For a lot of busy families which include kids who aren’t terrified of food, Chinese takeout is a viable solution to the weeknight dinner blues. Imagine it: There are some parents out there who, faced with the prospect of cooking another family dinner, can simply opt out by picking up the phone and ordering up a heaping table-filling mess of General Tso’s Chicken and calling it a night.
Unfortunately, in my house, it’s never that simple. Because I happen to live in Midcoast Maine, Chinese takeout is virtually nonexistent; the few Chinese places in town don’t deliver, and serve food that somehow manages to be even less desirable than those frozen P.F. Chang’s frozen dinners. We don’t have an Indian restaurant, and the local Thai place thinks that putting hot pineapple in everything is the defining mark of cutting-edge culinary exoticism.
The few times we have ordered takeout (which requires a round-trip one hour drive to pick up), have resulted in elevated anxiety and tensions levels rarely seen in this otherwise happy household. Even when I try to order something as kid-friendly and plain as possible, such as “steamed broccoli and chicken,” the kids are entertained for a few minutes by their chopsticks, excited by the idea of eating out of a cardboard box, but ultimately horrified at the food they deem far, far too adventurous for their terrified and starving mouths.
The combination of these two factors means that more often than not, when the craving strikes for some fake Chinese food (or what I tend to mentally refer to generically as “candy chicken”), I almost always make it myself. This recipe fits the bill perfectly; a three ingredient “mother” sauce that’s based more on shopping mall food court Chinese food than, say, something from a street cart in Nanking, that can be used with almost any combination of vegetables and protein to deliver a heaping helping of salt and spice to your takeout-starved senses.
It’s a great way to use up leftovers; for the version photographed, I chopped up some week-old pork spare ribs (though you can also start fresh with some ground pork). From there, you can get as inventive as you’d like with the additional ingredients, or at least as much as your kids will tolerate.
Pork and Peanut Dragon Noodles
For the Dragon Sauce:
- 1/3 cup chili garlic sauce, see note
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1 inch fresh ginger, grated
For the noodles:
- 2/3 pound ground pork
- 8 ounces mini portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 8 ounces rice or ramen noodles, cooked per package directions and drained
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1/3 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
- In a bowl, combine the chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, and whisk until well combined.
- In a large, high-sided skillet over medium high heat, crumble ground pork. Add siced mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms release their liquid and pork is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add prepared Dragon Sauce and chopped peanuts, and cook until sauce reduces, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, and add cooked noodles and green onions, tossing to combine. Serve immediately.
Real World Scorecard
Honestly, I didn’t even try feeding this to my kids. I thought that the combination of “meat” and “noodles” would be basic enough that they might give it a shot, but this dish ended up too delicious, too spicy, and too brown and scary looking for these dingalings to even consider.
Does it enter the rotation? For them, not a chance. They can have more chicken tenders…I’ll be perched in the corner, inhaling big steaming bowls of this stuff at every opportunity.