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“Pot Noodles”.

Two words that supposedly encapsulate laziness, a poverty of the imagination, the end of civilisation as we know it. A “nasty, nutritionless gut-filler for indolent, tracksuit-clad peasants“, or instant junk food at your desk in the cube farm or student flat.

Or so they say.

Open plastic tub, add boiling water, maybe sprinkle contents of flavouring sachet, wait ten seconds, stir, eat rubbery sludge, die slowly.

Apparently the Taiwanese-Japanese businessman Momofuku Ando is to blame. He invented them in 1971. He also came up with instant noodles in 1958, originally as – wait for it – a luxury food item. You heard me.

Talking of which, Harrods of London had a limited-edition luxury pot noodle in 2008. Poulet and Champignon flavour (that’s chicken and mushroom to you and me), £29.95 a tub, all proceeds going to Action against Hunger. As their press release put it:

The luxury ‘Poulet et Champignon’ dining experience will be presented in a limited-edition case with a fork and table linen. Harrods is also recommending that filtered mineral water is used to ‘rehydrate the dish’.

In praise of noodle soup

Yet what’s wrong with a real noodle soup? I mean freshly made, the kind you find in many Asian and fusion restaurants and increasingly come across as street food in Irish cities, a noodle soup that’s scrummy, warm, comforting, nutritious, light yet filling?

I keep thinking of the stuff that Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is about to dig into at the Wolf Noodle Bar in a classic multilingual scene near the start of Blade Runner. Only it’s not a soup, his chopsticks etiquette is awful, the bar is Japanese, and he doesn’t get to wolf it all down because duty calls.

Anyway, the point is, noodle soup is dead quick and easy to make. It’s almost as instant as a pot noodle, and 4.63 million times nicer.

How to make it

The main work is prepping your ingredients (including meat, fish or shellfish if using) before you cook them.

Slice veg finely so they cook quickly. Line up everything in terms of the cooking times they require – from longest to shortest – as this is the order in which they will need to be added.

OK, let’s go. Let’s add. The six or seven main steps are to…

  1. Heat a tablespoon of oil in your wok or large pot
  2. Gently fry the “holy trinity” (Gok Wan’s words, not mine, and these have all been peeled and sliced) of:
    • Garlic (1 or 2 cloves)
    • Root ginger (a chunk about thee size of a thumb joint
    • Spring onions (say 2-3)
    • And a “fourth” member of the holy trinity if you like – a sliced chili
  3. Then add your optional extras such as:
    • Thinly sliced veg – broccoli, mushrooms
    • Meat (again thinly sliced) or pieces of white fish or a handful of frozen prawns – or even a few mussels or razor clams
    • A handful of fresh winter greens (I sometimes cheat with 1-2 nuggets of frozen spinach
    • A pinch of Chinese five spice powder
  4. After a minute or so of stir-frying, add a litre of stock
  5. Once it’s warmed up, in go your noodles – say three ounces
  6. Add the seasoning – soy sauce, black pepper, perhaps a dash of fish sauce too
  7. Garnish if you like with chopped coriander, a dash of sesame oil, more soy to taste

The better the stock base, the better your finished soup. Preferably home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock, or you can cheat with a corner of a vegetable or mushroom stock cube (they can be very salty so don’t use a whole one).

The oil should be plain vegetable oil. Sunflower oil. Or peanut oil if you have it.

The noodles can range from those cheap garish three-ounce packs (in Ireland, the Boyne Valley food company imports them from Singapore under the Koka brand; they cook in the stock in two minutes) to the thicker udon noodles (they take longer, tend to be more expensive, but have more of a shhhlllllurrrrrrppp factor).

If the noodles come with a flavour sachet, be wary of it. Throw it away if needs be.

A brilliant alternative to udon type noodles is Vietnamese rice wrappersgalettes de riz. Simply splinter two sheets of them into rough shards before adding them to the bubbling stock.

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