Don’t tell your family about this dish, or you’ll have to make enough for 4, which means two batches, which means having to clean out the wok in between.

The book:  Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu (10 Speed Press, $24.99 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Rice noodles “drunkard’s style” with chicken

Why I tried it: I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a Thai noodle dish I didn’t like.  Over many years and many tweaks, I’ve gotten to be pretty happy with my pad thai.  But I was still on the hunt for a wide-rice-noodle dish I could make at home that would satisfy me as much as the ones I had out.  This was simply the next station on that quest.

Why I loved it:  The sauce!  This. Is. The. Sauce.  You know how you go to a noodle place, and your soul is basically enslaved to that place forever because you don’t think you can reproduce the sauce at home? Well, this was the Sauce of Freedom for me.  It’s just thin soy + dark sweet soy [kecap manis] + oyster sauce + fish sauce, it turns out.  But combined with the garlic and Thai basil, the onion wedges and with maybe an assist from the tomato, it’s got that upfront caramel, the anisey top notes, and the forever-umami finish that had me plonking down $7.95 a pop for I don’t know how many years.  Free at last!

Estimated preparation time: 40-45 minutes max if you’re using fresh noodles, a little more if you have to boil some dried noodles  (but not much, because you’re efficient and you ALWAYS chop stuff when your water’s busy getting to a boil).

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Rice Noodles “Drunkard’s Style” with Chicken

Two things you should know: 1) if for whatever reason, you can’t quite mash the aromatics into a paste and you’ve got little bits of garlic flying around asking to get burnt, then lessen both time and temperature in that first frying step. 2) Read the author’s extensive endnote on boiling wide rice noodles, in case you’ve been soaking them in warm water your whole life and you don’t believe you should do it any different now.

SERVES 2

2 fresh bird’s eye chiles, or fewer or more
1 large shallot, about 1 ounce
2 large cloves garlic
1 pound fresh wide rice noodles, or 8 ounces dried wide rice noodles, prepared according to instructions below*
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow or white onion, cut into 1-inch-wide wedges
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 tablespoons sweet dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons packed grated palm sugar, or 1 teaspoon packed light or brown sugar
1 fresh large red or green Thai long chile, cut lengthwise on the diagonal into 1/4-inch wide strips
1 Roma tomato, quartered lengthwise, then quarters halved crosswise
1 cup loosely packed fresh holy basil leaves

In a mortar or a mini chopper, combine the bird’s eye chiles, garlic, and shallot and grind to a fine paste. Set aside.

If the noodles are in sheet form, rather than pre-cut, cut them lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips and separate the layers into singles. Cut the chicken against the grain and on the diagonal into thin, bite-sized strips.

Heat the oil in a wok or a 14-inch skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the prepared paste and stir until fragrant and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Turn up the heat to high, add the onion wedges and let them brown on the underside, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Flip them and brown the second side for 2 minutes. Add the chicken and fish sauce and stir until the chicken is cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Heat the oil in a wok or a 14-inch skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the prepared paste and stir until fragrant and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Turn up the heat to high, add the onion wedges and let them brown on the underside, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Flip them and brown the second side for 2 minutes. Add the chicken and fish sauce and stir until the chicken is cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the noodles, oyster sauce, thin soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, sugar, long chile, and tomato and stir to mix. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles soften and the sauce is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the basil, and stir just until wilted. Serve immediately.

*EVERYTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RICE NOODLES, ACCORDING TO LEELA PUNYARATABANDHU
They often come in several oil-lubricated layers of thin sheets, stacked together, packed in a disposable tray, and covered with plastic wrap. You can find them in the refrigerated section of most well-stocked Asian grocery stores. To prepare them for cooking, you need to cut the whole stack into strips about 1 inch wide and then carefully separate the layers into thin, wide ribbons. Sometimes the noodles come precut and require only that you separate them gently so as not to break them.Purchase fresh rice noodles in small batches and use them right away, as they lose their suppleness and flexibility quickly on refrigeration. They must never be frozen. If you are ever stuck with old, doughy, hard fresh rice noodles, cut them into strips and separate them into strands as instructed above, then blanch them for no more than 10 seconds in boiling water before cooking.
If you cannot find fresh rice noodles, buy the widest dried rice sticks (9 millimeters/about 1 wide) you can find. It is important to remember that you cannot simply soak these wide dried rice noodles until pliable in the same way you prepare thinner dried rice sticks for pad thai . You need to boil them in a large amount of water, as you would dried Italian pasta, and then drain them, rinse off any excess starch, drain them again, and use them like fresh rice noodles. Once cooked, dried wide rice noodles double in volume. Therefore, if a recipe calls for 1 pound of fresh wide rice noodles, you need 8 ounces of dried wide rice noodles to yield 1 pound of cooked noodles, which can be used the same way as fresh wide rice noodles.

Reprinted from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu. (10 Speed Press, 2014).