Friday, June 22, 2012

cold rice noodles with peanut-lime chicken

last night's dinner

If you told me a week ago that I would willingly adding cold chicken to cold noodles and call it a meal, a meal I’d eat enthusiastically, I’d think you had lost your mind. The various intersections of cold chicken and cold pasta are littered with foods I’d rather forget, such as those macaroni salads with shredded, overcooked chicken, suspiciously squicked together with mayo in a clear plastic take-out container of dubious expiration at the nearest corner deli. Hey, who’s hungry? Probably not you anymore!

lots and lots of limes
lime garlic sauce, sauce 1

But in David Tanis able kitchen (and I hope you’re following his City Kitchen column each week as eagerly as I do) chicken is marinated with a potent mix of ginger, garlic, lime juice and fish sauce before being flash-grilled or broiled and then cooled and roughly chopped. It is then added to rice noodles as long and twisty as skeins of yarn, topped with lots of crunchy vegetables, a medley of two sauces (one loud with chiles, lime and fish sauce and the other nutty and perfect with ginger, peanut butter and toasted sesame), salted roasted peanuts, slivers of cooling herbs (mint, basil and cilantro) into something that’s about as close to a dream of a summery one-bowl meal as we can get, and just in time for our first inferno of a New York City heatwave this year.

peanut sauce, sauce 2

chicken thighs in marinade, sauce 3

The thing is, the dish as written is fantastic. It’s complex and nuanced; it’s the grown-up, seasoned version of my old staple peanut-sesame noodles in a format that just begs you to pile everything on one central platter at dinnertime and let everyone assemble their own mix. But it also used, by my estimate, about 92 dishes. Fine, I exaggerate: 84. Okay, maybe I didn’t exactly count but I know that it took me two hours to make and required the preparation of three separate sauces and the dishwasher had to be loaded twice before we got the little guy to bed. And that Tanis called it not particularly labor intensive, which made my dishpan hands weep.

dried rice noodles look like a mouf
vegetables, slivered and stuff
rice noodles, draining
marinated, broiled thighs

But there was too much good in the bowl not to share it you, so I trimmed and trimmed. What remains is all you will need to survive the remainder of this heat wave all and all of the ones July and August have in store for us — a bare minimum of cooking times and lots of loud flavor, all tangled in a pretty, colorful bowl. Because that totally counts, too.

peanut lime rice noodles with chicken

About page: I recently realized that the photos on my About page were from 2008. A year later, we moved to an apartment with an even smaller kitchen (because I’m cuckoo), added another person to our family, mostly ceased sleeping through the night, and then, because I guess I had too much free time on my hands, I wrote a cookbook. Needless to say, keeping the back pages of the site current kind of fell by the wayside. Four years later, with my sweet toddler off to summer camp for a couple hours a day and my sweet cookbook at last off to the printer any day now, I found a window of true and utterly free time and used it to update you on the the current state of my underye circles refresh the photos. Want to see?

One year ago: Linguine with Pea Pesto
Two years ago: Bread and Butter Pickles and Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart
Three years ago: Strawberries and Dumplings and Horseradish Potato Salad
Four years ago: Pizza with Red and Yellow Peppers and Sweet Cherry Pie
Five years ago: Strawberry Tart and Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Salad

Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
Adapted from David Tanis, via The New York Times

To detail my changes, the original recipe had three sauces/dressings/marinades, a pungent-sweet sauces called a dipping sauce with chiles, lime, garlic, brown sugar and fish sauce, a nuttier dressing with peanut butter, soy, lime juice, rice vinegar and ginger and a marinade for the chicken with garlic, ginger, fish sauce, soy and brown sugar. Because there was so much ingredient overlap and in the interest of trimming down your prep time, I nixed the chicken marinade as a separate sauce in favor of using a combination of the other two (each increased in volume) for a similar effect. I confess that although they are widely available in the great Metropolis of NYC, I made this without the suggested lemongrass and mung bean sprouts because I wanted to see if this could be a totally delicious dish with just ingredients you can find at major grocery stores (it could!). For the chiles, 6 to 8 Thai or 1 to 2 serrano were suggested; I used far less to decrease toddler intimidation. Use what you like according to your heat preferance. We wouldn’t have minded if there were more vegetables than recommended. Next time I might add more of each (cucumbers, carrots and scallions) plus juliennes of sweet red pepper and a handful of lightly cooked green beans, thinly cut on the bias. Finally, although the original recipe suggests three different herbs to finish — mint, basil and cilantro — unless you already have all three around, I think you can get away with just picking your favorite. We used mint fresh from the market that almost melted into the noodles with piercing deliciousness. To see the recipe before I hacked it to pieces, go to the NYT link above.

Serves 4 generously, 6 moderately

Dipping sauce
6 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
12 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
Small Thai or Serrano chiles, thinly sliced, to taste

Peanut dressing
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
9 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 one-and-a-half inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced
6 tablespoons natural unsalted peanut butter
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Pinch of cayenne

Chicken and noodle salad
1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 6)
8 ounces dried rice vermicelli or other rice noodles
2 small cucumbers, cut in 1/4-inch half moons
2 medium carrots, cut in thin julienne
Additional vegetables, as suggested above
Small handful basil or mint or cilantro sprigs, or your favorite of the three (torn or roughly chopped)
4 or more scallions, slivered
1/4 cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Lime wedges (to serve)

Make the dipping sauce: Whisk ingredients in a small serving bowl, making sure to dissolve the sugar. Leave to ripen for 15 minutes. Refrigerate any extra and use within a few days.

Make the peanut dressing: In a blender or small food processor, puree all ingredients to a smooth sauce, about the thickness of heavy cream. Pour into a serving bowl.

Marinate the chicken: Stir together 1/2 the dipping sauce and 1/3 the peanut dressing (you can eyeball this) in the bottom of a low-sided bowl or dish. Add the chicken to the mixture and toss to coat. Let marinate at least 15 minutes.

Cook the noodles: Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the rice vermicelli and soak for 7 to 8 minutes. (Package directions may vary; check for doneness by tasting.) Drain when noodles are al dente, and cool under running water. Fluff and leave in strainer to drain well.

Cook the chicken: Grill the chicken on an outdoor grill, a stove-top grill pan, or run under the broiler until nicely browned, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Let cool slightly, then chop roughly into 3/4-inch pieces.

To serve: At this point, you can place everything on a large serving platter, with piles or small bowls for noodles, vegetables, chicken, the dressing and marinade and toppings (peanuts, herbs) and let your family and friends put it together in their own bowls as they wish. Or, you can assemble it for everyone as suggested:

Toss vegetables with 1 tablespoon dipping sauce in a small bowl. Divide the cooked noodles among 4 to 6 bowls. Top each bowl equally with vegetable mixture and chopped chicken. Toss each bowl with 2 teaspoons of each the dipping sauce and dressing, or more to taste (we wanted more). Add the herbs, peanuts and scallions to each bowl and serve with additional dressing and dipping sauce on the side.


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