It’s easy to see why mie goreng is so mega-popular in Indonesia. Stir-fried pork, shrimp, mushroom, garlic, ginger, onion, green beans and noodles are generously coated with a super-savory mix of soy, kecap manis, and fish sauce. Topped with strips of omelette, it’s served with a seriously fiery, sweet-and-sour relish.
The huge appeal of its multiple flavors, colors, and textures makes mie goreng something that’s relished right around the clock all over its chili-loving homeland.
Ours is paired with a big-hitting, Indonesian relish called sambal bajak. Now, that combo might be a bit potent first thing in the morning, but it’s definitely a winning partnership when it’s time for a thrilling brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Mie means noodles, goreng means fried
So, mie goreng simply means “fried noodles”. But, in Indonesia, that moniker is specifically applied to this — rather than to a whole host of other stir-fried noodle delights that hail from this neck of the woods.
Like so much South-east Asian food, this is an enticingly good-looking dish where the key ingredients — the pork, shrimp, mushrooms, and eggs — keep their own distinct and contrasting qualities. That means there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on here all at the same time. Exciting? Oh, yeah. With its wide range of high-thrill aromas, flavors and textures, mie goreng really is exhilarating food.
Sambal bajak — pirate relish
Hot and spicy relishes — sambals — are a cornerstone of Indonesian cuisine. Served as condiments with many dishes, sambals are a standard feature — like, say, salt and pepper — on the nation’s dining tables. There are dozens of varieties, and chilies are by far the most common ingredient.
Ours uses fresh red bird’s eye chilies and green serrano peppers to provide plenty — and I mean plenty — of fruity, up-front heat. The chilies are gently fried with onion, garlic, ginger, and cherry tomatoes to create a thickish paste that’s sweetened with palm sugar, and soured with the deep, citrusy-sharp tang of tamarind paste.
Outside of the sambal’s birthplace, this particular one is especially relished by the Dutch. They first grew to love it — and call it badjak — back in the buccaneering days of their growing colonial mastery over Indonesia. From here, it’s taken the name pirate sambal or pirate relish.
Now, rather confusingly, I’ve also seen sambal bajak referred to as ‘plowman’s relish’. But that’s so awfully dull in comparison to the exotically romantic notion of it being adored by swashbuckling chaps in the mould of Captain Hook — or a pirate of my imagining that shares a similar name to the sambal, “Bad Jack.”
Mie goreng – with shrimp, for sure. But should it be made with chicken or pork?
The answer to that question comes down to your preference. Pork — and pork loin, specifically — is the winner for me in this dish. Its bigger, more robust flavors add a stronger contrast than something more delicate tasting like chicken breast. And that’s important because a lot of mie goreng’s appeal is based on just that — really noticeable contrasts.
The slices of omelette-style eggs, and your choice of mushrooms
The eggs and mushrooms certainly underline the fact that mie goreng is very much a dish of contrasts.
By cooking the eggs as a plain, pale-gold omelette and then cutting it into strips, you’ll be adding different flavors, consistencies — and shapes — as well as introducing distinctly new colors.
Same story with the mushrooms. As for which sort to use, shiitake mushrooms are the way to go.
Not only are shiitakes more deeply flavored than buy-them-everywhere brown mushrooms, they’re also much, much firmer. And they keep that dense, almost meaty texture once they’re cooked. So, it’s absolutely worth taking the time to find some — they’re often sold dried, which is dandy — because these mushrooms play a big part in this dish of glorious contrasts.
Choosing your noodles
The ideal ones for our mie goreng are often referred to as Chinese egg noodles. Made with wheat flour, eggs, and water, they’re matchstick thin, cook in just a few minutes, and keep a lovely springiness when coated with the mie goreng’s sauce.
They’ve also got a deeper yellow color and a more savory taste than plain wheat or rice noodles. So, they put ticks in the right boxes in terms of tastes, textures, and tints.
