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Three Food Writers Battle To See Who Can Make The Best Fried Noodles

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We’re back! The internet’s most beloved series focused on “people arguing vehemently over food that they’ll never actually get to try” has returned from summer break! All your old friends are here: Steve “The Overwrought Tryhard” Bramucci, Vince “Bland Color Palette” Mancini, and Zach “Let’s Get Didactic” Johnston. It’s like a heist squad, except we’re stealing your time from your employer.

This month, we’re all about the noods. Fried noodles, that is, which is code for “we didn’t want anyone cooking Italian but didn’t want to call it ‘Asian Noodles’ because then you’re holding us to a certain level of authenticity and not even Zach has taken the time to study 3,000 years of Asian culinary tradition in full, so we’ll just stick to ‘fried,’ okay?” The results vary widely with everyone playing to their own distinct strengths (and unable to hide their glaring weaknesses). We also all seem deeply desirous of scoring a win — whether it’s because it would solidify our bond with a Top Chef star (Vince), confirm that we can use the sous vide on literally any foodstuff on earth (Zach), or keep us from falling so far behind that we abuse our editorial power to cancel the series completely (Steve).

Check what we made and get commenting. Because if anything can ease the pain of summer ending, it’s the chance to call someone you’ve never met a dickhead for how they cooked some noodles you’ll never taste.

— Steve Bramucci, Managing Editor, Uproxx Life

PAST RESULTS:

BLT Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
Mac & Cheese Showdown — 1) Vince 2) (tie) Zach, Steve
Taco Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Winter Stew Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Date Night Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Pasta Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Hot Beef Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Shellfish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
BBQ Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Pumpkin Spice Showdown — 1) (tie) Vince, Zach 2) Steve
Thanksgiving Side Dish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Christmas Dessert Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Vince 3) Zach
Chili Cook-off Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Nacho Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Burger Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Breakfast Burrito Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve

CURRENT SCORE:

We’re giving three points to the winner and one to second place for each round. As it stands, the score is:

ZACH: 25
VINCE: 25
STEVE: 18

STEVE’S BIANG BIANG CHILI CUMIN LAMB NOODLES

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It was always going to be this dish for me. I’ve written about food for a long time now, and over the past five years or so I’ve never been so surprised by any order as I was by the spicy cumin lamb noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC. It’s shocking, how good this tastes. Moreover, how… unexpected it tasted for a palate like mine, which wasn’t familiar with food from the Xian region of China. I’d never tried a cumin-centric dish before and had no idea how much I’d like the spice when it was given a starring role. It’s like how Paul Giamatti was just this dude who made everything better then suddenly he screamed “I’m not drinking any fucking merlot!” and we were all, “Wow! In the right thing, this dude is a lead.”

In case you don’t know, this dish has a cult following that sprung into internet stardom. So there are plenty of riffs on the recipe available (as well as some straight up recreations that have been sanctioned by the restaurant itself). Me being me, I figured I could improve on one of the best recipes I’ve ever tasted with a few extra flourishes, so I tried that. Truthfully, my tweaks are pretty small. But I didn’t want to get pinged for Painting-By-Numbers and also following recipes is kinda boring, so I Steve’d it up a little.

Let’s start with the lamb.

Uproxx

I used lamb shoulder here. You need something fatty and lamb shank won’t cut it — it’ll toughen up in the pan. I was prepared to burn a ton of cash by buying lamb chops and slicing the chop from the bone (which would have worked), but luckily I didn’t have to: My Whole Foods had shoulder, which I’ve literally never seen there before and made me feel like this comp might be #blessed for me.

As you can see, I cut it into cubes with a fat cap and a meat part on each cube. (After marinating, I cut them all in half… they just looked too chunky. I wanted something smaller.)

I marinated the lamb with:

  • Squeezed orange juice.
  • Rice wine vinegar.
  • Rice wine.
  • Chopped garlic.
  • Fish sauce.
  • MSG
  • Cornstarch.

Notice that most of those ingredients have the ability to rapidly degrade the sinew that binds meat (acids and alcohols). I try not to live in fear, but if I fear anything it’s tough meat in a stir-fry. It ruins it, full stop. I knew that by going this route (and letting the meat sit in the marinade for four hours), I’d be giving myself a bigger margin for error than the team at Xi’an, where they marinate the lamb only in rice wine for five minutes.

