Drunken noodle is a dish popular in Thailand and there are a few stories floating around about how it got its name. One is that a man came home knee-walking drunk every night to his wife and she would always have a meal ready for him when he arrived (she must not have had a rolling pin). In any event, he complained to her that her dishes were boring and needed more excitement (again, where in blazes is that rolling pin??). So the next night, she cooked him a fine meal complete with savory spices, sauces herbs and meats that made him swoon with gratitude. He ran through the streets drunk, singing her praises after eating it. Another story says the meal was created because it’s good for a hangover. This one sounds more plausible for me for two reasons. One – the dish includes a healthy portion of scrambled eggs (great for a hangover) and two – the Thai name for this dish is khee mao which translated literally means shit drunk as in the description of the diner.
For us here in the states, most of us get introduced to this dish when we see it on the menu in a local Thai restaurant and ask the wait staff to tell us more about it. It is a dish of no small fame back in Siam and Thai waiters will not stop short of issuing their exuberant praises for it, making the average American diner jump at the chance to try some. It is worth mentioning that celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis listed Drunken Noodles as her favorite meal on The Best Thing I Ever Ate television show in the “With Chopsticks” episode in season 4 on Food Network.
Drunken Noodle is a stir fried noodle dish influenced by Chinese people living in Thailand (as evidenced by the use of Chow Fun style noodles in the dish). Below are the two kinds of noodles used in Drunken Noodle. On the right are 1/2″ wide rice noodles made in Thailand and Vietnam. On the left (and on the plate so you can see them more clearly) are the Chow Fun noodles which I mix in.
My own journey of discovery with this dish starts with my wife always asking for it when we’d go to a local Thai hangout. It is her favorite dish and she is not unique among my friends in that regard. My younger brother Rick also claims this dish as his favorite and started experimenting with trying to produce the sauce that makes this dish so special. After weeks of exasperation and trial and error he came up with a recipe he said was spot-on. And when I made the dish for the SECOND time, I had to agree.
Don’t ask about the first time. I’d like to forget that ever happened.
Anyway, Drunken Noodle can be made indoors on a stove but you will not get that same flavor you do when eating it in a Thai restaurant. You need extreme heat and wok hei or breath of the dragon. That hint of flame broiled flavor you get when the food gets seared on the outer surface by temperatures in excess of 600 degrees F. I will show you how I make it here and include the recipe at the bottom. I never share recipes on my Facebook page but here in my blog I will share them all with my readers.
Before cooking any Asian dish in a wok at very high heat you want everything prepped and by your side. You don’t even want to be preheating the wok at this point. Because if you walk away from your food in the wok to get the dish of minced garlic you left by the sink you WILL burn your dish. If you have the heat level where it should be, this is a certainty (600+ degrees F in the pan).
So here I have my ingredients laid out clockwise (spiraling in) starting with the oil:
Peanut oil, beaten eggs, Scallions, minced garlic, chinese white pepper, mixed blanched rice stick noodles (square and long), thinly sliced chicken tenderloins, Drunken Noodle sauce (recipe developed by the labor of my younger brother Rick), baby bok choi, Thai basil, and Chinese chives.
For the sauce, the ingredients are: (from left to right) mirin (rice vinegar), sweet soy sauce, black soy sauce, normal soy sauce, very high quality fish sauce (blue label bottle in back), oyster sauce, golden mountain sauce, corn starch and brown sugar down in front. I didn’t show water as you can come by that rather easily. I’ll have the proportions below in the recipe. You should be able to find most of these products at any large Asian grocer.
The first thing I do is fire up the burner. Now while you don’t have to have a strong burner to make this dish, I highly recommend it. There are plenty of 150,000+ BTU burners available online for less than $100 – some that go up to 220,000 BTUs. I can provide links in comments if anyone desires.
After the burner is lit and turned up all the way, I like to put the wok on and let that sit for about 15-20 seconds. Let it get very hot. Then I add the cold oil which heats up fast. Wait until you start seeing a little smoke around the edges.
I start with the Chinese chives. An aromatic vegetable that tends to stink of sulphur when you first chop it up but then mellows so a savory shallot-like garlicky spice as soon as it hits the hot oil. At this stage it starts to smell wonderful. But you haven’t seen anything yet!
