THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Use your noodle … Again

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALI say again because after I started this column, I looked back at previous articles then realized I used the same title back in October 2009. So while the title is almost verbatim, I won’t plagiarize myself with the content. But noodles do play a traditional role during Oshogatsu, both before and after the turning of the new year. Just before the start of the Japanese new year, it’s customary to have a bowl of toshikoshi soba (year-end buckwheat noodles). It did take me a while to learn the significance of consuming soba right before the new year as the Tatsumoto household only had four Oshogatsu traditions: To prepare chicken hekka (stir-fry) on the eve, to consume hot sake just at the turn of the new year, to consume ozoni as your first meal of the new year then consume kazunoko (salted herring roe) as part of the first meal. But soba usually isn’t even on the dinner table before or after the new year. In fact, most families in the 50th simply say you have to consume a bowl of saimin before the new year, not specifically soba.

Why soba? Since soba traditionally is produced primarily from buckwheat flour (though these days, most soba lists wheat flour before buckwheat flour, even those produced in the Motherland), it doesn’t have the gluten and elasticity of wheat flour so the noodles tend to break a lot easier. Therefore you’ll “break” whatever bad luck you had in the old year and it won’t carry over to the new year. And consuming soba or any noodles for that matter in the new year symbolizes a long life, just as the strands of noodles are long.

And while I’ll still have my traditional bowl of soba right before the new year, I’ll also continue to consume noodles throughout the new year, whether it’s Okinawan soba, Japanese ramen, udon, soba, Korean dangmyeon or local saimin or even Western noodles such as spaghetti, linguini or capellini. However, variety is the spice of life and although my 23 And Me results only lists Japanese, Korean and Chinese lineage, I also do enjoy that traditional Filipino noodle dish, pancit or pancit bihon.

In the 50th, if you have any Filipino friends or co-workers, a tray of pancit is likely to appear at any potluck meal. While it always contains wheat noodles, it sometimes also contains the skinnier corn/rice starch-based cellophane noodles. And like any fried rice dish, the proteins often vary with shrimp, pork and chicken as the usual suspects, along with an assortment of vegetables, such as onions, carrots, celery, cabbage and even shiitake. Because it’s basically a Filipino stir-fried noodle dish, there isn’t one standard recipe and every family probably has their own traditional recipe.

So, I’ll apologize to all Pinoy subscribers if this recipe doesn’t even remotely resemble something that your parents or grandparents create, I simply did an amalgam of recipes I found on the Internet along with using ingredients I saw in the tastiest version of pancit bihon that I’ve sampled. And yes, I did use packaged, cooked yakisoba noodles, as they look and feel like wheat pancit noodles and they are available in six-ounce packages locally so you can purchase as much or as little as you desire plus pancit noodles are only sold in local supermarkets in the 50th in huge four pound bags.

Pancit Bihon. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Pancit Bihon
About two pounds of noodles — I use about two-thirds cooked yakisoba noodles and one-third cellophane pancit noodles (soaked in water for about 15 minutes)
four cups sliced mixed veggies — I use sliced carrots, celery, onions and sliced shiitake (soaked in water for at least 1 hour saving the liquid)
1 lb. lean pork or chicken thighs, finely sliced
1 tbsp cooking oil (my favorite is garlic-infused macadamia nut oil)
1 tbsp shoyu
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp patis (fish sauce)
3 tbsp shoyu
2 tsp patis
1 cup water from the soaked shiitake

Marinate the pork or chicken in the oil, 1 tbsp shoyu, 1 tsp patis and garlic for about one hour. In a large stir fry pan, set on medium-high, add the pork/chicken and stir fry until brown then add the mixed vegetables and continue stir frying until the vegetables have softened. Add both noodles and toss until the noodles, protein and vegetables are mixed then add the remaining shoyu, patis and water cooking just until the liquid seasonings are distributed throughout the noodle and veggie mixture.

Because there’s not a lot of animal fat, this dish can be served hot, warm or even cold during those stifling summer days.

