Monday, October 20, 2014

A Taiwanese fall favorite: fried rice noodles with pumpkin

Fried rice noodles are a part of every southern Chinese food tradition. In many places these noodles are fresh and are often called hefen. When I lived in Taipei, both fresh and dried rice noodles were beloved by the local cooks, but if push came to shove, dried rice noodles would have won out.

Called mifen, these were usually stir-fried with vegetables and meats. One of my favorite versions was sold at a tiny farmer’s market just around the corner from where I learned how to paint Chinese landscapes. A dark alley led to a little square where stands were set up, selling mainly fresh produce and meats, but with the occasional food vendor. The one I always ate at served stir-fried mifen with a squid chowder, the finely minced seafood mixed with potato starch to form silky cigars that floated in a thick stock.

Squash, shrimp, & shrooms
As time went on, pumpkin mifen started to take the city by a storm, and soon just about every Taiwanese restaurant and stand offered their own spin on this new combination. 

This one happens to be the one I like best. The pumpkin offers a sweet contrast to the savory meat and mushrooms, and the chewy noodles are just barely cooked through so that they retain their lovely texture. (See the meatless version down below, too.) I have found that butternut squash works even better here than pumpkin, as it is firmer and so does not break apart easily.


Fried rice noodles with pumpkin
Nánguā chǎo mǐfěn 南瓜炒米粉
Southern Fujian & Taiwan
Serves 6 to 8

12 to 16 ounces (or so) butternut squash, pumpkin, or kabocha squash
2 tablespoons small dried shrimp
Cold and boiling water, as needed
3 to 5 black mushrooms, either fresh or dried and plumped up
1 (10 to 12 ounce) package dried thin rice noodles (mifen)
2 green onions, trimmed
4 to 6 ounces boneless pork
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon mild rice wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
6 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon mushroom seasoning
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Taiwanese "rice sticks"

1. First prep all of the ingredients: Peel the squash or pumpkin, remove the seeds, and cut the flesh into thin julienne. Place the shrimp in a small work bowl and cover with boiling water; when they have softened, clean the shrimp and lightly dice. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and cut them into thin slices. Place the rice noodles in a large work bowl and cover them with cool water; when they are pliable, drain them in a colander set in the sink. Use kitchen shears to chop the noodles into shorter lengths — 6 inches long is about right. Slice the green onions thinly on the diagonal, and keep the whites and greens in separate piles. Cut the pork into thin julienne, place it in a small work bowl, and toss it with the light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, and cornstarch, and allow the meat to marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Soak til silky
2. Set a wok over medium-high heat. Add half the oil when it is hot and then toss in the pork and all the marinade. Stir-fry the meat until it is slightly browned, and scrape it out into a clean small work bowl. Add the rest of the oil, and then the whites of the green onions, chopped shrimp, and mushrooms to the wok. Stir-fry them quickly until they start to turn gold, and then add the pumpkin plus 1½ cups of water, the 3 tablespoons rice wine, dark soy sauce, mushroom seasoning, and the sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low before covering the wok for around 2 minutes to cook through the pumpkin until it is soft all the way through, but not breaking apart.

3. Remove the cover, raise the heat under the wok to high, and toss in the drained rice noodles. Toss them with the vegetables until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the mifen. Taste and adjust the seasoning a final time. Add the browned pork and onion greens. Sprinkle on as much black pepper as you like. Serve hot.

Tip


-  See the directions on how to peel and seed a pumpkin here.

-  Vegetarians can omit the pork and shrimp, but double up on the mushrooms for extra flavor.

2 comments:

  1. What is mushroom seasoning and is it available at 99 Ranch markets?

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    1. Mushroom seasoning is xiānggū jīng 香菇精, and it can be found in most Chinese grocery stores in the same aisle as the spices. The best ones are made from practically nothing but mushrooms and salt. My favorite brand is a metallic bag from Singapore with a big Buddhist swastika on top.

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