Sunday, January 9, 2011

Noodles and assumptions

I am not a Johnny-Come-Lately to food. I've gone to culinary school; I'm an excellent home cook; I'm well-versed in world cuisine; and I'm a historian, preservationist, and curator of our culinary past. I have been featured in a national newspaper for championing the resurgence of canning, and have long extolled the virtues of old-fashioned home cooking from simpler times, dishes like Chicken a la King and American Chop Suey. I am secure in my belief that we educated foodies of the 21st century should hold on to these relics of a less-sophisticated era.

I unearthed one of those relics this week while getting ready for a comfort food project with Twitter bud Matt at A Good Time With Wine. A recipe sift turned up pot roast, casseroles and Christmas cookies - and a handwritten recipe for something called Javanese Bami. It's a simple stir fry of noodles, pork and cabbage that I recall my mom making from time to time when I was growing up in the 1960's & 70's. Mom got the recipe from my late maternal grandmother, and the age of the recipe combined with its probable provenance from a 1960's women's magazine made me sure that this must be a Ladies Home Journal bowdlerization of an Indonesian recipe, dumbed down for American tastes and renamed so as not to sound too "foreign." Curiosity piqued, I decided to do a bit of research and recreate this childhood memory as something authentic.

I typed "Javanese Bami recipe" into Google, hit send, and got a reminder from the universe not to be such a know-it-all.

A dozen recipes for Bami Goreng popped up, most noting that contrary to what I assumed, "bami" is not a made-up word. The vegetables included varied from recipe to recipe, some called for sambaal oelek, or Indonesian chili paste, and a few called for kecap manis, a sweetish soy condiment. That said, more than one page noted that there are as many variations of Bami Goreng as there are cooks. The version I grew up eating was pretty close to "real."

I made a couple of changes to the recipe and served it for dinner last night. As with many Asian recipes, it looks more complicated than it is. Get everything clean, chopped and ready to go and this will come together in minutes.

Bami Goreng

1/2 lb. Chinese egg noodles, cooked and drained
4-5 thin pork chops, cut into strips
4 small onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, sliced on the diagonal
1 small head of Bok Choy, washed, trimmed and sliced diagonally
1/2 bunch of celery, washed, trimmed, and sliced diagonally
1/2 lb. of fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 fresh bean sprouts
1/2 lb. small fresh shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 t. Palm sugar, or light brown sugar
1 bunch of cilantro, washed and chopped
Vegetable oil for cooking

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

Dissolve sugar in soy sauce, set aside. Grab a small handful of cilantro & set it aside for garnish.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil, swirl to coat the pan, then add pork. Stir-fry until pork starts to brown. Remove to a plate.

Heat a very large lidded saute pan over medium-high heat. I have a 14" straight-sided saute pan that is perfect for this, but a large electric skillet would work too. When pan is hot, add about 1 Tb. of vegetable oil. Swirl to coat the bottom, then add onions. Stir-fry until onions start to brown a little at the edges. Add garlic and cook until it becomes fragrant. Add cabbage and celery, turn down the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove cover, turn the heat back up to medium-high and add scallions, mushrooms bean sprouts, soy sauce mixture, and shrimp. Keep stirring. When shrimp turns pink add the noodles. Give it a couple of turns to heat them through, taste and add more soy sauce if needed. Add cilantro and toss.

Serves 6 people generously. Heap into a large soup dish, sprinkle with a little of the reserved cilantro, and add a generous dollop of sambal oelek, Chinese chili-garlic paste, or Sriracha.