Steve Bramucci

Next, it was time to make my noodle dough. There’s no easier recipe on earth than this one:

  • 3 cups bread flour (you have to use bread flour to get the right gluten level).
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • 1 cup +2 tablespoons water.

I formed a dough ball by hand, just like making Italian pasta, then put the dough hooks on my mixer and got kneading.

Steve Bramucci

I don’t know if I ever could have gotten this dough right by hand. I honestly think I would have given up. That said, my hand mixer overheated three times while kneading this dough for 20 minutes, so try to use a stand mixer if you have one.

In the end, the dough looks like this.

Steve Bramucci

My total kneading time by hand and with the mixer was around 25 minutes, with a total of an hour waiting for the mixer to cool down. In the end, this ball could be stretched about five inches in any direction without any tendrils of dough breaking off. Then I covered it to proof for two hours.

Steve Bramucci

The next big mission was a homemade chili paste. I used:

  • Long red chilies, de-seeded.
  • Lemongrass.
  • Garlic.
  • Black garlic.
  • Cilantro stems.

I mashed that mix with a mortar and pestle until my wrists ached and then blended it a little further with an immersion blender. When the spice level wasn’t right, I added some seeds back. When it tasted too “young” I toasted a few dried chilis in oil and ground those in. It would have been a great mix to have around the house for a few weeks, but it wasn’t shockingly spicy and I needed every ounce of it for my noodles.

Steve Bramucci

One of the big perks of trying to differentiate myself from a chef who is more skilled, technically, and one who seems to know what the fans want, innately, is that I’ve gone further down the local, foraged, upscale ingredient rabbit hole. For this dish, I went on a hike and harvested some pink peppercorns.

Steve Bramucci

I toasted those with whole coriander seed and whole cumin seed. The smell was extraordinary.

Steve Bramucci

I spent some time chopping veggies, cleaning up, and watching an episode of The Good Place, then my dough was ready. As detailed by the team at Xi’an, I formed little elastic-y dough rectangles, then used the famous method of Biang Biang noodles from the Xi’an region.

Steve Bramucci

Here I am, wearing my best shirt for the occasion, slapping the cutting board with the noodles as I stretch them, as is the fashion.

The result were noodles that are meant to be thin but not nearly translucent.

Steve Bramucci

Now it’s go time. From hours of laborious prep, this dish came together in about seven minutes with the heat on the burner blazing. Let’s race from here on out:

  • Noodles + cabbage in a boiling water (mixed with 1/3 beef broth).
  • Garlic, celery, purple onion, spring onion, tossed in hot veggie oil.
Steve Bramucci
  • Marinated lamb added to the mix. Brown for a minute.
  • Spices, salt, and chili paste added in. Mixed to thicken/ coat.
Steve Bramucci
  • Noodles fished from broth and added. Tossed to thicken/ coat.
Steve Bramucci
  • Final dish is ready, flavors intact. I added more cumin at this point so that it would really play, the way it does at Xi’an.
Steve Bramucci

I finished the dish with some spring onions and it was ready to serve. The noodles hold lots of heat, so it was piping hot. If I’ve ever cooked anything better in my life, it was while drunk and on drugs at 4am. Barring alchemy-mid-blackout, this is the best thing I know how to do with my present level of skill.

Steve Bramucci

Vince on Steve’s Noodles:

Holy hell, this might be the least “Steve” dish you’ve ever cooked in this competition. Only seven ingredients in your marinade? (*holds back of hand to Steve’s forehead*) Are you sure you’re okay? Are you sure you don’t want to garnish this with four types of craisins and a glug of elderberry liqueur?

Honestly, this looks great, and hand-pulled noodles are one of my favorite types of noodles, even if you did make them while apparently wearing a deep V you found in a boat propeller. It’s just a shame you put all this effort and summoned every last ounce of your restraint in a bowl-of-slop looking-ass dish starring lamb, which 67% of our commenters are guaranteed to disqualify out of hand. Me, I like lamb. I’m part Armenian, after all. And I have a soft spot for any food that looks like gravy. So, even though this dish looks like a diaper full of giblet slurry cooked by a tattered vagrant, I would eat the hell out of it.

