No Grease Allowed: Healthier Asian Noodles
To try Sophie's recipe for a low-grease version of a takeout standard, click here.
For those of us who prefer a savory alternative to a sweet meal ending, the culinary world has provided the cheese plate. I say, why not a few forkfuls of pad see ew or lo mein instead?
I have a weakness for greasy Asian noodles. However queasy I feel after inhaling that last noodle from the takeout box, however resolutely I vow to go a different route the next time, my stomach has the memory of a goldfish. Once the queasiness has passed, it's all I can do to restrain myself from picking up the phone and calling my neighborhood Chinese place.
But at dusk a few evenings ago, as I found myself squatting on a sidewalk in Chinatown eating the last noodle from a Styrofoam takeout container slicked with oil—I'd been tipped off to a hole-in-the-wall noodle place that promised to deliver elation-by-noodle ... you don't need to ask me twice—I decided things had gone too far. Maybe it was the street grime clinging to my clothes that compounded the grossness of the noodle grease clinging to my lips and fingers. Enough was enough. The guilt was already starting to set in. There had to be another way to satisfy the greasy noodle craving.
Thus I set out to make a homemade, less greasy version of pad see ew, a dish made of thick, chow mein-style rice noodles charred slightly in a wok with Chinese broccoli; chicken, shrimp, or pork; and savory dark soy sauce.
Could the degreased version be as good?
First, I turned to challenge number one: I don't have room in my tiny kitchen for a wok, if I also want to have room for, say, a knife. The main advantages of wok cooking are even heat distribution and the concave shape, which allows for easy tossing. I figured I could use a normal pan, heated up to almost smoking, and employ my trusty tongs for flipping. Not ideal, but good enough.
Second, rice noodles. I hunted down a man in Chinatown who makes fresh rice noodles, folded into big sheets that you cut to your desired width at home. I joined the line of chattering women that formed outside his stall-like store around midday, and he weighed out two sheets for me, more than enough for four people. The total was $1.40.
Finally, black soy. Thickened with molasses, this soy sauce is syrupy and adds not only a deep, rich color to the noodles as you cook them, but also a mix of sweet and savory flavors that is worlds apart from the thin, salty soy sauce we're used to in the U.S. I was lucky enough to find some in an Asian market, but I also looked for other sources: you can order any number of black soy sauces on the Web.
I also bought some shrimp and chicken for the protein and baby bok choy and broccoli for vegetables. Once home, I cut the noodles, marinated the meats, and prepped the veggies. Once I heated up the pan, everything would cook at warp speed.
Wok-less, I cooked each component separately, using just a smidge of oil each time. At the last moment, I added the noodles, combined everything and heated it through, doused the dish with hot sauce, and sat down. It smelled good, looked great, and was finished in the same amount of time delivery would have taken. No grease lined the bottom of my bowl.
Verdict? Delicious and satisfying. I waited for the onslaught of queasiness and regret. Hours later, I was in the clear.
My next project: getting the dish on dessert menus. Hey, a girl can dream.