*programming note: now that it’s August, I’m feeling slightly more ambitious about the blog, and will try to get back to posting three days a week. Keep your fingers crossed, and I reserve the right to going back to the Tuesday-Friday schedule if I get overwhelmed/unable to keep up content.*
Everyone has faults, and I am not without mine. My biggest is that I am overly ambitious and easily frustrated. Those two things combined mean that I have a tendency to take on projects that are either too big or inappropriate for the moment I launch them, and this means frustration and tears. Too often I can be found crying over some particular thing that I wanted to make happen that just isn’t working the way I had imagined. And this particular dinner is a prime example of that, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
But before I get to the story of when I first made this dish, I will say with all honesty that if you prepare everything in advance, it is as quick and easy as advertised. The problem lays in the fact that there are lots of little fiddly bits which require making ahead of time, and I didn’t start early enough in the evening to get everything together for eating before 9:30pm.
I had found this recipe listed on another blog that I read, and since it was Smitten Kitchen, I didn’t feel like it would be too out of my league, as I’ve done other Smitten Kitchen recipes before. Sadly (and stupidly), I didn’t read the recipe far enough ahead of time, so I didn’t make the sauces far enough in advance so that the meat could marinate while I did other things. And then I also tried grilling it, when the grill is not my forte, and beyond that, our grill is a weird creature that is entirely too big and advanced for me and/or the Boy’s grilling skill level, and so despite “grilling” the chicken in this recipe for the time recommended, it came off raw. I don’t think it helped that the Boy too was confused and helpless when I asked him to do the grilling while I finished the rest of the recipe inside, but…this is all in the past.
The point is, I eventually finished cooking the chicken so I wouldn’t give us food poisoning. I got the rice noodles boiled and ready. I finished making the two sauces required for this recipe. I chopped all the vegetables and the various garnishes, and at roughly 9:30 that first evening, we sat down to eat. I was hangry, I was frustrated, I was trying not to cry. But the good news is that the food was good. And fortunately, the recipe made 4 meal-sized portions, which meant we could have the same thing the next night for dinner, with the main difference being that all the ingredients were prepared, and so we just had to toss everything in the bowl together to be done.
You’d think that a recipe that made me cry would be one I wouldn’t be likely to make again. Usually you’re right. But I see the errors of my ways here – next time I try to make this, I will do as much as possible in advance. I will not try to use the grill when that’s obviously not something I am skilled at doing (stick to your lane, Keller!). I will make enough so that there are leftovers, and all the work in prepping veggies and sauces can last us more than two meals. I will put it all together, and I will take time to enjoy it, instead of merely scarfing my food because it’s nearly bedtime.
There are lessons in patience and personal growth everywhere – even in the recipes that frustrate us.
Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut Lime Chicken
Yield: 4 meal-sized servings
6 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
12 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
Small Thai or Serrano chiles, thinly sliced, to taste
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
9 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 one-and-a-half inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced
6 tablespoons natural unsalted peanut butter
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Pinch of cayenne
Chicken and noodle salad
1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 6)
8 ounces dried rice vermicelli or other rice noodles
2 medium carrots, cut in thin julienne (Note: I bought pre-shredded carrots, and they worked fine)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Small handful basil (torn or roughly chopped)
4 or more scallions, slivered
1/4 cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Lime wedges (to serve)
To make the dipping sauce, whisk ingredients in a small serving bowl, making sure to dissolve the sugar. Leave to ripen for 15 minutes. Refrigerate any extra and use within a few days.
Make the peanut dressing: In a blender or small food processor, puree all ingredients to a smooth sauce, about the thickness of heavy cream. Pour into a serving bowl.
Marinate the chicken: Stir together 1/2 the dipping sauce and 1/3 the peanut dressing (you can eyeball this) in the bottom of a low-sided bowl or dish. Add the chicken to the mixture and toss to coat. Let marinate at least 15 minutes.
Cook the noodles: Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the rice vermicelli and soak for 7 to 8 minutes. (Package directions may vary; check for doneness by tasting.) Drain when noodles are al dente, and cool under running water. Fluff and leave in strainer to drain well.
Cook the chicken: Grill the chicken on an outdoor grill, a stove-top grill pan, or run under the broiler until nicely browned, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Let cool slightly, then chop roughly into 3/4-inch pieces.
To serve: At this point, you can place everything on a large serving platter, with piles or small bowls for noodles, vegetables, chicken, the dressing and marinade and toppings (peanuts, basil) and let your family and friends put it together in their own bowls as they wish. Or, you can assemble it for everyone by tossing vegetables with 1 tablespoon dipping sauce in a small bowl. Divide the cooked noodles among 4 bowls. Top each bowl equally with vegetable mixture and chopped chicken. Toss each bowl with 2 teaspoons of each the dipping sauce and dressing, or more to taste. Add the basil, peanuts and scallions to each bowl and serve with additional dressing and dipping sauce on the side.