My friend and colleague Ted Hayes, editor of the Warren-Times Gazette, often orders cashew chicken from a local Chinese joint. He always pleads with the order-taker to make it spicy.
“Extra spicy,” he emphasizes.
Ted’s always disappointed when his lunch doesn’t set his mouth ablaze. No matter how many times he tells them, he complains, it’s never hot enough.
Like Ted, I’m not averse to a meal that registers so high on the Scoville scale that it makes me sweat. I don’t know if I would qualify as a bona fide chilihead — Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce, for example, is not something I can pour directly on food — but I definitely can hold my own when it comes to food that has most people running for a lime.
The hottest meal I’ve made recently is drunken noodles, an Asian dish I learned about through my friends Paul and Debbie Oliveira. (There’s no alcohol in the recipe; the name is a commentary on all the drinks you’ll need to cool your tongue. Just lay off the vodka or whiskey.)
I’ve made drunken noodles several times, but the last one was a doozy — crazy hot. I think the difference was in the Thai basil — we grew our own this year — as well as the freshness of the chilies I used. (Or maybe it was the extra dollop or two of chili bean paste that I threw in.)
Some of the ingredients in the recipe here may be hard to find in your hometown grocery store, so do yourself a favor and take a short trip to the mind-blowing Oriental Food Market on Quequechan Street in Fall River (thanks again, Paul and Deb).
Not only can you find most any Asian ingredient under the sun here — pickled tamarind leaves, anyone? — the prices are dirt cheap. Rice noodles, in particular, cost an arm and a leg at a conventional grocery store, and you usually can’t find the wide ones. Here you can bring home bags and bags of the square-shaped variety for only a few bucks.
The market is a fun place to browse, even if you can’t identify half of the stuff on the shelves. Most of the fresh herbs aren’t even labeled, but the staff is always helpful and friendly. After you’re done shopping, stop by Apsara Restaurant, just next door in the same mill shopping complex, for a piping-hot bowl of Vietnamese pho.
You can tone down this recipe by using fewer peppers and chilies, but what would be the point? Conversely, if you’re like Ted and want to ratchet it up a notch, add a couple of spoonfuls of the aforementioned chili bean paste (doubanjiang), which you can also find at the Fall River market.
Makes 6 servings
• 2 14-ounce packages wide, flat rice noodles
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 12 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh Thai chilies
• 1.5 pounds ground chicken (you can also use pork)
• 1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
• 1/4 cup black soy sauce
• 1/4 cup Golden Mountain sauce or light (regular) soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 4 large plum tomatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
• 4 Anaheim chilies or Italian frying peppers, or 2 green bell peppers (about 12 ounces total), cut into strips
• 1/2 cup fresh Thai basil leaves or regular basil leaves
Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring frequently. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and Thai chilies; sauté 30 seconds. Add chicken and the next four ingredients and sauté until chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Add noodles, tomatoes and Anaheim chilies; toss to coat.
Transfer to large platter, sprinkle with basil leaves, and serve.
Recipe from Bon Appé*** magazine.