Spicy Thai Black Rice Noodle Chicken Stirfry
Hallowe’en is coming and I haven’t even started on my costume for this year. Which…sounds trite, considering that I’m an adult and Hallowe’en is ostensibly for wee tots courting early onset diabetes and tooth decay. It’s just that, well, Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday. If we were only living in a dictatorship (and I was the benevolent dictator, of course) I would make Hallowe’en a national holiday – possibly a three day ‘weekend’ even if it fell in the middle of the work week – and dressing up would be mandatory. After all, there is very little that I enjoy more than ridiculous costumes. When dressing up gets combined with drunken revelry AND gluttonous candy intake? Well, let’s just say that when I eventually die from either cirrhosis or renal failure, I hope it’s on November 1st.
Mike and I were entertaining a few of our best out-of-town friends this weekend, which was a perfect excuse for a pre-Hallowe’en party to get the spirit ciders flowing. We had a pumpkin carving competition…..
….which, thankfully, is one of the very few talents that I have. If you can call what I do a talent, and frankly it’s a shaky argument at best.
We had some good old fashioned bobbing for donuts, which would have been FAR too easy on it’s own so I alternated donuts with gummy peach rings.
Yup. That’s, uh, pretty hot…..My mother would be so proud. I thought Mike was a shoo-in to be crowned victorious during this competition. After all, he has that serpentine ability to dislocate his jaw and ingest an entire bunny rabbit in one good gulp.
However, our friend Ryo put us all to shame with his 18 seconds to Heaven…on a string.
Of course, what would a pre-Hallowe’en party be without costumes? To lube up the spirits before I cracked out my Tickle Trunk(s), we had a mixology contest featuring the Saucy Gremlin, U-F-Orange and The Mangy Werewolf…..
…..which is totally strategic if you want people to dress up like this:
And yes, he was wearing Blue Suede Shoes.
And also yes, that was my jacket for 3 years in high school. Sometimes I just shake my head, and it all comes together why I didn’t really start dating until my early 20’s.
Anyway, I picked up these black rice noodles to play into our theme, but with a table groaning under the weight of far too many appetizers we never got around to eating them. That’s fine though, because rice noodles are perfect for a quick weeknight dinner. They take no time to cook (if you can even call it ‘cooking’), they feel lighter on the gut than traditional wheat pasta noodles, and they’re totally amenable to being used in either warm or cool dishes. Oh yes, and as an added benefit to using black rice noodles, they actually turn a rather insidious purple color when they’re cooked. This stirfry was Crayola bright, which of course made me love it all the more. If I could have sprinkled sparkles on top and set it to whistle every time I walked by, my dinner would have been complete.
You know those new age “Eat the Rainbow” diets you’ve heard about? Well, here’s your chance. And if the purple was supposed to come from eggplants and plums instead of rice noodles, well, they should have been more specific, shouldn’t they? Now I’ve called this a “Thai” Black Rice Noodle Chicken Stirfry (long winded title, true), because essentially the sauce is a lazybones version of Pad Thai dressing…but swapping out the extra meats in Pad Thai for extra vegetables, and omitting any fussy garnishes…and about half of the ingredients in a traditional Pad Thai sauce. Oh well, just be glad that you don’t see ketchup on the ingredient list (you’re welcome). So sure, this is a healthier version of North America’s favorite bastardized Thai meal, but I still can’t bring myself to call it Pad Thai because….it’s just not. Spicy Thai Black Rice Noodle Chicken Stirfry (pant! breath! gasp! Jeez, I need to take a rest break after just reading the title) is a good Thursday night substitute though, if I don’t say so myself.
