Wok-Charred Udon Noodles with Chicken and Bok Choy
Flour Bakery + Cafe, Boston and Cambridge, MA
“When Karen became our chef, one of our first meetings was to go through the menu item by item so she could learn the story behind each dish. This dish, I told her, was one of our top sellers and had been on our menu since opening day, and we would never ever take it off the menu. About four years into her tenure with us, she surprised us at one of our weekly tastings with a fabulous chicken-udon-vegetable dish called Hong Kong noodles that we inhaled. We all looked at one another and whispered, “Maybe we could take the udon off and put this one on...?” Open the floodgates! The new dish was on our menu for all of about three weeks before we yanked it and reinstated this original udon dish. As scrumptious as the new udon was, our guests clamored for the standby. And for good reason. It’s a classic dish that hits all the right notes: juicy tender chicken, crisp greens, bouncy udon noodles, and a spicy rich sauce to bind it all together. Pro tip: Keep your wok very hot while making the stir-fry or everything will steam instead of char. If you don’t have a wok, use a large, heavy skillet. Cast iron is the closest way to get a high-heat char on this dish.” —Joanne Chang
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/3 cup oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine (or substitute dry sherry or dry white wine)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sambal oelek
- 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- One 16-ounce package fresh udon noodles
- 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, such as canola, divided
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (or substitute dry sherry or dry white wine)
- 1 large egg white
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced into 2 x 1/4-inch strips
- 8 heads baby bok choy, root ends trimmed and leaves separated (about 1 pound)
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Make the udon sauce: in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water until smooth to make a slurry. In a medium saucepan, combine the oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, Shaoxing wine, sambal oelek, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and fish sauce. Whisk together and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the cornstarch slurry and whisk continuously for 20 seconds, or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat. The udon sauce can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using. (It will be thick and gelatinous.)
In a large pot, bring about a gallon of water to a rolling boil. Add the udon noodles and cook for 6 minutes. Drain into a large bowl, rinse with cold water, and toss with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to keep the noodles from sticking together. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the cornstarch, Shaoxing wine, and egg white. Add the chicken strips to the bowl and use your hands to coat the chicken thoroughly in the mixture. Marinate the chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
Now we are going to velvet the chicken. Place a few paper towels on a large plate and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 cups vegetable oil in a wok or deep skillet until the oil reaches 250°F. (Test the heat by placing a piece of chicken in the wok; it should float immediately.) Working in two or three batches, carefully add the chicken to the hot oil and cook until the strips just turn white, about 30 seconds, using a wooden spoon or chopsticks to gently separate them. (We are going to cook the chicken again, so do not worry if it does not seem cooked all the way through.) Quickly remove the chicken strips from the wok as soon as they turn white and drain on the paper towel–lined plate. Carefully pour out the oil into a heat-safe container and set aside.
Wipe out the hot wok with a paper towel and heat over high heat for 30 seconds. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the velveting oil and add it to the wok. Add the bok choy leaves and onions and stir continuously with a spatula or wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the wok and place on the same plate as the chicken.
Wipe out the wok again and heat over high heat for 30 seconds. Measure out another 2 tablespoons of the velveting oil and add to the wok. When the wok starts to smoke, add the reserved udon noodles. Don’t stir them immediately; let them cook in the hot oil for at least 2 to 3 minutes to give them a nice char.
When the noodles start to pick up some color, stir with a wooden spoon and then add the chicken and vegetables. Stir to combine everything and finish cooking the chicken, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the udon sauce and the red pepper flakes and stir to distribute the sauce and coat the noodles thoroughly and evenly. Divide among four plates and serve immediately.
From MYERS + CHANG AT HOME © 2017 by Joanne Chang with Karen Akunowicz. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.