August 17, 2017

Dear friends,

I dug myself out of a rut last week by vowing to try a new Chinese stir-fry recipe that doesn’t start with my homemade spicy-hot stir-fry sauce. I love the gutsy flavors of Chinese chili-garlic sauce, sweet soy sauce, hoisin and all the other stuff I put in my sauce, but I wondered what I’ve been missing.

Here’s what: Crunchy Chinese noodle cakes. Yeow.

While I’ve been stir frying with my sauce, the noodle-cake recipe has been hiding out in my row of Chinese cookbooks. Last week I used the recipe from Nina Simonds’ “Asian Noodles,” in which she tops the crisp cake with thin ribbons of beef in a garlic-oyster sauce stir fry.

Nina’s recipes are both reliable and reliably streamlined, although the whole thing in this case did take a couple of sessions in the kitchen. I boiled the noodles and made the marinade and sauce one day, and cooked it all the next. It’s summer and I didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

I liked the garlic-oyster sauce stir fry (although I missed the kerpow of chiles) but I loved, loved, loved the noodle cake. Wheat noodles (thin spaghetti can substitute for the Chinese round, yellowish wheat noodles I used) are boiled until al dente, then drained very well and tossed with sesame oil. While warm, they are packed into an oiled, 9-inch-round cake pan. They are refrigerated until the cake is cool and the noodles stick together in a disk. Then they are fried on both sides until brown and crisp on the outside but warm and soft inside.

I see many noodle cake variations in my future. I could pack the noodles into individual flan pans for single-serve noodle cakes. I could toss the boiled noodles with snipped fresh herbs such as chives before packing them into the cake pan. I could season the boiled noodles with at bit of, yes, my homemade Szechuan stir-fry sauce. See, I’m willing to climb out of my rut — but not too far.



(from “Asian Noodles” by Nina Simonds)
Panfried noodle cake (recipe follows)
  • 1 lb. beef flank or flatiron steak

  • 3 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 5 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 3/4 lb. snow peas
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
Oyster sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups rich chicken broth
  • 6 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
Make the noodle cake and keep warm in a low oven.

Trim any fat from meat and cut into 1/6-inch slices. Make the marinade and the oyster sauce. In a bowl, combine the beef with the marinade, tossing to lightly coat.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add 3 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and heat until almost smoking. Stir-fry the beef slices until they lose their pink color and separate. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Wipe out the pan.

Reheat the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When hot, add the mushrooms, garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the snow peas and rice wine and stir fry for 1 1/2 minutes. Give the sauce a stir. Add to the pan and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Add the beef and toss gently in the sauce. Spoon over the noodles and serve.


  • 3/4 lb. thin, round Chinese wheat-flour noodles or angel hair pasta
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Cook the noodles in boiling water according to package directions, until just al dente. Drain well. Add sesame oil and toss. Transfer noodles to an oiled, 9-inch-round cake pan and let cool.

Heat a well-seasoned skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the vegetable oil and heat until almost smoking. Invert the noodle cake into the hot pan. Fry over medium-high heat, shaking occasionally so noodles don’t stick, until a deep golden brown on the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes. Using a large spatula, flip the noodle cake and brown the other side. Transfer to a heat-proof platter and keep warm in a low oven until ready to eat.


What I cooked last week: Egg salad sandwiches.

What I ate in (and from) restaurants last week:
Shrimp sunomono (vinegared seaweed salad) from Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried chicken salad and one jo jo potato from Huck’s gas station in Mt. Vernon, Ill.; pork and green chile stew with flour tortillas, sour cream and guacamole at Michoacanos Mexican Restaurant in Chandler, Okla.; scrambled eggs and a biscuit with blackberry jam at the Cherokee Trading Post Restaurant near Oklahoma City, Okla.; sopapillas stuffed with carne adovada at Sadie’s in Albuquerque, N.M.; migas (scrambled eggs, tortillas and cheese), black beans, and a whole-wheat tortilla at Cafe Fina in Santa Fe., N.M.; chicken teriyaki sub from Subway somewhere in Colorado.


From Carol P.:
I have given up buying fish. It all seems to come from China or thereabouts. Where do you buy fish? I have seen wild-caught fish labeled country of origin “China.” Even Alaskan-caught fish is questionable. And farm raised? Forget it after the feeding videos I have seen. I miss fish terribly. Once in a while a friend will bring us some from Lake Erie, but not often enough.

Dear Carol: You make some very good points. I can’t recommend most farm-raised fish, either, and as someone who has sent supermarket seafood away for bacterial testing, I am leery of a lot of stuff in stores. The key is to find purveyors you trust. That’s why you wrote to me, right?

Unfortunately, I have not bought much seafood in years because I’ve been eating pristine stuff Tony bought from a trusted sushi fish company. It does not sell to consumers, and our freezer supply is waning so I’ll have to address the issue soon.

Pre-Tony, I trusted Mustard Seed Market and Bay Lobsters Fish Market, which has now moved to Wooster ( I would like to know where else people shop for seafood.

Note I did not say “fresh” seafood. We who live in the nation’s midsection cannot expect to buy “fresh” seafood unless we know someone who drives to the coast, buys seafood off a day boat, ices it down and speeds back home. What I look for is fresh-frozen — that is, fish frozen on the boat right after it is caught, and transported still frozen to the hinterlands. Most stores thaw the fish before selling it, in which case you should use it the same day you buy it. If you must keep the seafood for even a day, try to buy stuff that is still frozen.

By law, anyone who sells fish must have inspection tags with origin and safety information available for anyone to look at. So when you ask where the fish came from, you can also ask the merchant to prove it. The tags don’t have to be on the premises, but the must be made available.

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