I have really come to enjoy weeknight cooking. It’s a great time to shake off the remains of a long day by methodically preparing something that offers instant aroma therapy as soon as it hits the skillet. I always try to keep my pantry stocked with a couple of essentials, like multiple types of pasta, rice, canned beans, a rotating mix of fresh herbs, and eggs or some other kind of protein. This removes the initial anxiety of having to build something from scratch. Just boil some water or heat oil in a skillet and you’re already halfway there.
I find that by accenting my pantry staples with a standout item that I pick up on the way home, like fresh ginger or sesame oil, I get that little shove I need to be creative. “Try me,” it cheerleads from the shelf. “Make something a little different tonight!” Then I try to work it into what I already have on hand. This is a nice way to challenge yourself, albeit only slightly, to make a manageable yet exciting meal on what would normally be just any other Wednesday night.
This dish was inspired by the last lonely chicken breast in a pack of three. While quite large, it simply wasn’t enough to feed 2 people as the main protein. So I thought I’d make it a co-star by cutting it into small strips and tossing it with hearty udon noodles, barely caramelized onion, garlic, scallion and fragrant ginger. I drizzled silky, nutty sesame oil over the noodles at the end for a little elegance.
Ginger-scented udon with chicken and scallions
1 package udon noodles
Peanut or vegetable oil, as needed
1 chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces, (reserve 2 tablespoons, minced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, divided and rough chopped
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
2 tablespoons tamari (wheat-free dark soy sauce)
1 tablespoon sriracha, plus more for serving
1/4 cup vegetable broth
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sesame oil, for garnish
Method: Heat a large pot with salted water until it reaches a rolling boil. Add the udon noodles and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 13-15 minutes, until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water for about 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high until it ripples. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, and add them to the oil. Cook the chicken, tossing frequently, until just done, 5-7 minutes (depending on the size of the pieces–cut into a large piece to make sure it’s done). Remove with a slotted spoon, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Add a little more oil to the pot, and drop in the onion, a little more salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes slightly caramelized and soft. Add the minced ginger and garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
Add the scallion pieces and about half the cilantro, and toss everything together. Drizzle in the mirin, tamari and sriracha. Stir to coat everything in the sauces, and allow them to reduce for about 1 minute.
Add the vegetable broth and turn the heat up to high. Once it’s bubbling, reduce the heat to medium and let everything simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, noodles and reserved chicken.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the rest of the cilantro and scallions, and turn the noodles a few times to combine everything and to allow them to reheat. Note: Add extra broth as needed if the noodles seem a bit dry.
Check for seasoning, and adjust if needed. Heap into large bowls, and drizzle the top with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Garnish with additional chopped cilantro and scallion just before serving, if desired. Don’t forget to plop that bottle of sriracha in the center of the table for those–like my husband–who love the spice. Serves 2 with 2 hearty appetites.