But this week is still going to be really funny when you don’t win.

Zach on Steve’s Noodles:
This feels like a tasty dish. There’s a lot of skill on display here with nice ingredients all around.

It just doesn’t look that great at the end. The beauty of Xian’s noodles (which I eat literally everytime I’m in New York) is that they have that cumin infused chili oil that pools and splats everywhere. These feel more like they were sauced in a stew rather than a light oily spicy marinade. There’s a viscosity to these noodles that reminds me of dog food mixed with human food.

Then there’s the lamb. I don’t feel the chunks that end up looking minced. They’re not as egregious as Vince’s chunky rice cakes but close. Another part of the beauty of the original dish is the strips of lamb. They’re amazingly tender and well-spiced along the with long, chewy noodles. There’s a symmetry to it and that’s missing here. Honestly, this ended up looking like pappardelle in a spicy lamb ragu — which I’m not surprised given that your last name is Bramucci.

Lastly, dude, we need to practice your knife skills the next time I’m in town. Those onions are misshapen choking hazards and the oddly diced green onion at the end is a distraction of malformity. And, the mince on the lamb … Strips, dude! Strips! It’s about the flow with the noodles, man.

VINCE’S MAUI CHOW FUNN, CALIFORNIA STYLE

Vince Mancini

I went into this challenge knowing I’d be at a pretty big disadvantage as the only one of the three of us who hasn’t lived in Asia. In fact I’ve never even been to Asia. Luckily I did just return from a press trip to Hawaii where as it happens I had a downright noodle revelation. Eating at a couple of Sheldon Simeon’s past and current restaurants (Star Noodle and Tin Roof), I had fat chow funn, or “fry soup” (it’s not a soup) for the first time. I’d never had anything quite like it, probably because it’s not a thing anywhere but Maui (not Hawaii, Maui specifically). It quickly became my mini obsession.

The dish involves big fat rice noodles, basically the size of steak fries, that are fried up so they’re soft on the inside and a little crispy on the outside. The effect is somewhere between a noodle and rice cake, with a texture that’s almost like a fried gnocchi. At Star Noodle and Tin Roof they fry them up with ground pork, bean sprouts, scallions, and sesame seeds (sesame seeds and sesame oil are secretly the hardest working ingredients in Hawaiian cooking). They feel almost as much like dumplings as they do noodles, and remind me a little of a deconstructed potsticker. Basically the ultimate comfort noodle. I added shrimp to my version because… I don’t know, it just seemed right.

Keep in mind, recipes for Maui fry soup/fried soup/fat chow funn don’t exist, so I had to reverse engineer them. Trying to get the noodle texture right took about 30 attempts and I even burned the hell out of my arm with spattered oil at one point. Attempt at your own risk!

Another disclaimer: I made this entirely through reverse engineering. I admittedly have no idea what the hell I’m doing when I’m making this food style.

Vince Mancini

For The Noodles

Vince Mancini

Naturally this was the hardest part. Noodles only have a few ingredients, but you have to get the proportions and the cook just right. I basically used this old blogspot recipe I found and tried to tweak it to get what I wanted. For rice noodles, basically, you need a rice flour batter that you then steam and cut into noodles. You can either use store bought rice flour or make your own by soaking rice overnight and then sticking it in a blender. I tried both versions. This was my final version:

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca flour
  • 3/4th cup cold water
  • Pinch of salt, pinch of MSG
  • Splash of sesame oil, call it a tablespoon
  • BLEND
  • Add 1/2 cup boiling water
  • BLEND

It’s hard to describe the resultant texture, because it’s not at all dough-like. It’s waterier than you might think. Thinner than pancake batter. Thinner than crepe batter.

Set up a steamer on the stove and grease a cake pan to hold your noodle batter.

Vince Mancini

In addition to your steamer, you’ll need something bigger than the cake pan to fill with ice water for your ice bath. Pour the batter into your cake pan and steam for 8-10 minutes (less time for thinner noodles). Remove the cake pan and set it in your ice bath for 3-5 minutes.

After that, you can remove the cooked batter from the pan, sprinkle some oil on it so it’s easier to work with, and cut it into your noodles. This part is extremely gratifying, for whatever reason.

