Miso Pork Noodles with Chili Crunch

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This year’s Winter felt like the stormiest one in many, many years. The last time I remember anything close to it was when I was maybe seven or eight years old. Dad brought Bailey and I to Cowell’s Beach at the end of a period of intense rain, the sand and sky a matching ominous grey as the ocean roiled nearby, feverishly sifting sand and spitting out sticks. Wind whipped our hair into our faces as we made forts out of driftwood; nearby, stacks of bare tree trunks lay piled haphazardly at the bottom of the stairs as if a giant were building a bonfire.

This year it felt like it rained from December through March, with a few sunny days between storms to brighten our moods. I’ve always liked the rain, especially waking up to the sound of it drumming an uneven rhythm onto our windows. Of course, it’s not so easy with a rambunctious toddler who needs to get energy out; our workarounds included making a lot of hot chocolate (hah chockit) and taking plenty of bundled up, rainy puddle walks that inevitably lead to a hot bath (no rainboots are a match for Phoebe’s ferocious stomping).

The cold and wet is a great motivator to make all the warm and steamy meals that will heat you from the inside out. Think chicken soup with rice or biscuits, Braised Short Ribs with mashed potatoes, or Thai Curry. These pork noodles are another one to add to the list while the weather’s still cool: they’re ultra-satisfying, super savory, and topped with crunchy half-moons of cucumber. Then you boost the heat by dolloping on as much spicy chili crunch as you can handle. (You can make chili crunch yourself, but if you want to skip that step I recommend Momofuku’s version, which is so tasty and available at some major grocery stores like Whole Foods.) Eat these noodles steaming-hot.

The original recipe this is based on called for sweet bean paste; I couldn’t find any locally so I ordered some online, and while the dish was excellent with the sweet bean paste (and who am I to deny more ways to include beans in my day-to-day diet?), I wanted to figure out an alternative using something more accessible to the general population. Enter miso, tahini’s partner in the spotlight these days. Miso felt like it had a similar umami hit, so it was a relatively easy jump to use miso instead of bean paste, add a little sweetener back in, and hold off on the salt (miso is usually super salty). You can certainly use sweet bean paste instead of the miso; just use 1/2 cup sweet bean paste and no sweetener. Whatever you use, this recipe is delicious and easy enough for any night of the week!

Miso Pork Noodles with Chili Crunch

Serves 4-5 | loosely adapted from Omnivore’s Kitchen

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp brown miso paste (preferably made from brown rice—I like the one by Ohsawa)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar or sweetener of your choice
1 cup cold water
3 tbsp peanut or olive oil
1 tbsp ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb ground pork (ground chicken or turkey should also work well)
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine (or cooking sherry)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
12 oz fresh spaghetti noodles, or dried if you must (fresh gives that extra toothsome texture)

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into thin half moons
a handful of chopped cilantro
3 thinly sliced scallions (optional)
toasted sesame seeds, for sprinkling (optional)
Chili Crunch, to spoon on top (substitute red pepper flakes or sliced jalapeños, in a pinch)

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp miso paste, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tsp sugar, and 1 cup water until totally combined. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil (you can start on the pork as you wait). Cook the noodles according to your package instructions, then drain and rinse with cold water, tossing, until the noodles are much cooler and no longer sticking to each other. Toss every now and then to avoid any further sticking.

Heat a large wok or 12-inch pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tbsp oil and, once it’s shimmering hot, stir in the minced ginger and garlic until fragrant (this happens very quickly, in less than a minute). Add the ground pork and cook, chopping it up with a metal spoon or spatula, until it’s browned and broken into small pieces, roughly 10 minutes. Pour in 2 tbsp wine or sherry and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the miso-water mixture. Stir often for about 5-8 minutes, until the sauce thickens considerably and coats the pork. There will still be some liquid in the pan but not a ton.

Stir in the diced onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened but still a little crunchy. Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl (or leave in the wok), then toss the noodles in the porky sauce. Taste and and salt as needed.

Serve hot in bowls, topped with chopped cilantro, sliced cucumber, a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds (optional), and as much Chili Crunch as you can handle. Enjoy!

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