Drunken Noodles

A tasty Thai noodle dish -- with a little tweaking.
A tasty Thai noodle dish — with a little tweaking.

Far from it for me to disparage this “Drunken Noodles with Chicken” recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.

But I think someone might have been hitting the sauce when writing this one.

America’s Test Kitchen, with its meticulous and detailed recipe testing, is typically the holy grail. But when I saw that this recipe that uses 8 ounces of noodles called for half a cup of brown sugar in the sauce, I was aghast. A tablespoon or two maybe. But half a cup?!?

Still, because I like to adhere to new recipes exactly the first time I make them, I followed suit. The result was what I feared — noodles as sweet as candy. Definitely not what you want. The noodles also were swimming in that sauce.

So, the next time, I cut the sauce amount in half, but kept the quantities the same for everything else. What I ended up with was far more delicious and balanced.

“Drunken Noodles with Chicken” is from The Complete One Pot: 400 Meals For Your Skillet, Sheet Pan, Instant Pot, Dutch Oven, and More” (America’s Test Kitchen), of which I received a review copy.

The breadth of recipes include “Chicken Stew with Cheddar Biscuits” in a Dutch oven, “Crispy Tofu with Warm Cabbage Salad” in a skillet, and “Pizza al Taglio with Arugula and Fresh Mozzarella” in a sheet pan. Some recipes such as “Spiced Pork Loin with Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts” offer up three options for cooking — sheet pan, skillet or roasting pan.

As the book notes, nobody’s sure why these noodles are called “drunken,” especially since there’s no alcohol whatsoever in the recipe, just soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, Thai chiles, and yes, brown sugar.

The wide, dried rice noodles.
The wide, dried rice noodles.

This classic Thai dish uses dried flat rice noodles that need to soak in boiling water to soften before being stir-fried. Napa cabbage adds texture and Thai basil a slight licorice herbaceousness.

If you cut the sauce amount in half as I did in the recipe below, you end up with just enough to flavor and soak into the noodles as they sit for a minute or two.

The key to this dish is the sauce, which should hit the notes of spicy, sweet, and tangy. Feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your personal taste.

Rather than chicken breasts as called for in the recipe, I used thighs instead for more succulence.

The recipe states that it serves 4, but I think it’s more like 2 to 3.

The dried rice noodles have a nice, slightly chewy texture, but they’re not as supple and bouncy as fresh chow fun-like rice noodles from an Asian market. They are easier to keep in the pantry, though. This recipe easily takes to all manner of substitutions like swapping in sliced flank steak fir the chicken or broccolini for the cabbage. It’s a handy recipe to have in your wheelhouse.

Keep packages of dried rice noodles in your pantry to make this anytime on a whim.
Keep packages of dried rice noodles in your pantry to make this anytime on a whim.

Drunken Noodles with Chicken

(Serves 2 to 3)

8 ounces (3/8-inch wide) flat rice noodles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, trimmed and sliced thin crosswise

2 teaspoons soy sauce plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided use

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons lime juice, to taste, plus lime wedges for serving

1 tablespoon fish sauce

3 Thai chiles, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

1/2 head napa cabbage, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (6 cups)

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh Thai or Italian basil

Place noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Give it a good stir immediately, then let sit, stirring occasionally, until soft and pliable but not fully tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse under cold running water until chilled. Drain noodles well again and toss with 2 teaspoons oil; set aside.

Combine 2 teaspoons water and baking soda in medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat; let sit for 5 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons soy sauce and cornstarch and toss until well combined. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, 1 tablespoon water, and Thai chiles in small bowl until sugar has dissolved; set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and increase heat to high. Cook, tossing chicken slowly but constantly, until no longer pink, 2 to 6 minutes; transfer to a clean bowl.

Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in again-empty skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add cabbage and cook, tossing slowly but constantly, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add noodles, sauce, and chicken and cook, tossing slowly but constantly, until mixture is thoroughly combined and noodles are well coated and tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Off heat, fold in basil. Serve with lime wedges.

Adapted from “The Complete One Pot” by America’s Test Kitchen

More Asian Noodles to Enjoy: Chilled Soba Noodles with Spicy Orange Sesame and Tofu

And: Hand-Torn Noodles with Cumin

And: Japanese-Style Tuna Noodle Salad

And: Pan-Fried Pho Noodle Cake

And: Sichuan Pork Ragu

And: Spicy Chinese Noodles

And: Spicy Korean Rice Sticks with Shrimp and Vegetables

And: Stir-Fry Udon Noodles with Eggplant, Portobellos, Thai Basil and Celery Leaves

And: Vietnamese Escargot Vongole

And: Wasabi Soy Sauce Pasta

And: World’s Easiest Noodle Soup

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One comment

  • I’ve never made this dish. But when I do (and you have me SO craving it!) I’ll be using your recipe — it looks good. I’m surprised the original recipe was so “off” — usually America’s Test Kitchens’ recipes are reasonably good. Anyway, thanks for this!

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