Thai Foods Ep.1


Chili Garlic Noodles Recipe

by Thomas M. Tillman

A Thai dish...but the way it should be

It may surprise you that Thai people actually use pasta quite often, as we love Thai-Western flavour mashups. Some of my favourites are Pad Macaroni and Tom Yum Spaghetti. But there is one I don't love. It is called "spaghetti pad prik hang" or "dry chilies spaghetti" where we stir fry spaghetti noodles with dried chilies, garlic, Thai basil, and salted fish or bacon bits. It SOUNDS good...except I find it dry, and the ingredients are "mixed" but somehow nothing really comes together into a cohesive dish. So I set out to create a version that I think this dish SHOULD be; using the same set of ingredients, because I knew these ingredients have potential to be awesome together given the right execution. The results were beyond my expectations!

Few tweaks; incredible result.

I made a few important changes to the original dish that make all the difference:

1. THE RIGHT DRIED CHILIES

The original dish uses dried chilies left in big chunks or whole. The problem with this is that the chili flavour remains trapped; and unless you're actually eating the pieces of dried chilies, you can't really taste much of them. And eating a piece of dried chili straight up isn't a pleasant texture, and can be too spicy for some. Solution? Ground chilies. I took whole dried chilies and removed the seeds so that I can add a lot of chili flavour without making it too spicy. Now the chili flavour coats ALL the noodles and becomes the star, as it should.

2. ANCHOVIES

Typically this dish is starts out with stir frying either bacon bits or pieces of salted fish in oil until crispy. Those pieces of salted protein really carry the dish, and any bites without them are just not as good. I wanted to find a way to infuse the umami saltiness into the entire dish so every bite is equally satisfying. Solution? Minced anchovies. They "melt" into the sauce, so you won't even know that they're there, but they make all the difference.

3. BUTTER IS BETTER

A major issue I had with this dish was that it's always dry. So dry. The noodles are stir fried in seasoning but there is no sauce to speak of. Solution? Butter. Adding a little butter helps add lusciousness do a noodle dish that isn't saucy. Also, you can't be shy with the oil in this recipe; they need to be glistening!

Ingredients You'll Need

Here are all the ingredients you'll need; super simple! Read on for tips about choosing the best noodles for the job, and check out the FAQs below for more about dried chilies and how to make this recipe vegan.
Left to right, top to bottom. Anchovies, garlic, dried chilies, butter, Thai basil, oyster sauce, linguine.

Step-By-Step:

Process shots for how to make chili garlic noodles, step 1-4
1. Remove some seeds from dried chilies to reduce heat. 2. Grind into powder; some big flakes are fine. 3. Drop your pasta into the water, then start the sauce by sauteing garlic and minced anchovies in oil. 4. Add ground chilies and cook till smokey.
Process shots for how to make chili garlic noodles, step 5-8
5. Off heat, add the butter. 6. Add oyster sauce and mix; you can turn it off now and wait for the noodles. 7. Add cooked noodles and turn heat back on. 8. Toss until all sauce is absorbed.
Process shots for how to make chili garlic noodles, step 9-10
9. Off heat, add Thai basil and toss until wilted. 10. Serve immediately with a garnish of Thai basil, enjoy!

Choosing the best noodles for the job

In Thailand, spaghetti is typically used, but I prefer linguine as the flatter shape has more surface area to catch the sauce...and they just eat better for some reason. You can also try spaghettini, or another kind of long, thin pasta.

PRO TIP: Choosing pasta that has a rough, matt surface will allow more of the sauce to cling onto the noodles. These are called "bronze cut pasta" as they are extruded through a bronze die. Smooth, shiny pasta noodles are slippery and don't hold on to sauce as well.

Bronze cut pasta are a little more expensive, but it is especially important for a dish with only a little sauce like this.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What kind of chilies should I use?

For this recipe you can use any kind of dried chilies, provided that the heat is right for you. I used the generic "dried chilies" available at Chinese grocery stores, which has "medium" spice level.

