…from the California Kitchen
How you doin’? I lived in San Francisco for over 10 years as it was evolving as an exciting culinary town. I owned several restaurants, had a cooking show and loved to show people how to cook. There were so many options from the great Italian food in North Beach to the exotic dishes of Chinatown and all the other outlying ethnic areas in the Avenues and the Sunset area. The Bay area was a destination for many Vietnamese immigrants after the fall of Saigon. The first things that immigrants bring with them when they come to America from their native countries are the culinary traditions they grew up with and that was no different for the newly relocated Vietnamese… and America is so much better for it.
I spent several years in Saigon and in addition to the wonderful people there was the magnificence of the food. You could always count on getting great foods and flavor from even the most meager of food stands.
The Vietnamese people originally came from Indonesia, Southern China and elsewhere, struggling to maintain their independence since about 100 BC. At that time China, coveting the rich rice growing areas of the Mekong and Red Rivers, first conquered the young kingdom of Nam Viet. The excellence of Vietnamese cooking owes a great deal to the example of China and, in more recent generations, to that of France. The French ruled the country for most of the past century and left a heavy culinary influence. Well-to-do Vietnamese still enjoy both the cuisines of France and China, and when they venture out to eat it is often at a Chinese or French restaurant. However, when they cook at home, they can’t resist mixing things up a bit.
During the season, our Fanny’s Fish Markets always served fresh caught crab boiled in large, open caldrons located in the front of each of our restaurants. Fanny’s specialized in inexpensive pasta in seafood sauces.
Living in the Dungeness Crab capital of California our R&D team frequently went out to find the best Vietnamese Garlic crab we could find. One evening we stumbled onto Thanh Long restaurant, where recent arrival Chef Helene An was serving the best garlic crab, I ever tasted. Chef An was soon to become famous for her garlic crab and noodles and crab. If you live in Los Angeles their sister restaurant, Crustacean, is in the center of Beverly Hills—a big change from Saigon in 1972.
As with many prized dishes, Chef An kept her recipe a big secret. In fact, she has a special closed box in the kitchen where she plied her garlicky magic. Her garlic noodles recipe is such a closely guarded secret that not even their kitchen staff knows the recipe. We knew the minute we tasted her garlic noodles they were going to be featured into one of our restaurants during the next crab season cycle. So off went our chefs to rise to the challenge.
After many failed attempts at making garlic noodles, we had a winner (or as close as we could come to it). It isn’t Vietnamese, American or Italian… it’s a dish onto its own—a fusion of flavors. Now you can make garlic noodles just like we found them at Thanh Long restaurant in San Francisco.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
14 to 20 ounces fresh, pre-cooked Chow Mein noodles
1/2 cup unsalted butter or neutral flavor cooking oil
15 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning (more on this later)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (or as much as you want)
ChefSecret: This is one of those recipes where you need all the ingredients as specified. Don’t skip anything or take a shortcut! Don’t use spaghetti in place of Asian noodles. If you want spaghetti, buy a bottle of Prego tomato sauce and a few meatballs. If you’re going to the trouble to make this recipe, use the right noodles. Chow Mein noodles are moist and springy and absorb the garlic flavor and oil/butter well.
Maggi Seasoning is a flavor enhancer used in a lot of Asian cooking. Maggi seasoning comes in a container that looks like a little like a genie bottle and it contains MSG. Without Maggi Seasoning, the garlic noodles don’t taste like Chef An’s.
Covid-19 Quip of the Day: “Quarantine has really put a damper on comedy. For months nobody has walked into a bar.”
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