A cult favorite among Viet Americans, buttery garlic noodles are addictively good, but their garlicky flavor can linger the morning after. You don’t have to worry about that with this recipe. To prevent the garlic from ruining a date night (and from burning during cooking), let it hang out for a few minutes in a little water and then gently cook it.
Using salted European-style butter, such as Kerrygold, is my nod to the Viet penchant for Bretel, a canned cultured butter from Normandy, which the French introduced to Vietnam. Liquid seasonings such as oyster sauce and fish sauce support and build on the butter’s umami goodness; the Notes for vegetarian substitutes. To send the flavors over the top, add a glutamate-rich flavor enhancer. If you are someone who isn’t skittish about MSG, use it here to great effect. Top the noodles with seared large shrimp to fancy them up. Add a simple vegetable dish or green salad to complete the meal.
4 large garlic cloves, minced or put through a press
10 ounces dried Chinese wheat noodles or Japanese ramen
Fine sea salt
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon MSG, scant ½ teaspoon chicken stock base, or 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
½ teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons salted, European-style butter
8 fresh shiitake mushroom or cremini mushrooms, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick, stems included
Recently ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallot
Fill a large pot with 4 quarts water and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, put the garlic in a small cup or dish and add about 1 tablespoon water to just barely cover. Set aside and expect the garlic to absorb most of the water; there is no need to drain it before adding later.
After the pot comes to a boil, add the noodles and 2 teaspoons salt. Boil the noodles until just chewy-firm; they’ll soften more later. Ladle out ¾ cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the noodles in a colander, rinse with cool water, and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the oyster sauce, fish sauce, cornstarch, MSG, sugar, and reserved cooking water. Set aside.
If the pot that you cooked the noodles in is wide enough to comfortably sauté the mushrooms, set it over medium-high heat and melt two tablespoons of the butter; if not, you can use a large skillet. Add the mushrooms, season with two or three pinches of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown the Turn off the heat and transfer the mushrooms to a plate or bowl.
Return the pot to the hot burner. To prevent scorching, keep the heat off as you add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the shallot, and garlic. As the butter melts and sizzles, turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, for at least 3 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and some pieces are golden. Add the seasoned cooking water and mushrooms, stir, and increase the heat slightly.
When the sauce starts bubbling, add the noodles. Using tongs and a spoon, combine and coat the noodles in sauce. If the dish looks too thick or tastes too salty, add a tiny splash of water. Turn off the heat and let rest for a minute.