Sesame Noodle Recipes for Holiday Cocktail Party
- CMizellT2 Nov 3, 2009 07:57 AM
I'd like to serve sesame noodles in small chinese takeout boxes at my holiday cocktail party. I'm looking for a good recipe. I've tried Ina Garden's but I don't like the peanut butter - I think it is too thick. And I'd like to serve them cold or at room temp.
Any suggested recipes?
A very basic vinaigrette of rice wine or white balsamic vinegar, minced onion, neutral oil, toasted sesame oil, sriracha, sugar, and toasted sesame seeds (preferably black) is really good on al dente soba noodles. Last time I threw in some zucchini matchsticks for crunch. Serve cold/room temp.
Would you like the peanut butter if there was just less of it, and the other ingredients diluted it more?
After decades of trying to master sesame noodles at home, I recently cracked the code. It's quite a wonderful feeling. I'm not going to spill all my secrets, but I will share enough with you to hopefully point you in the right direction.
Chinese American restaurants (and Indian American restaurants) are all about efficiency. They may have 100+ items on a menu, but they don't make 100+ sauces. It's all about the bases. Most restaurants have 4 bases. The base that they use for sesame noodles is brown sauce base. In other words, chicken and broccoli and sesame noodles have more in common than you might have previously thought.
I'm not going to go into specific ingredients, but I can promise you that this base is cooked before using in any dish. When it's combined with corn starch for something like chicken and broccoli, it's only heated long enough to thicken the starch- this is nowhere near long enough to cook/mellow the garlic. Chinese restaurants across the land would go out of business if they offered meat and veggie dishes with raw garlic sauces.
So, any recipe that uses only raw ingredients- I'm not saying they're bad, but if you're looking for a similar flavor to your favorite restaurant, avoid them. The garlic and the ginger (I'm saying too much! ;) ) must be simmered.
In the whole of the western culinary universe, I don't think any single ingredient is more misunderstood than toasted sesame oil. Perhaps cloves- anyway, that's another conversation. Toasted sesame oil is very very powerful stuff. If you see a recipe that measures it in teaspoons (or greater) run away- as fast as you can. Toasted sesame oil should always be measured in drops. In case you didn't hear me, let me repeat myself. Sesame oil should always be measured in drops.
The name 'sesame noodles' is a complete misnomer. I guess whoever came up with it probably thought it sounded better than peanut butter noodles, but that's really what these are. I'm not saying these should be an in your face pb flavor, but out of all the flavor notes in this dish, PB should be one of the more prominent.
Lastly, speaking of PB- choosing the right one can be tricky. Brown sauce base is salty- there's nothing you can do about that. If you go with a salted PB, you're asking for trouble in the palatability department. Quite a few unsalted PBs have integrity issues when it comes to labeling. They may say creamy on the label, but the actually product can be gritty (it takes very expensive equipment to make perfectly creamy PB). Gritty PB kills sesame sauce. I probably went through 20 different brands of creamy unsalted PB until I found sesame sauce bliss. If you have a Trader Joes in your area, you're in luck (organic creamy unsalted- NOT the non organic), but if you're one of the many that don't, expect to spend some time trying to find one that works.
Bear in mind that this entire treatise is based on the premise that your favorite noodle dish comes from a restaurant. If that's not the case, then... never mind :)
Here's one I got from a colleague once that is a good starting point for adjusting to your taste: for each pound of noodles, make a dressing from:
3 Tbsp tahini (or more- possibly much more)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp sesame oil
6 Tbsp soy sauce (or less; add incrementally to taste)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp red pepper oil (or a smaller amount of sriracha)
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
1/2 Tbsp chopped ginger
1/2 Tbsp chopped garlic
ground pepper to taste.
If you add it to the hot noodles, they'll absorb the sauce but get a bit sticky, and need more dressing later. You can either add some initially and some once they're cool, or simply toss them in the oil when they're hot and add the rest of the dressing ingredients once they're cool. (I think the latter is the intended way, but I feel like it doesn't let the noodles absorb the flavors very well!)
I've made this one dozens of times and it always gets rave reviews:
I've modified it a bit over the years: I like to use thin spaghetti instead of linguine. I use a whole box of pasta and double the dressing. I substitute 1 tablespoon of canola oil with one tablespoon hot chili oil (we like it spicy). My family doesn't like green beans so I leave them out. You can't go wrong with this one.
A couple of non-recipe related comments if I may. Are these really tiny boxes? Like something that just holds a couple of bites? If so, where do you find those; sounds like a cute idea. I don't think you'd be able to fill them much ahead of time because the oil will permeate the box. Would you break the noodles up into little pieces before cooking? Just some thoughts. Sounds terrific and I'll be interested in reading more about this.
re: c oliver
the small Chinese take out cartons hold about 8 -10 oz and are coated - so, no, the dressing does not permeate the box. I've catered parties with this and it's convenient for serving and looks charming with chopsticks/forks. Here in San Francisco, the cartons can be purchased at Smart 'n Final - in bulk.
Instead of using peanut butter or other peanut based sauces you could purchase a sesame base sauce (available at Asian Markets) and use it not peanut butter. A lot of Asian eateries use a combination of both for the cold noodles. Also there are soy bean pastes that work well.
