Noodle recipe secured at last
By Janet Rausa Fuller
February 3, 2010
Would someone share a recipe for an Asian dish called pancit?
— B.R., Chicago
Oh, B.R., if only it were that simple.
B.R.’s request ran in our Swap Shop column last week, and I immediately felt compelled to help.
Pancit is to the Philippines, my parents’ native country, what baguettes are to France. It’s what hot dogs are to Chicago.
Americans bring a bottle of wine or a clutch of flowers to a party; Filipinos bring pancit (and lumpia — but that’s another story.)
Pancit means “noodles,” but they’re not just noodles.
There are about a zillion variations, largely depending on the type of the noodle but also on all the colorful garnishes. The ones I’m familiar with include pancit canton (egg noodles), pancit bihon and palabok (rice stick noodles), pancit sotanghon (bean thread or cellophane noodles) and pancit luglug (thicker rice noodles).
Some versions mix two types of noodles. Chicago chef Jennifer Aranas’ book, The Filipino-American Kitchen, lists at least four renditions I’ve never heard of.
Also, no two Filipinos make pancit the same way, and all Filipinos, as a general rule, cook their native dishes from memory, not paper.
You see, B.R., how complicated this can get.
And here’s where I need to confess: I don’t really cook pancit. I mean, I have cooked it, and God knows how many times I’ve watched my mom make it (which is every time my parents are in town from Kansas).
But I’ve never written down the steps, never measured the ingredients. It’s just not part of my small but sturdy repertoire of Filipino dishes that are second nature to me.
So, naturally, I called my mom.
This, loosely, is how the first of our three pancit-related conversations began:
So if I asked you for your recipe for pancit, could you tell me?
Mom: Pause. “Well, I don’t measure anything.” Pause. “And it depends on which type you want to make.”
What about pancit bihon?
Mom: “OK. You start by soaking the noodles in warm water, just until they’re pliable. Then you slice your pork–”
What cut of pork?
Mom: “Whatever. I like the loin. But it depends on what you like. You can use pork chops if you have them. But then you should boil the bones to make stock and use that stock later to cook the noodles. But I use the loin.” (It is also safe to say that Mom likes to use whatever is on sale. I’m just saying.)
And on we went.
My mom threw me for a loop when she said she usually adds julienned snow peas for crunch. I always remembered carrots, celery, cabbage, dried mushrooms (wood ear, she tells me) and sometimes French-cut green beans — but never snow peas. She insisted. I insisted. My head started to hurt after a while, so I had to hang up.
No matter — the point of pancit is, it’s up to you. It’s what you like. My mom marinates her meat in a mixture of soy sauce, sherry and a bit of sugar before browning it; other cooks don’t.
Mom also usually fries up thin slices of lap cheong (Chinese sausage). Sometimes, she uses chicken instead of pork. Sometimes, she uses the fantastic four: chicken, pork, lap cheong and shrimp.
Marvin Gapultos, who writes the Burnt Lumpia blog (burntlumpia.typepad.com), knows where I’m coming from.
Like me, Gapultos was born in the States to Filipino parents. And like me, the 32-year-old had made pancit “once or twice” in his adult life before he figured it was time to pay attention.
“No one really ever measures,” says Gapultos, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “That’s a difficult thing with Filpinos and Filipino food. There’s that hurdle when you’re trying to learn.”
Gapultos has tackled pancit canton and his grandmother’s pancit sotanghon on his blog (after watching her make it and approximating the measurements). Now, like every Filipino worth his salt, Gapultos has come up with his own version of pancit canton.
He sautes thinly sliced pork belly, rendering the fat. To the pan, he adds chopped onion, garlic and head-on shrimp (“That’s where all the flavor comes from,” he says), and then a little water, soy sauce and patis (fish sauce) to deglaze the pan.
When the shrimp are just cooked, he removes them from the pan, then adds the vegetables — cabbage, carrots, green beans — and dried egg noodles. When the noodles are tender, the shrimp go back in. A good toss, and Gapultos’ pancit is ready to go.
I was ready to cook. One more call to my mom, a bit more discussion and note-taking and I had the “recipe” for the pancit bihon I’ve known all my life.
B.R., I can’t guarantee that you’ll like this, or that it’ll taste just like my mom’s. But you can always tweak it to make it your own — isn’t that the beauty of cooking?
Or you could call my mom.
PANCIT BIHON, RAUSA-STYLE
Makes 8 to 10 servings
The quality of bihon (rice stick) noodles varies from brand to brand, so experiment to find the one you like. My mom prefers the Excellent brand, made from a combination of rice and cornstarch. Bihon noodles and Chinese sausage (lap cheong) can be found at Asian markets.
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sherry
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 11/2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 cups pork loin, sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 16 ounces bihon (rice stick) noodles
- 1/2 cup dried wood ear or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Chinese sausage links, thinly sliced
- 11/2 cups julienned carrots
- 11/2 cups julienned celery
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 to 11/2 cups chicken stock or water
Mix together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Reserve 1/3 of the marinade. Add pork to remaining marinade and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
Rinse noodles several times in warm water to soften. Cover with warm water in a large bowl and let soak 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Rinse mushrooms well, cover in water and microwave for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large wok or saute pan, heat the oil on medium-high. Add onion and garlic and saute until fragrant. Add pork and saute until cooked, then add the Chinese sausage and saute until cooked. Add mushrooms and saute 1 minute. Add carrots, celery and cabbage in that order, stirring after each addition; cook until vegetables are crisp-tender.
Add noodles to the pan, tossing well. Mix broth or water with reserved marinade, then pour over noodles to moisten, tossing well. Check and adjust seasoning with soy sauce and black pepper. Serve with lime wedges.