It must have been the glorious Bun Dac Biet I’d eaten at a local Vietnamese restaurant that inspired my week’s dinner menu. This particular dish was a succulent bowl of rice noodles topped with charbroiled pork, grilled shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts, herbs, cucumber and a tangy-spicy-sweet sauce. With those flavors still fresh in my mind, the next day I scoured my cookbooks at home, only stopping at those recipes that I had formerly been intimidated by, those full of exotic spices and ingredients I rarely purchased.
Once my week’s menu was done I had 3 brand new recipes to cook: Beef Szechuan stir fry, Sesame Chicken and Saag Paneer. These may not seem so fearsome to other home cooks, but when one is terrified of hot, popping oil, these are definitely dinners to challenge them. All three meals required a hot pan and oil.
First up: stir fry. Being the genius that I am, I didn’t bother to check and see if all the water was dried out of my measuring cup before I poured in the oil and then poured the oil into the wok. POP, POP, POP! After hiding around the corner, waiting for the popping to stop, I approached the stove, long tongs in hand and was ready to cook. All in all, the cooking process wasn’t bad: it was quick and, most importantly, dinner was delicious. The next night I tried my hand at Indian food by making Saag Paneer, a spinach and cheese dish. The first step was – you guessed it – frying the cubes of cheese in a pan of hot oil. I did get a few bites while sautéing the cheese, but once this step was over, it was smooth sailing. A little spinach, curry, onions and yogurt later and dinner was ready. Finally, it was Sesame Chicken night – the night I was most nervous about since I would be required to fry chicken in 4 cups of hot, hazardous oil. As the oil heated, I prepped the chicken, flouring and battering. Surprisingly, frying up the chicken was less perilous than the previous nights. The battered chicken strips submerged easily into the oil and fried away, never once threatening my quivering hands.
To drink, I sipped the same bottle of Fume Blanc during all three meals and was pleased. This crisp, cool, fruity wine tasted great with the many different flavors that had passed over my stove: chilies, ginger, sesame, fish sauce, curry, etc. However, I would have loved to have tasted Beverino with the stir fry; I think a chilled bottle would have been divine with the spicy heat of this dish. I feel the same way about a good rose – it would have worked with all three. I can’t truthfully say my hot oil phobia is gone, but I can say that a few pops of oil are totally worth trying new dishes in the kitchen. I certainly found a few new menu staples.