I give you a recipe but I do not cook from recipes just by look, taste and feel. As a family member loves to say you do not use the same ingredients but it looks and taste like you do.
Here's a thread about peanut butter/sesame noodles (including my tried-and-true recipe for them). I wasn't clear on if you didn't like PB period or just the amount in the recipe you tried. This one has 1/4 cup.
P.S. I like your takeout box idea for serving. One of our local restaurants (a winery) serves one of their dishes similarly. Really cool...and if memory serves, their boxes were red, so they were "flashier" than the average boxes.
Getting the sauce right for cold sesame noodles has a lot to do with one's taste. The OP mentioned a dislike for peanut butter, so I can't offer up either of the two recipes that we use at our restaurant to make the dish, because both use peanut butter. The good news is that the peanut butter's really an extender for the sesame paste. One poster recommends using tahini -- I've only seen tahini in it's "raw" state. In the Asian market, one can buy dark-amber colored sesame paste that's made from toasted sesame seeds. If it's good it's going to be a little expensive (but probably not more than tahini purchased in the health-foods store).
It's essential to "mellow" any garlic you use, by heating it in a few teaspoons of olive oil until it gives off a fragrance but does not turn brown. It's not necessary to mellow fresh ginger -- just use it sparingly.
When it falls on my shoulders to make this simple but delightful appetizer, I don't really rely on a recipe, I just "build" the sauce in a bowl. It's essentially lots of sesame paste, some rice wine vinegar, some honey, a little thick mushroom soy, and a bit of chili paste. If you have time to marinate some scallions in the rice wine vinegar for about a half hour, they're delightful minced up into the sauce (you're "mellowing" the scallions with the wine).
A few other tricks: I'm going to assume the OP has an Asian market nearby. *The* noodle for cold sesame noodles is a "Shanghai" noodle. The pasta comes fresh in the fresh noodle refrigerator of the Asian store. You can tell the Shanghai noodles because they're about the same thickness as Lo Mein, but they're absolutely white colored, not yellow. Cook 'em just for a moment - check the consistency at all of two minutes -- and then chill and allow to drip-dry in a colander.
Thai-style "deep fried shallots" (a common addition to soups) are a delightful addition to little baskets of noodles. Give these a perk-up on a cookie sheet in the oven for a real treat.
We like to add a modicum of chili paste and also Sichuan "ma-la" peppercorns (ground) to our sesame noodles -- they then become "Chengdu" style noodles.
I'm charmed by the idea of serving the noodles in Chinese take-out boxes. They're a whimsical, practical way to serve lots of different foods. I've seen pastel-colored and Chinese-red colored "take-out" boxes for sale at places like Pier One Imports and Michael's crafts.
The Times version you cite above is a good one.
It points out the usefulness of using the peanut butter as an emulsifying agent, for that "silky smooth" mouth-feel. They also discuss the use of Sichuan peppercorns. The recipe fails, however, to mellow the garlic.
In the Chinese restaurant, the garlic is minced once a day and packed in oil. It naturally "mellows" a little by dinnertime, and is not as intense when used in its uncooked state. Perhaps this is why Chinese-restaurant noodles taste different.
great tip about the garlic. tyvm. i confess i don't order them out often, because i have usually been disappointed and when i make them, i mostly wing it. tweak the sauce til i like it, and prefer a spicier rather a sweeter version.
i mean, every restaurant can't be using the same recipe? just like italian restaurants don't all make identical marinara. i'm always confuzzled when people claim to seek the "authentic" recipe for something so ubiquitous.
re: c oliver
lol. i get very impatient with those who are on the "one true way" path of learning to cook. just because marcella hazan makes bolognese a certain way, doesn't mean every other terrific cook in emiligia romagna makes it that way. the others just haven't written books.
if more people trusted their tastebuds, they'd become much better, and more instinctive, cooks. recipes are a springboard, not a stone-carved dictum.
I have to laugh when I read your post. My Mother and her sister would make this one dish they learned from GrandMom (who I never met since I was born after her pasting in China while I was born in the States) and it was not the same. I remember that there a lot of discussion about it at party's. Since Auntie was old my Mother would bite her lip and let it go and would complain after we left the party.
A couple of years ago our baby Uncle finally arrive to visit (after my Mother and my Auntie had joined their Mother) and we made the dish for him to taste and see which was right. I our joy he said "What is this dish, it is great tasting but it not how Mom made it". So even within a family of great home cooks they do not cook it the same even with the same teacher. We think that their MIL had input into there cooking without them knowing it. I know from family from my family and my in-laws that my cooking is more of a fusion of my family and her family. So there is no right way just if it taste good to you.
Forgot to say he made his take on this dish and it was even further away from his sisters. His excuse was that Mom was 15 years older and my Auntie was 4 year older than that and was married by the time he was 3 years old. He did say that he know my Mother better since she was there for the first 8 years of his life. Was glad he arrived after the passing of his sister since say he like my Mom better which would not have sat well with Auntie.
This holiday season I will have to try this dish so I may have a recipe. But do not keep your hope up since I do adjust a lot after cooking.
This is the recipe that I use for sesame noodles. The sesame paste is toasted from an Asian market.
1/3-cup sesame paste*
3 T soy sauce
3 T vinegar
2 T sugar
3 T hot water
1 T sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
1 T chili oil
1 t dried chili peppers, broken up