When we’d visit El Punko during his long ago undergrad days, we usually went to Wagamama’s for lunch. This past Christmas, the little dickens slipped a Wagamama cookbook under the tree for his old hag of ma who’s finally learning how to cook.
|Getting ready to cook chicken tama rice.|
The book itself, which includes a DVD, takes the mystery out of Japanese cooking while convincingly selling the company ethos. To do the latter, there’s a sacrifice of recipe photos for Happy Cook and Happy Customer shots.
As luck would have it, the first recipe I took a stab at – chicken tama rice – had no photo. It had garlic. It had ginger. It had wine and mushrooms and sesame oil. How could it fail?
Right, like why suspect an online dating profile without a photo?
It's a fiddly recipe – hours of marinating the chicken, then grilling and slicing, followed by sequential quick quick quick cooking of the other stuff. Then thickening of the sauce with cornflour, an egg briefly cooked so it wouldn’t curdle, a dollop of sesame oil and are your noodles ready?
I’d opted for bulgur wheat, which I dearly love. My version turned out like this:
|My chicken tama rice.|
And tasted about as bland as it looked.
Other’n the bulgur wheat, there’d been no Hag Improvs. Either the wheat soaked up all those flavours or the recipe itself was too bland. So I thinks to meself, what is it I like in the flavour department? I couldn’t get my mind off the laksa soup recipe by Lucinda McCord.
I didn’t want soup. I wanted a noodle dish. It seemed logical that the first step into making something I loved – study the Wagamama book. Here’s what I learned.
Marinade the meat in a sauce you like.
Grill or stir fry the meat, then remove.
Stir fry the veg.
Add the main sauce you like.
Put veg on noodles.
Top the veg with your meat.
I could do that. Below is the concoction I came up with that gives me laksa flavour in a noodle dish. I’ve got 3 sets of ingredients here, so if you’re making a grocery list from this, scroll down for all of it.
2 chicken breasts or 270 quorn (or mixture of the 2)
1T Mirin (or port)
4T oyster sauce
Combine ingredients in a shallow bowl. If you want to grill your chicken, don’t slice it. If you want to stir fry, then cut into bits. Cover & marinate in the fridge for at least three hours.
Sauce – made in a handheld food processor
6 spring onions
1½” ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves
4T desiccated coconut*
3T peanut butter
5-6 limes (I like my lime. If you want the lime to be more subtle, use 3 limes.)
1T muscovado sugar
|Making the sauce.|
I usually make the sauce right after I make the marinade so that it can sit & get itself all flavourful, but it’s pretty good when it’s cooked right after making it.
Chop the onions, grate the ginger, press the garlic, slap in the peanut butter & sugar. Squeeze out the lime juice. If you like a real kick of lime, take that old grater you used on the ginger & make yourself some lime zest.
Blend it all up. If you don’t have a small blender, chop the chili & onions up very fine – a curved herb cutter works really well here – then mix it up well with your other ingredients.
|I prefer a 2 bladed herb cutter.|
*If you like a creamy sauce, omit the desiccated coconut. Later, you’ll add either a tin of coconut milk or a packet of coconut paste as explained below. If you use coconut milk, you’ll need to thicken it with cornflour, which I’ll tell you about when the time comes.
1 tin coconut milk OR 1 packet coconut paste for creamier sauce
Corn flour, if you use coconut milk
1T duck sauce
Rice noodles, whatever thickness you like (very-fine in the photos)
Cooking oil of choice – I tend to use rape seed oil, but I also always seem to have left over oil from the sun-dried tomatoes & that works really well, too.
Sesame oil to drizzle
Veg – whatever you have & like, with an eye to giving yourself some variety in colour – bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms, peas, broccoli, spinach, or more traditionally oriental style veg. When I cook this for Siobhán (who hates veg), I have to temper the visible veg content down quite a bit. My trick is to spiralise courgette & carrot, then add them to the noodles to hide the fact she’s eating veg. It seems to work. Even though she knows the veg is there, she can’t see it and so really loves it.
|Ding dong formation.|
My spiraliser was a free gift with an order, so isn't a high grade model. You can see from the photo that the middle never gets touched, so forms a little ding dong. If your spiraliser does the same thing, cut the ding dong off in small sections & toss in with the rest of the veg.
Note on veg prep. You can compost all your veg scraps or you can put them in a freezer bag to make veg stock later. This includes everything from roots on the spring onions or stems of herbs, outer skin of garlic or onions, ginger peelings if you peel yours (which I don’t), thick stalks from broccoli & asparagus, etc., etc., etc. Put the bag into the freezer & add veg scraps until the bag is full, to make your own veg stock later a la Thug Kitchen.
Now to cook it all up.
Break up the noodles into a medium bowl,
cover with boiling water, then cover the bowl with a saucer.
|Add boiling water & cover.|
I leave this on my plate warmer. It takes about 15 minutes to cook properly, so you can cut up your veg while this is happening.
Grill or stir fry the meat or quorn, including all of the sauce. If you grill the chicken, slice the cooked meat up when it’s done.
|Two handed stir fry.|
If you stir fry, let the wok heat up until it’s nearly smoking. Put in a little bit of the cooking oil (1-3T), then cook the meat for a (very) few minutes. Being squeamish about raw meat, I do a bite test on the largest piece to make sure it’s all well down. Using tongs (so that some of the marinade is left behind), put the cooked chicken back into the bowl, cover, & set on a plate warmer while cooking the rest.
|Hiding the veg in the noodles.|
If you’ve spiralised the courgette, give it a bit of a quick stir fry now in the leftover marinade, then put it on the plates (also on the warmer). Add a little more cooking oil. While it heats up, refresh the noodles with cold water, then divide between the plates. I mix the spiralised courgette with the noodles so that Siobhán can’t see it.
Stir fry the garlic & ginger for about 10 seconds, then add the rest of your veg. Stir fry for about a minute, then add the sauce. If you’re not using desiccated coconut, let this cook for about a minute before adding the coconut milk or paste instead.
|Cooking the veg.|
If you used coconut milk, make a paste with about ½ t corn flour & the tiniest bit of water. Add about 2T of liquid from the wok & mix well. Put this combination back into the wok to thicken.
Cook until the veg are the texture you prefer, then stir in the duck sauce for a few seconds only.
Put the veg & sauce on top of the noodles, then the chicken on top of the veg. Give it all a drizzle of sesame oil & enjoy!