Vince Mancini
Vince Mancini

The Stir Fry

The secret of wok cooking is that you cook everything REALLY HOT. I don’t have a wok, but my stove gets pretty hot on the “quick boil” setting. Just don’t spatter scalding oil on yourself like an asshole.

Vince Mancini
  • 1/2 pound ground pork shoulder (have them grind you a pork shoulder, that pre-ground pork you get at supermarkets is too lean and generally sucks shit)
  • 6 jumbo shrimp (in retrospect smaller shrimp probably work better for this dish but these big ones looked so pretty I couldn’t resist) peeled and deveined.
  • Sauce*
  • Big handful bean sprouts
  • Big handful sliced scallions
  • About a tablespoon each chopped garlic and chopped ginger
  • About a tablespoon each sesame seeds and black sesame seeds

*The sauce

  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Pinch of sugar, pinch of MSG, pinch of white pepper
  • (these proportions are all sort of estimates. it tastes right when it tastes right.)

The big noodles make this slightly more complicated than normal, but the proper cook order seems to me:

  • Brown the noodles, set aside (you have to fry these bastards really hot)
  • Sear the shrimp, set aside
  • Brown the pork

Add the garlic and ginger to the browned pork. Sautee that for a few minutes, then add the bean sprouts and scallions. Sautee that for a few minutes, then add the sauce and shrimp. Sautee for a minute and get that all mixed up. Then add the noodles and turn off the heat and mix it all up, adding your sesame seeds.

Garnish with some raw scallions and sesame seeds.

Vince Mancini
Vince Mancini

I think the reason I fell in love with this dish, and even after I spent a week trying to recreate it my version doesn’t hold a candle to what I had at Tin Roof or Star Noodle, is the textural contrast. Aside from the awesome taste of pork, shrimp, sesame, garlic, this dish has more textures that just about anything I’ve eaten, from the slippery cakey gelatinous noodle hearts to all the different types of crunch — from the bean sprouts (fresh and watery), scallions (fresh and aromatic), noodles (fried and starchy), and sesame seeds (toasty and nutty).

I can understand why people on Maui could still remember it from their childhoods 30-40 years ago and had to have it again.

Zach on Vince’s Noodles:

First, your frying order is wrong. You want to fry the noodles last so they soak in all the fond from everything else. Also, dude, did you just fry the pork with no seasoning? Like, why not make that pork pop with a bit of sambal or sesame or curry paste? Am I missing something? As it stands, it looks dry and boring.

Next … I don’t know, man, this really isn’t “Chow Fun.” I know Japanese migrants in Hawai’i started selling this type of dish way back in the day and called it Chow Fun. Look, dude, Chow Fun Dry Soup or Fried Chow Fun is a hugely popular dish in Cantonese cooking. It’s literally just the elements of noodle soup without the broth and stir-fried instead. The version in Hawai’i is a Japanese migrant knockoff likely picked it up by Japanese cooks while occupying China in WWII (hence the garbled and incorrect naming of the dish and lackluster execution in Hawai’i).

Man, what it feels like you’re aiming for here is Cheong Fun or Cheung Fun (sometimes it’s also ‘fan‘ depending on the dialect). Chow Fun is a thin band noodle basically like a wider fettucini. The rice noodles in Cheong Fun are the originator for what you’re going for here. A huge, lasagna-like sheet of rice noodle dough is steamed and then rolled until it’s about a middle finger width (basically the size of your noodles). That’s then cut into finger-length pieces and fried, sauced, and tossed in various ways. It’s light and filling. Sometimes cooks will roll in shrimp paste or other tasty shit in the roll, most of the time not. In Cantonese cooking — especially around Hong Kong — you’ll find a million places doing Cheong Fun. The biggest and most important difference is that it’s more refined thanks to the rolled rice noodles and not these clunky chunks. So, in essence, calling this Chow Fun and not Cheong Fun is like saying you’re serving Spaghetti Bolognese but you give me bolognese with rigatoni. The solid chunks of rice noodles here — and what Sheldon Simeon is doing — are the Little Ceasar’s Pizza knockoff version of great Cantonese cooking. It’s okay but, man, the real thing is light years better.