I like to scramble the eggs next. These will get mixed in with the other ingredients well but I actually like them with some brown around the edges. The sauce will soften them up later so they aren’t dry and that browning improves the flavor!
After the eggs are no longer runny add the chicken (or whatever meat you intend to use). Stir quickly because it will burn if you let it sit. See the eggs getting a little brown there? We want that!
My chicken is almost done. It’s at this stage that I add my minced garlic and a minced fresh Thai chili pepper and stir those in. Now the aromas are really getting alluring. Your guests don’t get to have this olfactory vantage point – this is one of your rewards for being the chef.
I’ve added the Thai (or Holy) basil along with my chopped baby bok choy and scallions. You want to stir that and sweat these leaves until they shrink up and get a coating of oil.
Our main ingredient gets added here. Stir this around and then let it sit until the noodles start to sear on the bottom for about 30 seconds – you want it to sear. Then pour on enough of the sauce to just coat everything. Too much and the dish will get soupy. Too little and the noodles will clump together. I suggest adding a little at a time and stirring until you get all the noodles a nice cafe brown color. Once the sauce is well stirred in, we are almost done. This is when I like to tilt the wok into the flames of the fire with my spatula holding the food in the wok. You don’t have to tilt the wok very far but you want the flames to lick some of the food. Do this 3-4 times, putting the wok back on the fire level and stirring between to get that wok hei on a good amount of the noodles.
Here is the dish plated. My wife absolutely loves this dish and I love the complements after dinner. While not my favorite, it does rank very high among my most wished for Thai meals. This recipe and methodology will produce Drunken noodle nearly exactly like what you would get in a Thai restaurant (they might use different veggies). Below is the recipe I have shared for the first time with the public (with strong influence from my brother):
Drunken Noodle (Serves 4-6)
- 1 lb of Chicken tenderloins sliced thinly
- 1 Fourteen ounce package 1/4 to 1/2″ wide rice noodles
- 1/3 of an 8 oz package of Chow fun noodle squares
- 1 1/2 cup Holy or Thai basil
- 2 cups chopped Bok Choy
- 3 Eggs beaten
- 1/2 cup Scallions cut diagonally into 1″ sections
- 1/4 cup chopped Chinese chives and their flower buds (1/2″ pieces)
- 3 Tbs minced fresh garlic
- 1 Thai red chili pepper minced (optional)
- 4 Tbs peanut oil
- 1/2 tsp Chinese white pepper
- 3/4 cup oyster sauce
- 4 Tbs soy sauce
- 3 Tbs fish sauce
- 2 Tbs brown sugar
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 Tbs sweet soy sauce
- 1 Tbs black soy
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 Tbs Golden Mountain sauce
- 3 Tbs corn starch
- Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and blend well to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
- Bring a pot of water (about 4-6 quarts) to a boil. Put all rice noodles in the water and cook for 90 seconds. Remove from heat and drain. Rinse well with cold water and set aside.
- Gather all ingredients and bring to the burner and wok.
- Heat the oil in the wok for about 20 seconds. Add the Chinese chives and stir for about 10 seconds.
- Add the beaten eggs and scramble gently until eggs are no longer runny (about 10-15 seconds).
- Add the chicken and stir fry until the meat is opaque and no pink is seen.
- Add the garlic and hot pepper (if using). and stir in.
- Add the remaining greens (scallions, Bok Choy and Basil) and stir until they sweat and shrink down in volume. You may need to add a little more oil depending on how quickly the vegetables are cooking down. If so you may add another Tbs of peanut oil If you do, move the food way from the center of the wok and drop the oil there. You want it hot immediately.
- Add the previously blanched noodles and stir in well. Let the food sear for about 30 seconds.
- Stir the sauce well and begin adding a little at a time and keep stirring. Do this until all the noodles are light brown in color but do not add more than that. You do not want loose sauce pooling in the wok.
- You may need help with this next step. Tilt the wok edge into the fire, letting the flames lick up into the food for about 10 full seconds. You may need someone to hold the food in with one or more spatulas. Then put the wok back on the flame and stir well. Repeat the tilting and burning 3 more times and then take the wok off the heat.
Serve immediately with nam pla prik or dried hot pepper powder. Enjoy!
I hope you relish this dish as much my family and I do.