Thai Drunken Noodles and Planned Leftovers

In my house growing up there were always leftovers. This was not a fault of the cooking, as my parents were both excellent cooks, but rather because they believed in leftovers as life philosophy. The same way some people say “early is on time and on time is late,” my parents held that extra food is just enough and just enough is too little, when serving either family or guests.

For most of my life this inherited creed has led to many delicious lunches, easy repeat meals, and a constant population of mold growing inside various plastic containers in my fridge. When it came to Thai cooking, it has also contributed to spectacular failures on the rice noodle front.

What’s the connection to rice noodles, you ask? Unlike other forms of pasta, stir fried rice noodles insist on being cooked in individual servings, like some kind of diva. Rice noodles are like, I need a bath of hot water, but not boiling, and just long enough to get pliable, if you know what I mean, wink.

Yeah, it’s that kind of food.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve already gathered that I’m not the kind of chef (I mean cook) who cooks daintily, one portion at a time. I’ve read in many Asian cookbooks that rice noodles need a seasoned wok, plenty of oil, and abundant space, and I tend to give them, well, none of those. Tonight I was still miserly with the oil, but I gave them space in the wok and they behaved, for once!

A note about this recipe: this is my own variation after reading many, many recipes, and deciding to go ahead and make the recipe even though I don’t have various Thai ingredients without a trek to the Asian market. So I used regular old Italian basil in place of authentic Thai basil, and I didn’t use Golden Mountain sauce or special soy sauce, just what they had in our regular grocery store. And I also passed on the oyster sauce recommended in some recipes–it has oysters and MSG. The veggies are up to you.

Drunken Noodle with Tofu

(Makes 4-6 main dish portions, which does mean dividing up the noodles four to six times in the cooking. If you don’t mind absence of leftovers, you can easily halve this recipe)

  • 16 ounces dried rice noodles (preferably wide rice noodles, though skinny ones will do in a pinch, as you can see from the photo. Look in the Asian food section of your local supermarket.) Soak in hot tap water and drain according to package directions until pliable but not entirely soft. Drain and set aside.
  • 3 cloves garlic, two sliced into thin disks for the stir fry and the third minced for the sauce
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 TBS fish sauce (for non-vegetarians) or additional soy sauce
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Thai red curry paste (in a small jar in the Asian food section of many grocery stores, at least in my experience)
  • 2 tsp chili garlic sauce (also commonly available as above, but in a bigger bottle)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • big bunch basil, half minced for the sauce, half set aside for the stir fry
  • large head broccoli, chopped into small florets and stem pieces
  • 4 large carrots cut into matchsticks
  • a bunch of green onions, whites sliced into disks, and greens separated and cut into longer strips
  • small white onion, coarsely chopped
  • a bunch of sliced fresh shitake mushrooms
  • package of fresh mung bean sprouts
  • half block of tofu, water squeezed out
  • 1 TBS arrow root or corn starch with 1 TBS water
  1. Make the sauce: mix together soy sauce, (fish sauce), minced garlic, brown sugar, red curry paste, chili garlic sauce, minced basil and water.
  2. Take a small amount of sauce, dilute it with 4 times water and soak the tofu while you are getting the rest ready
  3. Stir fry all the veggies and garlic. Start with the toughest (broccoli and carrots) and progress to the quickest cooking (green onion tops, basil and bean sprouts). Add the tofu with its liquid pour on a third of the remaining sauce.
  4. Add the arrow root or cornstarch mixture to the bubbling liquid at the bottom of your wok/frying pan, allow it to become viscous and then quickly stir to coat the entire contents
  5. Transfer the veggies into a bowl
  6. Here comes the tricky part: the noodles. Turn off the heat and allow the pan/wok to cool enough so you can  wipe it out with a damp towel. Reheat the wok/pan and add a good amount of oil and then a handful of noodles. Keep them moving. Add water and/or oil to keep them from sticking. Add a bit of the sauce. When the portion is soft and tasty, remove from the pan. Repeat for each portion.
  7. At the last minute, you can add it all–the sum total of noodles and veggies–back to the wok (if it fits!) and toss it together.

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