My garlic noodles weren’t garlicky enough. Or they were, but in that kind of bland, dry way. I attributed this to a number of things: using dry pasta instead of fresh pasta (surprisingly harder to get in L.A. because I’m not too familiar withthe Asian markets on the Westside); not bringing out the garlic flavor enough; impatience. Yes, impatience will cause me to burn garlic or not infuse or reduce long enough. In addition, I did a little more research and discovered that many users advocated canned butter, ironically citing it as authentic in Asian (fusion?) cooking. Not lard, mind you, but this stuff:
It’s a French-produced butter spread, yet in spite of its nuclear-era appearance, it is almost seemingly less scary than those tubs of chemically-compressed oils known as margarine, health spread, etc. Its only ingredient is fresh pasteurized butter. I could’ve sworn I’d seen this can at Ranch 99 before, but when I ventured there myself (dragging Tom and Chris along with me), I couldn’t find it. I did, however, find this Dutch equivalent:
Skeptical, I bought it, not really believing that somehow using canned butter could magically make dishes better. I am, however, a strong believer in the superiority of fresh pasta as opposed to dry, so I also bought a package of fresh Shanghai-style noodles. Most websites with garlic noodle copycat recipes suggested egg noodles, but all the egg noodles I saw were the thin cappellini-size version. I like my noodles to be thick, a slippery mouthful, rather than the tangly angel hair type.
Also, all the garlic noodle recipes I found online tried to replicate the garlic noodles at Crustacean (and its sister restaurants). I’d had them once, thought they were good, but it’s so easy to make garlic noodles at home that I don’t see the appeal of going back to the restaurant over and over again to purchase a $10 bowl of noodles ($30+ if you get it with shrimp or lobster). I toyed with the idea of going back just once to refresh my memory of what they tasted like, but in the end, I figured if it tastes good, it tastes good.
My references are usually this recipe from Rasa Malaysia and this one from Andrea Nguyen at Viet World Kitchen. Their ingredients are decidedly different but the method is basically the same. I usually don’t have chicken bouillon on hand, though, so it’s usually the Viet World Kitchen recipe that wins out. This time, however, I decided to combine a few ingredients and steps from each, as well as recommendations from Yelp and Chowhound message boards.
1 lb. fresh noodles, chow mein thickness (never tried Italian-style fresh pasta; I’ve always used noodles bought at an Asian market) (about $2)
1 head of garlic, or about 10 cloves – half a head can be used to roast, otherwise separate and mince the cloves (less than $1)
2 T. canned butter + 1 T. ($5)
1 T. Maggi seasoning ($3-4 for a small bottle)
1 T. shaoxing rice wine or sherry (I used cheap dry sherry, about $5-7 at Safeway; I have a bottle of shaoxing in L.A., and it was a bit cheaper)
1 tsp. brown sugar (I don’t even remember, I just had it on hand)
1 T. milk (whole, but doesn’t really matter; might not even be necessary)
1/2 chicken bouillon cube (might not even be entirely necessary; the box cost about $2)
parmesan cheese (garnish at the end)
some flat-leaf parsley (didn’t have it this time, though) for garnish
Optional extra flavorings: fish sauce, Sriracha, soy sauce
Unofficial total (a lot of these ingredients, though, I happened to have on hand already and are useful in other dishes): $18
Then I coerced Tom into buying some crab meat at the store because I wanted to try it with the dish, and he got a good amount for about $12. There are cheaper options in a can, like tuna, but this stuff was a little more fresh and not packed in water. Oh, also! I almost forget to mention this, but I’m not really sure how much it contributed to the end flavor of the dish; many forum posts claimed that Crustacean uses roasted garlic cloves, so I decided to experiment and roasted a leftover quarter head of garlic (if you’re using the whole head, just break it in half and use one half to roast and the other half in cloves) for about 25 minutes in the oven, squeezed out the yummy garlic innards, and just added to the buttery-garlic sauce before mixing in noodles.
So… here’s what I did:
1. Rinse the noodles in cold water and gently pull the strands apart; I had this problem another time when I just dropped the whole thing into boiling water, and a bunch of noodles stuck together in an annoying clumpy mess.
2. Mix the crab meat with about 1 Tb. of canned butter and three cloves of minced garlic. Microwave (yes, horrors, but it helps get the butter all over the meat before you pop it in the oven), then put on a foil-lined pan and stick it in a 350-degree heated oven for about 5 minutes. (Optional: grind some fresh black pepper on top!)
3. Boil water, in goes the unclumpified noodles, and that cooks for about 3-8 minutes depending on the brand/instructions.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining butter at a very low temperature in a pan. Add the minced garlic and saute, DO NOT BROWN OR BURN GARLIC, it will taste kind of gross, until fragrant. I don’t have a specific time for this, I just let it sit while I prepare other things.
5. Take about a cup or less of the starchy pasta water. Add the Maggi, rice wine or sherry, milk and brown sugar to that water. Mix and add to the butter-garlic mixture with half a bouillon cube. Bring to a boil, reduce about half or until it looks particularly saucy (let it talk back to you). You can also add some crab to it to give it crabby flavor. The reason why I didn’t add any additional salt to this dish was because the chicken bouillon, butter and crab already give it a really savory flavor. If anything, I might try and omit the bouillon cube in the future to see if that changes the flavor significantly.
6. When the noodles are done, strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Add to the butter-garlic-saucy bits and toss.
7. Season with parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and crab from the oven.
So it was definitely my most flavorful rendition of garlic noodles yet, but also probably the most bad for you. It definitely needed a side of vegetables or some kind of meat dish, but it was incredibly filling on its own. It will probably feed up to 4 people, more if served as a side. I wasn’t going to post photos because, honestly, they are kind of monotone without the parsley, but here’s a cellphone pic anyway:
Some notes: there are a few ingredients I marked optional because I didn’t really know how much they contributed to the dish, but they had been mentioned or suggested by people who probably know better than I do. For instance, canned butter? Kind of out of left field, but it did seem to melt better and more consistently than stick butter and may have a slightly creamier, smoothier taste/texture. Also, the milk and sugar added a bit of complexity that brought out the garlic; I’d noticed this before when I once added shrimp that had been breaded in brown sugar.
The pasta water method is an old trick for creating a smooth sauce that binds all the flavors together, and I do it with every garlic noodle dish I cook because it also dilutes the butter. Thaaank goodness.
Oh, and here’s another recent food fad:
Wontons in red chili oil! Or long chao shou. Top is homemade, bottom is from A&J Restaurant in Cupertino (next to Ranch 99). This is apparently a familiar, popular Szechuan dish, but A&J is a Taiwanese restaurant. I’m discovering more and more that Taiwanese cuisine shares a lot of Szechuan dishes. I usually cook my wontons for wonton soup, but I had them recently at A&J and thought the chili oil sauce was so delicious. Unfortunately, mine didn’t turn out exactly like that, but they were still good. I did not have Szechuan peppercorns, but it stilled burned my tongue. The sauce was basically a mixture of red chili oil, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and garlic.