You’ll find various lists of the “top 10 most-ordered” foods for take-out Chinese menu items such as orange chicken, pot stickers and wonton soup. Most aren’t easy to prepare at home, which may explain why “wok this way” keeps Chinese restaurants always busy.
But a trio of very popular Asian restaurant menu items are quick and easy recipes to make at home — and might be better for it. Except for a couple of special ingredients (such as toasted sesame seed oil or sweet soy sauce, both increasingly available at mainline groceries), they are hot and sour soup, fried rice and — aimed straight at winter — homemade ramen bowls.
Check out these tips for making your own kitchen’s Asian restaurant-style fried rice:
- Except for some rice preparations that are Spanish or Italian in origin (and some Asian rice dishes such as “sticky rice”), always rinse raw rice before cooking it. That removes a lot of surface starch from the grains and makes for more separable grains.
- For fried rice, try to use day-old (or older), refrigerated leftover rice: Take regular steamed or cooked rice and put it loosely covered in the refrigerator overnight — or at least for several hours. That way, the rice kernels lose some of their moisture and firm up, helping to prevent fried rice that turns out mushy or clumped.
- Failing that, spread out to a depth of about 1/2-inch a newly prepared batch of rice onto a baking sheet. As it rapidly cools off (for at least for 1 hour), its clump-inducing moisture steams away.
- Better rice to use are medium-sized grains such as Thai jasmine or Calrose. Longer-grained rices such as basmati tend to break down, mostly because they also are thinner. Break up the rice after it has cooled, but before frying it, to loosen its grains.
- Don’t go overboard adding in ingredients. A couple of aromatics (minced scallion or ginger), a vegetable or two (peas, spinach leaves, small broccoli florets) and leftover or raw protein (tofu, shrimp, rotisserie chicken) — or a raw or two — suffice. Also, easy on the sauces; each person can add more if they wish.
- Most of us don’t own a wok or, for that matter, a restaurant-grade stovetop that’s as hot as a blast furnace. But high heat is best for preparing fried rice; so, go for it. I have found a Dutch oven the best substitute for a wok: its heavy bottom can take the heat and its high sides prevent spillover as I toss.
- Stir-fry in a couple of tablespoons of neutral vegetable oil only. High-quality extra virgin olive oils are too flavorful for simple “fried rice.”
- Prepare merely one or two portions at a time. If too much goes into the pan at once, you just end up with a big batch of mush.
These two soups may be the most popular soups in the Asian style, hot and sour as take-out and ramen as dine-in. Chinese hot and sour is liquid yin-yang, a great example of the Asian eating idea of balancing various flavors or elements such as salt, sweet, sour and chile heat.
Homemade ramen soup is so much more exceptional than the microwave-zapped packaged version. Of course, it takes more time, but its additional ingredients make it a truly soul-warming food.
Homemade Chinese Hot and Sour Soup
For the pork:
6-8 ounces boneless pork loin, trimmed and cut into julienne or matchsticks
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
For the soup:
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
6-8 dried wood ear or baby king mushrooms
14-16 ounces (drained weight) firm or extra-firm tofu
2 scallions, white and green parts only
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 large eggs
2 small dried red chiles, or to taste, seeded and crumbled
2 tablespoons chili paste
1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cane sugar
2 teaspoons dark sweet soy sauce and 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce or 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup plain rice vinegar
8 cups 50/50 mix of low-sodium chicken stock and vegetable stock
For the thickener:
6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup cornstarch
In a small bowl, stir together the water, soy sauce, mirin and cornstarch and, in the mix, coat the pork pieces and marinate them for 15 minutes. Set aside.
Beforehand, in a heat-proof bowl, soak the dried mushrooms in very hot water to cover until they are well rehydrated and the caps or “meat” are soft (30 minutes to 1 hour). Drain or gently squeeze the mushrooms to remove excess water and trim them of fibrous stems or nibs and slice them into thick matchsticks. Set aside.
Drain the tofu. First, cube or chunk it, then cut the pieces into thick matchsticks. Set aside in a separate bowl.
Small-dice the scallions on the bias and set aside in a small bowl. Julienne the ginger into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks and add to the bowl with the scallion. In a small bowl or cup, combine the seeded chile crumbles, chili paste, salt, sugar, soy sauce(s), sesame seed oil, white pepper and rice vinegar and stir to blend. Set aside. Lightly beat the 2 eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
Arrange all the prepared ingredients, in their bowls or containers, close at hand to the cooking surface.
In a large pot, heat the stocks until they boil. Add a small ladleful of stock to the pork pieces and break them up, then add the pork to the boiling stock, assuring that none clump together. Cook the pork for 1 minute, stirring. Add the mushroom and tofu, 3-4 tablespoons of the scallion and ginger and the mix of the seasonings (chile seeds, pepper, etc.), stirring. Bring the soup to a simmer.
Meanwhile, in another small bowl, make a slurry of the water and cornstarch. With the soup at a simmer, use a spatula or ladle to form a slow-moving vortex or whirlpool and slowly drizzle in the cornstarch slurry.
Slowly stirring, bring the soup back to a simmer, skim for scum or foam and taste the seasonings. If you want the soup more “sour,” add a splash more vinegar; more “hot,” add more pepper(s). Take the pot off the heat and immediately make another slow-moving circle and drizzle in the beaten egg.
Serve, garnishing each serving with the remaining diced scallion and ginger sticks.
Cook’s notes: If you already have some leftover pork shoulder or other cooked meat (Peking duck, rotisserie chicken, or the like), you might use it in place of the fresh pork. Add it toward the end of the cooking, merely to reheat it. Dark sweet soy sauce often comes from Indonesia (it’s called “kecap manis”) and is available at Asian markets.
Homemade Ramen Noodle Soup
Makes 2 portions, easily multiplied.
1 large egg, at room temperature
3 cups high-quality chicken broth (for example, homemade)
1 cup dashi broth, from jug or made with boiling water and dry flakes or powder
100 grams or about 4 ounces air-dried Asian wheat noodles (not everyday dry pasta made from durum wheat)
1 cup greens such as leaf lettuce or spinach, cut into ribbons and lightly packed
3 medium or 2 large scallions, white and light green portions only, chopped on the bias
Slivers or thin julienne of fresh peeled ginger, pickled ginger, carrot or daikon, or a mix, to taste
Several short sprigs cilantro, leaves and tender stems only, to taste
Chile crisp, chile sauce or hot sauce, as garnish, to taste.
Prepare the soft-cooked egg: Ready a large bowl with cold water and several ice cubes. To a saucepan 3/4-filled with boiling water, add the egg. Cook for 5 minutes exactly. Lift the egg and place in the ice water for 1 minute, jostling both a bit. Remove the egg and set aside to cool further.
In one pot, combine the chicken and dashi broths, bring to a boil and then keep at a simmer. In another large pot, cook the noodles in a large amount of boiling water. At Colorado’s elevation, boil air-dried wheat noodles for 5 minutes unless you prefer more “al dente.” While the pots are boiling, gently peel the egg as best you can.
Into 2 warmed bowls, use tongs to remove as many noodles as possible, dividing them equally. Ladle the broth equally over the noodles and then garnish the bowls with equal portions of the remaining ingredients, to taste, placing 1/2 of the egg, round side down, into each bowl as a final flourish.
Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]