Lastly, we need to address you plating skills, dog. This is a pretty sloppy pile. Come on! You’re better than this, Mancini!

Steve on Vince’s Noodles:

I just want to breathe for a second and give the slowest of slow claps to Zach for going all in on not just Vince, but also Sheldon Simeon and maybe even anyone in Hawaii who likes these fat slabby noodles Vince is currently so obsessed with. People have often observed that this series is at its best when all three of us are owning our own quirks and peccadillos rather than trying to play against type, and my god is this a great version of “Zach being Zach” (and I say that with tremendous affection).

I’m also hoping that Vince and Zach getting into one of their didactic nerd-offs allows me to eek out a win.

Okay, as for Vince’s dish. I think this one has finally helped me figure out why Vince wins so often when his plating isn’t nearly so delicate as mine and his technique can’t match Zach’s: This looks like something that should be eaten. Not a bad ploy, that. “I make food people want to put in their mouths” would be a pretty solid Top Chef mantra. To be perfectly honest, when I saw this dish my first thought wasn’t “Imma shred that like I shred ten pounds of parsley and parm every time I make pasta” it was “Vince lives 40 minutes up the road and this asshole didn’t invite me?”

So good on you, Vince. Those chow fun noodles seem fun to chow.

That’s not to say I don’t have any critique. As someone who goes to Hawaii to surf, I’ve often observed that stereotypically “Hawaiian” dishes like Moko Loko and Plate Lunch often get presented like someone was taking their time to cook something really special, then heard that Log Cabins was breaking and slapped it all on a plate before sneaking out the back to paddle out. I know Vince isn’t huge into surfing but my propensity to give him endless benefits-of-the-doubt leave me wondering if whatever super attractive person he was trying to wow with good food and tales of “I used to play rugby in Australia” didn’t suddenly say, “Finish cooking so we can do some cool sex stuff.”

Point being, he always rushes at the end and it shows dramatically here. Something really irks me about the sauce looking so loose at watery, the shrimp being so huge, and the pork being brown in color rather than the warmer hue it’d have if it was sauteed with chili paste. I’d love to eat it, but it feels like whatever effort my man Mancini put in was front-loaded on those lovely noodles.

ZACH’S “GROCERY STORE” CHOW MEIN

Zach Johnston

I have very fond memories of eating Chinese-American food as a kid. Back in the day, grocery stores actually had individual departments that prepped and served food. Your baked goods actually came from a bakery in the store. The meat was actually butchered right there by a pro. As the 80s wound down, a lot of grocery stores across the Pacific Northwest starting serving hot Chinese-American food. They’d hire a Chinese migrant chef to make all the dishes for hot trays — sweet and sour chicken or pork, deep-fried egg rolls, fried rice, and chow mein were the mainstays. It was inexpensive, fast, and full of all the MSG (that means it was delicious).

My dad ran the grocery store in our town and I got to marvel at the chef in his store as he worked his firey wok and turned out dishes that seemed to take only seconds to cook. That cook stoked my love of chow mein. There’s just something about the flash-fried vegetables and umami-bomb noodles that I still love to this day.

That love of fried noodles carried on for the rest of my life. Across the street from the first place I went to college, there was a joint that sold boxes of vegetable chow mein for one dollar. I ate there a lot.

By the time I hit my 20s and moved to Southeast Asia, I already had a deep fondness for all things fried noodles. What I learned there (that my kid eyes failed to see) is that making a great bowl of fried noodles takes an intense amount of prep. On the surface, it looks so fast and easy. Then you start to notice all the components that need to prepped and, suddenly, one of the simplest street food dishes on earth reveals itself as complex as anything you get in the fanciest of schmancy restaurants.

So, this dish is my nod to all those boxes of fried chow mein noodles I ate as a kid in the Pacific Northwest and all the wonderful technique I learned while hanging out with cooks in Southeast Asia. I’m not trying to recreate Indonesian Mie Goreng or Chinese Bakmi. This is my take on a Chinese-American classic, “grocery store” chow mein.

The Prep:

Zach Johnston

I love cured egg yolks. They’re little packages of whatever wonderful flavor you decide to cure them with. For this go around, I used about half a cup of dark soy sauce, a large tablespoon of sambal olek, a dash of fish sauce, two garlic cloves, and a disc of fresh ginger. Then I whisk in about two tablespoons of dark sugar.

