What is the key to pulling off a weeknight dinner from scratch? It is the question I hear the most in my cooking classes. And it’s the one I grapple with five times a week. There are days when I come home completely whipped, after all the rushing, dropping off, picking up, cajoling, encouraging, and often not-so-gentle rearing that has filled most of my waking hours. But at 6 o’clock on a recent such day, after rooting through my pantry, tossing this dish together in twenty minutes, and watching my family gobble it up, I miraculously recharged.
The secret to getting dinner on the table fast is to make sure your cupboards are stocked at all times. Keep on hand an array of noodles (rice, soba, spelt and vermicelli are my go-to’s) as well as bottles of assorted oils and vinegars. Rice flour is a current most wanted for breading and frying everything. And it goes without saying that no pantry should be without peanut butter, honey, molasses and soy sauce. Once you have a reserve of basics, a quick stop at the market for fresh produce and protein is all you need.
This recipe is a riff on one from my favorite cookbook author and mentor, Donna Hay. It is so versatile that it works with just about any kind of noodles, protein and vegetables — genius! The homemade hoisin sauce dials up the flavors without adding too much prep time but, in a pinch, store-bought will do. Fish such as sea bass, cod and halibut take the place of the chicken beautifully, and so does tofu. It’s a one-dish meal that’s meant to save you after a hectic day in the wild. Report back to me when it does!
Homemade Hoisin Sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter or black bean sauce
2 tablespoons molasses, honey or brown sugar
2 teaspoons rice vinegar (others will work fine)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon red chile paste (or a few drops of Tabasco)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 16-ounce package rice or soba noodles
Kosher salt for cooking
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Napa cabbage or bok choy, sliced
1/4 cup Homemade Hoisin Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 chicken breasts, sliced
Peanut or grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 egg whites, whisked
1 cup rice flour
1. Prepare the Hoisin Sauce: In a jar with a lid, combine all the ingredients and shake well. Set aside.
2. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, adding a handful of salt once boiling. Drop in the noodles and cook them until they are almost done but still have a bite. Drain and reserve.
3. Prepare the chicken: Sprinkle the pieces with salt and pepper, dip into the egg whites, then toss in the rice flour. Heat enough oil to coat a medium sauté pan; cook the chicken until golden brown. Keep warm in a 250° F. toaster oven until ready to serve.
4. In the same sauté pan or a large wok, heat the 2 tablespoons peanut oil over high heat until very hot. Quickly stir-fry the ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the cabbage and cook until just wilted. Add the hoisin sauce and soy sauce and cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the noodles and toss together. Transfer to serving plates and top with the crispy chicken.
For another satisfying, gluten-free dinner, try Halibut Baked in Parchment with Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Lemon Thyme and Parmesan.