Spicy Thai Black Rice Noodle Chicken Stirfry
Serves 4-6 depending on appetite
- 4 small boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 3 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 3 red finger chilis (such as cayenne)
- 4 large cloves of garlic
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 large red pepper
- 4 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 1 tsp chili oil *
- 2 tbsp brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 limes
- 1/2 cup loose cilantro (around 1/2 cup roughly chopped)
- 3 green onions
- salt to taste
- 500 g (1 lb) black rice noodles **
* Chili oil is a fiery hot condiment that usually has a base of light sesame or peanut oil. If you don’t have chili oil, feel free to use 1 tsp of sambal oelek or sriracha chili sauce and add just a touch more oil to the dressing.
** If you don’t have fettucine style black rice noodles, regular white rice stick noodles are fine.
For this stirfry it’s best to start with the sauce because the rest of the meal comes together so quickly. Put the tamarind in a smallish bowl and cover it with 1/3 cup hot water. Set this aside for about 5-10 minutes to allow the tamarind time to soften.
Work the tamarind with your clean fingertips until it dissolves in the water and you have a sludgy brown goo. If your tamarind has any seeds or woody bits be sure to remove these. Pour in the fish sauce and chili oil. Add the brown sugar and whisk it together to get rid of any remaining lumps and bumps.
If the directions on your package of noodles say to boil them for 3-5 minutes, feel free to scoff, sniff, and discard that offensive packaging. Instead, bring a large kettle of water to a boil. Put the black rice noodles in a large heatproof bowl or pot and pour the boiling water over top. Move the noodles around as they soften to make sure that all are submerged. Let the noodles soak for only 2-3 minutes until they’re softened but still al dente. Rinse the noodles under cool running water and put them aside in a colander to drain.
A quick note on stirfry is that it cooks up f-f-f-fasssst! If you’re a bit slow on the chop you may want to consider prepping all your vegetables before you dive in, because the whole thing will cook through in about 7 minutes.
Finely slice the chilis (seeds and all, if you like a wee bit of warmth) and chop the garlic.
In a wok or large slope-sided skillet, bring the peanut (or vegetable) oil and sesame oil up to a smoke over medium high heat.
Cut the chicken into fairly large (1″ or so) chunks, season them with salt and pepper, and add them to the oil. Shake the wok and toss the chicken around just until the outside of the meat is opaque – the inside will still be raw. Add the garlic and chili to the skillet and let it cook together for a minute or two.
Slice the red pepper into long thin (1/4″) strips and chop the zucchini into 1/3″ half moons. Add the vegetables to your wok, season again with salt and pepper and let this cook for just 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are softened but still have a bit of crunch.
Pour the sauce overtop of your stirfry and work it in until the vegetables are coated and saucy, about another minute.
While your stir fry sizzles, coarsely chop the cilantro and green onions. Cut the limes in half.
Refresh the noodles under cold running water, give them a shake out and add them to the stir fry. I don’t quite have a large enough wok, so sadly it was time to transfer everything to the pot that I soaked my noodles in. Cook the whole kit and caboodle together for another minute or two (essentially you’re giving a brief stir fry to the noodles) until most of the sauce has been absorbed but the chicken is still tender and the vegetables keep a bit of crispness to them.
Fling the cilantro and chopped green onions over top, squeeze in the juice of your limes, and mix everything up. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper if need be. You likely won’t need much -if any- salt because the fish sauce is fairly salty and you’ve been seasoning the stirfry as you went along.
You could garnish the stir fried noodles with chopped dry roasted peanuts and beansprouts, but…sometimes I get lazy during the week, and a wedge of lime or a sprig or cilantro is about all the gussying up I’ll get to do. Anyway, this is just a guide for lazybones Thai chicken and vegetable noodles. If you like them saltier? Add salt. If you like them sweeter? Add sugar. Hey, living in the Glass House like we do, I’m hardly one to judge.
These noodles are bright, salty, sweet, sour and just a little bit hot. This is not traditional gourmet Thai food, but some time around hump-day does it really matter? You didn’t get it out of a styrofoam box, and sometimes that’s virtue enough. Add in the 50% vegetables and I’d say you have a win.