I paid $5.50 for what was essentially Thai Noodle Helper from Thai Kitchen brand the other day — a “kit” containing 14 ounces of rice sticks and a 6.76-ounce bottle of “Premium Fish Sauce.” Add your own meat, vegetables or tofu and a bit of shoyu and sugar and you have dinner. I decided to cut yet another corner by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken.
Having deboned the bird, I chopped it up, stir-fried it in peanut oil along with some spinach and carrots and 2 tablespoons of shoyu and one of sugar as directed by the handsome red and black box. The rice sticks went into a pot of boiling water where, heat turned off, they steeped for eight minutes before being drained. (Cool tip I learned from the package: If you have rice noodles left over, immerse them in water so they don’t adhere; use within 24 hours.)
Four adults happily polished off the whole Noddle Helper thing in one sitting.
But I didn’t like it: there was too much chicken to noodle and the chicken was too rich. I suspect some Liquid Smoke goes into those grocery store marinades and Liquid Smoke in almost any amount makes me queasy. I knew the dish could be much more flavorful.
And I thought there had to be an even cheaper way. So I bought a 16-ounce bag of rice sticks for $1.29, pulled some frozen chicken pieces from the freezer and rooted around in the cupboard for fish sauce (it should have been Thai-style nam pla, but I only had Triparos Filipino-style). When I tasted the fish sauce against the “kit” brand, and looked at the ingredients — anchovy paste and sugar — they were the same thing. My entire bottle of Triparos cost me pennies. Sucked in again by fancy packaging.
As to the chicken, I buy those humongous shrinkwrapped bags of skinless, boneless chicken breasts from Costco. I then cut off a package or two for whatever I’m doing and flatten the breasts with a meat mallet or a good whack or two with a kitchen cleaver. This is so the meat will cook evenly. Before doing this, I remove the “tenders” — those pesky strips of flesh in the middle of the breast. These, I bag and freeze for use in stir-fries. I’ve usually got at least one bag on hand.
That day, Ho Farms long beans looked good at the market; I had a carrot and Park’s minced garlic in the fridge. My gardening cousin had given me some very fresh young ginger and some green onions. I had, as I always have, a lot of different Asian condiments to choose from.
So I helped myself instead of using a “helper”: Steeped the noodles. Stir-fried the chicken in small bits in hot peanut oil, adding cut long beans, carrot ribbons, baby spinach (in keeping with Asian tradition, the meat to noodle ratio was much much lower than with the hefty rotisserie bird). Stirred up a blend of fish sauce, an egg-sized knob of Thai red curry paste (always in my fridge), a few dashes of sweet chili sauce, tamari (because shoyu has wheat in it and my daughter can’t eat wheat), some juice of a local lemon-lime from my cousin’s garden and a little bit of sambal oelek (Indonesian chili paste) along with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Tasted. Adjusted. Started to think I might actually be cooking.
Drained and rinsed the noodles. Tossed them with the chicken and veg. Poured the sauce over. Family exclaimed delightedly between slurping. Couldn’t finish it all so we got six meals out of it. Cost almost nothing if you don’t count the pantry products. Next time: crushed peanuts on top. Maybe some cilantro/Chinese parsley.
Felt like putting my hands delicately palm to palm in front of my face and whispering that lovely Thai greeting: Sa wa dee!
Kits? We don’t need no stinkin’ kits!