The food: Homemade Chinese noodles with Meat Sauce and Fresh Garnishes
One of the dishes brought to a meeting of The Oakdale Dinner Club in my novel of the same name is a Chinese dish of noodles with meat sauce, garnished with fresh cucumber sticks. The sight of the dish causes a (somewhat pretentious) character named Tom to proclaim it the basis of some Proustian memories he formed in a Szechwan restaurant in Montreal decades before.
Those Proustian memories are, of course, mine – the first time I had the dish was in Montreal, in the 1980’s, when I was visiting my brother, then a student at McGill University, for the weekend. To me, a lifelong devotee of Cantonese chow mein, this new noodle dish in a bowl was different and delightful. I loved the contrasting tastes, textures and temperatures of the hot, slightly spicy meat sauce, soft noodles, and crisp, cold cucumber.
This past summer, I tried and deemed decent the version of it served at Mother’s Dumplings in Toronto:
But I preferred the iteration I devised after combining elements from two recipes I found online and a third recipe that comes from a dearly beloved old cookbook called Cooking for Crowds. To which I added shiitake and water chestnuts, because I really like shiitake and water chestnuts.
My version is pictured at the top of the post, and the recipe for it appears below. Also pictured is the recipe as executed by a professional chef this past September, when I collaborated with the lovely organizers of the Kingston WritersFest to put on a festival event called The Kingston Dinner Club, during which I read from The Oakdale Dinner Club and spoke about food in fiction, while the attendees dined on a meal that featured food described in the novel.
Served alongside a refreshing salad of chicken, mango, and avocado in a lime vinaigrette (a recipe I blogged about here), the Chinese noodles with fresh meat sauce and fresh garnishes shone. They tasted good too.
Chinese Noodles with Meat Sauce and Fresh Garnishes
1 lb. fresh Chinese noodles
1 T. sesame oil
1 lb. ground pork
3 T. sherry
1 tsp. sugar
4 T. soy sauce
4 T. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 T. sweet chili sauce
½ cup sliced scallions (white part)
2 T. canola oil
½ cup sliced water chestnuts
1 c. sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 ½ cups fresh bean sprouts
1 ½ cups English cucumber strips (cut into 2 inch long julienne strips)
1 ½ cups fresh baby spinach leaves, cut into julienne strips
optional garnish add-ons or substitutions: 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (green part), 1 cup thinly sliced radishes, chopped fresh coriander leaves
1. Mix pork with sherry, sugar, and soy sauce in bowl. Let stand.
2. Cook noodles in boiling water till tender, loosened and separated (a few minutes). Drain in colander, shake to remove moisture, and toss in bowl with sesame oil. Set aside.
3. Sauté white part of scallions with mushrooms in oil until browned. Add pork and stir-fry until loosened, cooked through and most of the liquid has cooked off.
4. Stir in water chestnuts, hoisin sauce and sweet chili sauce and cook for a minute or two to blend.
5. Add noodles to pan and stir fry for 1-2 minutes to heat and mix with sauce.
6. Turn noodles and sauce into bowls. Garnish each serving with some sprouts, cucumber strips, spinach, and other fresh garnishes. Serve warm.