If your main objective when consuming noodle dishes in the new year is to live a long life due to the length of the noodles, then skip this next dish. Fideua is basically a variant of the classic Spanish rice dish, paella substituting noodles for the traditional bomba rice. Since the noodles are first toasted in olive oil, they do have be broken into rough two-inch sections (sorry, no symbolic long life with these noodles) then cooked in the sauce where they absorb all of the flavors. I prefer using Barilla ProteinPLUS angel hair or thin spaghetti or some other whole grain, thin dried pasta for this dish. If you prefer, you can swap out the protein to bovine, swine or poultry or any mixture simply browning them before creating to sauce. You can even go back to paella’s roots, which called for rabbit and escargot …

Fideua. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Fideua
Thin spaghetti or dried angel hair pasta, broken into two-inch lengths
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced about 1/4 by 1/2 inch
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 to 1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 ounces, bottled chopped red peppers
6 ounces clam juice
2 ounces dry white wine
6 ounces water
One large pinch of saffron hydrated in the liquids
1 bay leaf
2 cups fresh clams
1 cup of debearded mussels
1/4 cup green onions cut to 1/2-inch lengths
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a pan with one tablespoon of olive oil and lightly fry the noodles until golden brown but not burned. This should take around five minutes. Remove the noodles from the pan and set aside.

Add more olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent then add the sweet paprika and the tomatoes and cook the sauce for about five to 10 minutes then add the liquid infused with the saffron and bay leaf. Once the liquid is back to a gentle boil, add the noodles and stir frequently until the noodles have absorbed the liquid — about eight to 10 minutes then add the mussel, clams and green onions and simmer for another three to five minutes until the clam shells have opened. Serve immediately.

This last dish once again takes us back to long strands of noodles to symbolically increase your odds at longevity. I first demonstrated this recipe at the Hawaii Food and New Product Show over 20 years ago and it almost was a disaster as the “toy” butane burner never brought the water to a boil. Thankfully I had the foresight to par-cook the udon noodles so they finished in the slightly hot water as I cooked the chicken curry. In my undergraduate days, I also used those readily available Japanese curry “bricks” found at most supermarkets as nutrition labeling still wasn’t mandated by the government. Once labeling was a requirement, it uncovered the fact that these curry “bricks” were nothing more than beef fat and flour laced with a touch of curry flavoring so I decided to create my own …

Chicken Curry Udon
Cooking oil
2 lb. chicken breast or thigh sliced thin (or substitute with any vegan protein product)
2 cans bamboo shoots sliced thin
3 medium carrots, sliced thin
10 shiitake, rehydrated then sliced thin
1 can reduced sodium chicken broth (or vegetable stock)
2 cups water (include shiitake soaking water)
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 small apple, peeled, cored and grated
1 small banana, mashed
3 tbsp curry powder
3 tbsp tonkatsu sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp shoyu
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with sake to form a slurry

Dried udon boiled according to package instructions.

Brown the chicken in a Dutch oven then add the bamboo shoots, carrots, shiitake and sliced onion. Cook until the carrots and onions have softened then add the stock and water and bring up to a gentle boil. In the meantime, mix the grated fruits and all of the spices and condiments then add it to the gently boiling chicken mixture. After simmering for 15 to 20 minutes until the chicken and fresh vegetables are tender, bring up the heat to a medium boil then add the cornstarch slurry constantly mixing the pot to thicken the curry.

The udon can simply be added to the Dutch oven to serve family style or individual bowls of udon can be served to each diner ladling the curry over the udon restaurant style.

So, in the Year of the Boar, I still intend to have a bowl of toshikoshi soba before its arrival and continue to consume noodles as a regular part of my diet whether it’s Asian or Western based dishes simply based on taste, not for the prospect of longevity as it’s not the quantity of years that matters but the quality of life in those years that’s important. So, for the 17th time, I humbly bid you and yours a Happy New Year! Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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