You have to very gingerly separate your yolks and whites and then place the yolks in the soy bath without breaking them in the bath. Just take your time and be patient and you’ll be fine.

I put a lid on the container and placed it in the fridge for 12 hours. This will give the yolks a very soft consistency basically like a boiled egg that’s halfway between runny and set. If you let the yolks cure for 24 hours, they’ll firm up entirely.

Zach Johnston

While the yolks cured, I landed on squid for my main protein. Honestly, this is my favorite way to go with fried noodles but you can do chicken or leave it out entirely (seriously, these noodles are awesome with just vegetables). For me, squid takes me right back to late night, very drunken runs to the streets in Jakarta for seafood mie goreng from a shack on the side of the road.

I grabbed a freshly caught squid from the local seafood market. It was about as long as my forearm. First, I have to butcher the thing, which is fairly easy. You remove the clear, plastic-y spine, remove the tentacles, and slice it along the horizontal to open it up and remove the entrails, head, and beak. Then wash everything thoroughly and pat dry as best you can.

I put the squid in a bag with lime leaves, lemon grass shoots, green onion, sesame oil, fresh ginger, and a pinch of MSG. All those aromatics infuse deep into the squid, making it super delicious. That then goes into the sous vide for about 45 minutes at 143F. You want to be really careful here. Squid will turn to mush if overcooked.

Zach Johnston

Next, I ready my pork element. I’m going with lardons of pork belly infused with the essence of Laksa. That’s a coconut, peanut, and chili-based stew from Indo-Malay cuisine and it’s the f*cking bomb.

I make a basic laksa base with about half a cup of beef broth and equal measures of coconut milk, ground peanut paste, and sambal olek. I bring that to a simmer for about 5 minutes until all the components are completely gelled. Then, I pour that over the lardons, lime leaves, and lemongrass and seal it in a bag for the sous vide. I’m using sous vide to accelerate the “curing” here.

Zach Johnston

After about an hour at 140F, the full flavor of the laksa will be infused into the soft pork belly. I then take out the lardons and deep fry them in peanut oil until they’re crispy. What you’re left with is a crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside bacon bite that tastes like a bowl of laksa by way of a pig’s belly. It’s so goddamn delicious I have to stop myself from eating them all.

Zach Johnston

Next, I prep my vegetables. I use bok choi, green onion, Thai basil, pea asparagus sprouts, and red chili peppers. First, I separate the green and white of the bok choi and green onions and then I julienne everything. That’s it.

Next, I get my shrimp crackers ready. Let’s face it, a plate of fried noodles is incomplete without a shrimp cracker on the side. It’ll neutralize things if it gets too spicy and the cavernous cracker also serves as a nice scoop.

It’s worth noting that making shrimp crackers is also deeply satisfying. Heat some oil and get frying…

The last component of my noodles is a little calamari flourish for the side. I whip up a fast tempura batter (rice flour and fizzy water) and coat the squid tentacles then fry it up quickly in the peanut oil. This shouldn’t take more than a minute or two from raw to done. I set that on a towel to leach out the excess oil and set aside.

Around this time, the buzzer on the sous vide squid goes off and I fish it out of its bath. The squid needs a little work. First, you want to plunge it into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Then I take it out, clean off the skins, and julienne the pieces into about four-inch lengths.

Finally, everything is ready. It’s time to fire up the wok.

Zach Johnston
Zach Johnston

The Noodles:

Zach Johnston

I’m very specifically recreating Chinese-American fast food here. So the noodle choice is crucial. If I were making a recipe that called for fresh noodles, then, sure, I’d make them. This ain’t that.

So, no, I didn’t make my own noodles because that wouldn’t be right for this recipe. I used packaged “Quick Cooking” egg noodles from China. They have that perfect chewy texture you’ll still get at Safeway and Chow-Mein shops to this day around the Pacific Northwest. The slight chew and heft of the noodle here are crucial to carry the heavy savory sauces and absorb them to add maximum flavor.

Plus, they’re easy to prep. Simply bring them to a boil for three minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Done.

