A Deeply Healthy, Utterly Addictive Noodle Dish

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This is probably the dish I cook more than any other, and we eat it at least twice a week at home. There was much debate as to whether it belonged in the From far-flung shores chapter, but in the end I decided this was comfort, pure and simple. Eating it makes me happy, wholesome even.

You can use whatever vegetables you have to hand, from frozen peas to broccoli, sugar snaps, French beans or bean sprouts. It even makes that ridiculous baby corn look useful. The key is a balance between the hot, sour and salty. The flavours are bold, but never overwhelming.

It’s the sort of food that renders talking irrelevant. Just writing about these noodles makes my mouth water. My wife describes them as ‘medicinal’, thanks to all the fresh vegetables, herbs and chillies within. We like it hot, but tone down the chillies if need be. And you can always add more heat, by way of the chillies in the fish sauce. If you can’t get hold of those fiendish little scud or bird’s eye chillies, use a quarter of the amount of habanero or Scotch bonnet. The flavour is different, but the heat mighty.

There are two slightly exotic ingredients here, both easily available on the internet (www.royalthaisupermarket.com) or from Asian shops. They make the dish better still, but are not essential. The first is gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste that I use in the marinade. It has a deep, rich flavour with a hint of Marmite. And the second are the noodles I use (Khanom Jeen Rice Noodles 200g), specialist noodles used by the Thais for breakfast and curries. They have a wonderful soft texture. If you can’t get them, use any rice noodles. I have a pair of special white bowls we use for this soup, deep and wide. They are as much a part of the ritual as are the noodles themselves.

This is best cooked in a wok, and the chicken must be cut into small cubes of roughly the same size, to ensure they cook evenly. Make it in two batches. The actual cooking takes a few minutes. Once the prep is done, you’re laughing.

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Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts (the best you can afford), cut into 1 cm/½-inch cubes
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 teaspoons gochujang (Korean chilli paste) or a good whack of fish sauce
  • 2 tiny chopped bird’s eye chillies
  • a splash of soy sauce

For the Stir-Fry

  • 250 g/9 oz Thai rice noodles
  • dash of groundnut oil
  • 3 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 spring onions, sliced into 2.5 cm/1 inch pieces diagonally
  • ½ head of broccoli (about 140 g/5 oz), cut into small florets
  • 8 Thai or banana shallots, finely sliced
  • 8 baby corn, quartered
  • 50 g/ oz frozen peas
  • 50–100 ml/2–4 fl oz chicken stock (a cube is fine)
  • 3–10 bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped (depending how hot you like it)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • big handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • small handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 lime, halved

For the Chilli Fish Sauce

  • 75 ml/ fl oz fish sauce
  • 4–8 bird’s-eye chillies, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lime

Method

Put the chicken in a bowl with the lime juice and gochujang. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before cooking.

To make the chilli fish sauce, mix all the ingredients together and set aside.

For the stir-fry, cook the rice noodles in a large pan of boiling water according to the packet instructions. Drain, cool under cold running water and set aside.

Drain the chicken, discard the marinade, and pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper.

Heat the groundnut oil in a wok until smoking, then throw in half the garlic, cook for a second, then add half the chicken and stir until browned, about 1–2 minutes.

Add half of all the vegetables, but not the chillies. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds, then add half the stock and chillies. Taste, season with fish sauce and cook for a further 30 seconds to a minute, until the chicken is cooked through. Add half the herbs, mix and add half the noodles. Mix for another 30 seconds, and finish with the juice of half a lime.

Repeat for the second bowl. Serve with chilli fish sauce.

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