Monday, April 21, 2008

Noodling Around

I can't get enough of udon noodles. It is incredibly difficult for me to walk into a sushi restaurant, no matter how good, and not order a tempura udon soup. I actually have to force myself to order sushi to keep from being mocked by my dinner companions. I don't know if it's because of of their slightly wormy texture, or their ability to make it okay for me slurp my food, but there's something about these noodles that keeps me coming back for more. Despite their unwillingness to be captured by chopsticks, broth inevitably spilling overboard as I dive in after them, I don't hold this necessary turbulence and it's resulting mess against the poor udon noodle. It's my fault for not being able to resist the temptation to actually make noise and a certifiable mess at the table without judgement.

This weekend, however, I was able to resist the temptation to thrust these lovely serpentine noodles into a pot of dashi broth (although it took a week to convince myself) long enough to figure out that I could stir-fry them with a lovely new ingredient that I'd purchased last weekend in Chinatown. I've always loved fresh black cloud fungus, which sounds weird but is really just a mushroom like any other. It grows on tree bark and has it's unusual name (it's often called "cloud ear") because it resembles an elephant ear. It has a nice mellow sweetness, and a slightly crunchy texture with a bit of bite to it, unlike it's mushroom cousins which only soften when cooked. I bought a nice big bag of dried black cloud for super cheap, and didn't even use use a fourth of the bag (they expand quite a bit when reconstituted in hot water). They're fairly pricey and difficult to find fresh, but if you have a chance, I'd definitely try them. They have the most amazing silken, velvety texture.

Since I had some leftover spinach and tons of cabbage from my veggie dumplings, I decided to toss those in as well. I didn't want too many things ruining the texture of the dish and the noodles, but since the cabbage and greens would wilt down, I thought it'd be okay. I used a very basic mix of ingredients for the chicken marinade, as well as for the sauce. The dish turned out great, with exactly the flavor and texture I was hoping for. Here's how to make it for yourself, and feel free to substitute in your favorite veggies:

Udon Noodles With Chicken and Black Cloud Fungus

Chicken Marinade
2 thinly sliced boneless chicken breasts cut into 1 inch slices
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp shao hsing wine (or dry sherry)

1 package udon noodle (I used fresh, but dried is fine)
vegetable oil
2 cups black cloud fungus (dried or fresh)
2 cups spinach
2 cups napa cabbage
2 spring onions, cut into 4 inch pieces
2 inch knob of ginger cut into coins
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp shao hsing wine (or dry sherry)
1 Tbsp white sugar
3 Tbsp malt vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Combine chicken and marinade ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok or skillet until very hot. Add chicken and stir-fry for a minute, then remove from wok and set aside.

3. Add 3 tablespoons vegetable oil to hot wok along with the spring onions and ginger. Stir-fry until just starting to brown, then add noodles, black fungus, cabbage and spinach. Cook for 30 seconds, then add soy sauce, wine, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil. Stir-fry until greens are wilted, then add chicken back to wok and cook until warmed through. Plate dish and top with coriander springs. Enjoy!


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