throw it in as a substitute for the protein in some creamy curried shrimp + brown rice + vegetables, shred it into the Food Network's easy recipe for spicy chicken tortilla soup... the possibilities are endless. Moreover, the poaching liquid from this cooking method makes an absolutely delicious broth. If I don't need it right away, I always freeze it for a later soup or sauce.

All that said, the ultimate takeaway from this recipe is... well, as Digital Underground so aptly put it, just doowutchyalike.

But seriously. Use whatever protein, veggie, pasta, and broth you're craving or have on hand. Shrimp, chicken, pork, tofu - any of those things, or any combination of them, would work just fine here. Same with the noodles. And the vegetables. As for the broth, you can easily substitute vegetable stock for all of the poaching liquid and chicken stock to make it vegetarian. Finally, with regard to spice: when we sat down to eat last night, D put so much extra sriracha in his bowl that the broth turned alarmingly orange and he was sweating by the end of the meal. To each his or her own. In the end, the point of this noodle bowl is not following the recipe to the letter - the point is that it be colorful, healthy, and, most importantly, satisfyingly slurpy. :)


noodle bowl with green curry broth
For the poached chicken:
3 or 4 medium-sized, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. (or so) kosher sea salt
4 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed
1 tbsp. butter
5 or 6 stems of fresh thyme

For the noodle bowl:
1/4 bunch cilantro leaves, washed & stems removed
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets & briefly steamed (approx. 2 minutes)
3 scallions, washed & chopped
2 radishes, washed & chopped
2 fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, grated
1 fresno chile, halved & thinly sliced
large handful fresh mung bean sprouts
6 oz. brown rice fettuccini, cooked & drained

For the broth:
1 to 1 1/2 cups boxed unsalted chicken stock
1 to 1 1/2 cups poaching liquid from chicken, slightly reduced
1 tbsp. Thai green curry paste
1 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
a few drops of sriracha sauce
lime wedges

Poach chicken: Put 2 chicken breasts into a medium saucepan. Add bay leaves, black peppercorns, smashed garlic cloves, thyme stems, white wine, kosher sea salt, and enough cold water to cover. Over high heat, bring to a boil, and then immediately reduce heat and just barely simmer, partially covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. (Look for a bubble or two every couple of seconds.) Crank heat up and bring back to a boil, and then immediately cut off the heat, tightly cover with a lid, and let saucepan sit, covered, for 40 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, cook pasta, drain, and set aside. Chop vegetables and stage them in individual piles on a large plate.

Dip out chicken breasts from poaching liquid and set them aside in a shallow bowl, pouring a bit of the liquid over them to keep them moist. After letting them rest for a few minutes, thinly slice them on the bias. Pour remaining poaching liquid left in saucepan through a strainer. Discard solids, reserving broth. Pour liquid back into saucepan. Bring it to a boil and reduce it a bit. Lower heat and add boxed chicken broth, green curry paste, soy sauce, turmeric, ground coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, and sriracha sauce. Whisk until combined. Keep hot.

In the bottom good-sized shallow bowl, put a small pile of noodles. Arrange some slices of chicken, as well as the carrots, radishes, mushrooms, broccoli, scallions, and fresno chiles, around it. Ladle some hot broth over everything. Sprinkle bean sprouts and cilantro leaves over the top. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing into the broth.

Makes 4 servings.

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