The Cook:

Zach Johnston

I get my wok as hot as I can. I add in some trusty wok oil (a combo of soy and sesame oil). As soon as it hints at smoking, I add the whites of the bok choi and green onions along with the red chili peppers. I splash in fish sauce and a little soy. I keep the vegetables moving for a solid minute as they just start to go transparent.

Next, I add in my egg noodles, oyster sauce, squid, and a pinch of MSG. I keep the noodles, squid, and veg moving the whole time (you might get a few flame ups here if you’re working on gas). I mix and fry for about one minute, maybe two. The squid should just start to curl. That means it’s done. So turn off the heat.

Zach Johnston

I add in the remaining vegetables — bok choi greens, Thai basil, and pea asparagus sprouts. I mix those components into the piping hot noodles. The heat from the wok and noodles will just wilt them while maintaining that crucial fresh vegetable crunch.

Zach Johnston

The Presentation:

I have to say, the smell of these noodles are awesome. I use some tongs to place the noodles in the bowl. I very gingerly scoop out an egg yolk and place it on top. Next, I sprinkle some pork belly and green onion greens. I place my calamari, shrimp cracker, a lime wedge (to add a little acid kick), and a few slices of cucumber to help with the heat. That’s it. From the moment the wok went over the flame to platting was under five minutes. The prep, on the other hand, took about ten times that long.

These noodles are freakin’ rad. The heavy umami of the noodles is smooth and full of textural crunch from the sprouts, bok choi, and pepper. The egg is a lush masterpiece. It coats the noodles and gives them a velvety spicy edge that rocks. The squid is soft and full of sharp flavor. The laksa pork lardons are an awesome counterpoint that adds an extra layer of spice, crunch, and umami. The crunchy calamari is the perfect, soft accent. The shrimp crackers rule as always. This is a deeply satisfying dish.

Steve on Zach’s Noodles:

After making my noodles, I went to bed thinking, “I’ve got this in the bag.” Then I read Zach’s thing about Safeway Chow Mein (as a PNW kid, I can vouch), saw his cured egg yolk (good god), and thought, “I’m fucking sunk. It’s over.”

I also thought that when he did Malay-style lardons and squid two ways and shrimp chips and… this has to be too many elements, right? I mean, I get dinged for a freaking extra sprig of cilantro and this guy can get away with seven proteins? Honestly, I think the last picture of the noodles in the wok, with the lardons mixed in and the yolk set on top, would be a dish that people would line up around the block for. It’s glorious.

I don’t need the cucumber, I don’t need the cracker, I don’t need the calamari, I don’t even need the lime. Squeeze some lime juice on yourself if you want me to have it, I’m not trying to screw up a chef’s perfect dish because he left the citrus for me to apply and I overdid it. That’s dumb. And you know what would have fit in if you hadn’t crowded the bowl with so many fyyyyixxxxxxins?

More. Damn. Noodles.

That’s what I want, you technically-proficient, wonderfully self-indulgent, gotta-prove-how-much-better-I-am-six-ways-to-Sunday bastard: More damn noodles. We all know you’re the best cook, but this is about making the best dish and I think you missed the mark.

Vince on Zach’s Noodles:

If Steve’s brand is “too many ingredients,” yours is “going way the f*ck overboard.” Sweet Jesus, let me just try to remember everything going on here: cured egg, sous vide squid, Laksa-braised pork that is then fried, tempura squid, shrimp chip… What, no fermented element? I’m convinced you’d win Iron Chef if they allowed a week for the cook.

Look, I’d eat the hell out of this. The cured yolk makes me especially happy. This is about how out of my element I expected to feel while taking you guys on in an Asian food challenge. That being said, this was a noodle challenge. How the hell are you going to make a homemade shrimp chip but not the noodles in a noodle challenge? And if you’re not going to make them at least have a story ready about how you bought them from the famed one-eyed noodle granny of Mekong while researching a documentary on catfish poaching or whatever. Instead, you wrote like 2,000 words on a noodle dish and all we got on the actual noodles was that you added them to the wok. Also, I feel like those cucumber slices are too thick. I’m going to inhale those noodles then put the cucumbers over my eyes while I pass out and wait for the diarrhea to kick in.

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