If the chilies you're using are too hot, remove some or all of the seeds as shown in the video. You can always add more heat afterwards if it's not spicy enough.
2. Can I use pre-ground chilies, like store bought red pepper flakes?

Yes...BUT. Pre-ground dried chillies, like ones available in Asian stores, can be really hot; and to use 2 whole teaspoons might be too spicy. I don't recommend using less chillies to reduce the heat because you will not get as much chilli flavour.

Store-bought "red pepper flakes" available in Western stores are milder, but they are in larger flakes, so the chilli flavour will not come out as much. But if you have them, you can give them a quick blitz in the coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to get them more fine.
3. How can I make this vegetarian?

Instead of anchovies, try adding a tablespoon of miso paste which should add a similar umami and saltiness. Then in place of the 1 Tbsp oyster sauce, you can substitute 1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce plus ½ teaspoon sugar.

Friendly reminder that whenever you're modifying a recipe, it's extra important to taste and adjust!

INGREDIENTS

  • 5.3 oz linguine
  • 2 Tbsp neutral oil
  • 4 fillets anchovies, minced (see note 1)
  • 3 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 0.2 oz dried chiliessee note 2
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 15 leaves Thai basiloptional, see note 3
NOTES
1. If the anchovies came packed in olive oil, reserve about 1-2 teaspoons of this and add it to the noodles at the the end for extra flavour. 2. You can use any type of dried chilies provided the heat level is right for you. Since we will need to use quite a lot of it so we have lots of chili flavour, I like to remove some of the seeds before grinding so it won’t be too spicy. You can also use 2 teaspoons of pre-ground chilies, provided you’re okay with the heat. 3. I really love how Thai Basil adds a floral freshness to this, but don’t overdo it, because you don’t want this tasting like a Thai basil stir fry. Just a touch will do. If you use regular Italian basil, it will end up tasting very not-Asian, which is fine but not my preference for this dish. You can also add cilantro instead.

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add enough salt so that the water tastes like a well-seasoned soup.
  • While you wait for the water to boil, remove the seeds and pith from some or all of the dried chilies depending on how much heat you want (or maybe don’t remove them at all if you want it spicy!) If your spice tolerance isn’t high, remove all the seeds and pith, as and you can always add more later if you want it spicier.
    0.2 oz dried chilies
  • Grind the chilies in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until mostly fine; a few bigger flakes remaining is no problem. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the ground chilies, and reserve the rest just in case you want to add more later.
  • Once the water is boiling, add the linguine and stir to prevent the noodles from sticking until the water comes back to a full boil again. Let it cook for 1 minute LESS than the time stated on the package.
    5.3 oz linguine
  • Meanwhile, heat a wok on the stove over medium heat and add the oil, garlic, and anchovies. Gently saute the garlic for 3-4 minutes until it starts to turn golden. There should be plenty of oil for the garlic to fry in, so don't be afraid to add a little extra.
    2 Tbsp neutral oil,3 Tbsp chopped garlic,4 fillets anchovies, minced (see note 1)
  • Once the garlic is golden, and the anchovies start to pop, add the 2 teaspoons of ground chilies, and cook for another minute until it's aromatic and smells slightly smoky. Immediately turn off the heat to prevent the chilies from burning, then add the oyster sauce and the butter and stir until the butter is melted. If the noodles are not done at this point, just keep the heat off while you wait for them.
    2 Tbsp unsalted butter,1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • Once the noodles are done, bring the pot close to the wok and use tongs to grab the noodles from the pot and into the wok without shaking off excess water; the excess water will help finish cooking the noodles and bind the sauce. Turn the heat back to medium and toss the noodles until they are well coated and all excess water has been absorbed. If you have any extra olive oil from the anchovies, you can add it at this point.
  • Turn off the heat, and throw in the Thai basil and mix briefly just until wilted. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed, and you can add extra chili flakes for more heat if desired.
    15 leaves Thai basil
  • Garnish with a few extra fresh Thai basil leaves and serve on its own or as a side; it works great with pan fried fish or chicken!