The importance of Indonesia’s kecap manis
Sauce. Sweet. That’s kecap manis. With a savory, umami-packed soy sauce base, kecap manis is sweetened with the caramelly, smokiness of palm sugar. And it’s often sold under the banner of sweet soy sauce.
It’s more syrupy than a straight soy sauce, and the palm sugar adds a mellowing, molasses-like balance to the pretty intense saltiness of either dark or light soy.
Just like sambals, kecap manis is a mainstay of Indonesian cooking — except more so. Used as a cook-in flavor booster, as a marinade, as a dip, or simply as a put-it-on-everything sauce, kecap manis looms very large in the foods of Indonesia.
Along with some oriental fish sauce and a little light soy, kecap manis lies at the heart of your mie goreng’s sauce. You’ll likely find it in a good Asian grocer — and I’m betting you’ll be very pleased you did.
Last, but not least, the crunchy green beans
These add the final contrasts to your mie goreng — a whole new set of colors, tastes, and textures. After all, that’s what mie goreng is all about.
Mie Goreng: Indonesian Spicy Noodles With Sambal Bajak
For the sambal bajak
- 8 fresh red bird’s eye chilies or Thai chilies, roughly chopped, seeds and all
- 8 green serrano peppers roughly chopped, seeds and all
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 yellow onion medium-sized, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 ½ heaped teaspoons tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar I use the ‘rock’ variety that comes in domes, each weighing around 1 ½ ounces. I reckon one of those is about equal to 2 level tablespoons of ground palm sugar.
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil I use the odorless, cooking variety
For the mie goreng
- 8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles
- 1 pound pork loin cut into strips about 1½ inches long, and ¼-inch wide
- 14 ounces shelled shrimp or prawns. The ones I used were frozen and defrosted — frozen is just fine — and were each about 2½ inches long.
- 8 ounces green beans topped, tailed, and cut into inch-long slices. (These are sometimes called string beans, French beans, and haricots verts.)
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms stalks removed and cut into 1/8-inch slices. I used the dried variety – and soaked them for 30 minutes in a bowl of boiling water before cutting away the stalks and slicing the bodies.
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 ounces fresh ginger root finely grated, skin and all
- 6 spring onions or scallions. Stalks removed, and any of the limp, green leaves also removed. Sliced into 1½-inch lengths — both the white and the green parts.
- ½ ounce fresh cilantro roughly chopped, stalks and all
- 3 tablespoons kecap manis often also tagged as sweet soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce Use light soy sauce rather than the dark variety
- 6 tablespoons coconut oil I use the odorless, cooking variety
- 4 free range eggs medium-sized, beaten
Making the sambal bajak
- We’ll start with this because, once it’s cooked, it can sit and cool while you make the mie goreng. I used a heavy-based,12-inch skillet for this, but a similarly wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan will be fine — as will a wok if you have one.
- Set your pan on a high heat and add 2 tablespoons coconut oil. As soon as the oil just starts smoking, drop the heat to low-medium, and stir in the chilies, garlic, and onion. You want the mix to soften — rather than pick up a lot of browning color. So, keep the heat low-medium and let the pan sizzle away cook — with a few stirs — for 3 minutes until the onions lose their body.
- Stir in the cherry tomatoes, palm sugar, salt, and pepper. On that low-medium heat, you’re aiming to let the sugar dissolve and the tomatoes soften enough so they can be easily broken into a pulp with a wooden spoon. That’ll take about 5 minutes with a few encouraging stirs.
- Now add the tamarind paste and water and turn the heat to medium-high so that the mix just begins to bubble. Drop the heat to low so that the sambal bajak can gently simmer for another ten minutes. As it’s simmering, use a potato masher to crush the mix into a fairly even consistency. In particular, make sure the tamarind paste gets completely combined with everything else. That’s it, you’re sambal bajak is done and can be poured into a pretty serving bowl, and set aside to cool.
- Give the pan a quick wipe clean so you’re ready to use it for the mie goreng.
Making your mie goreng
- This gets cooked in stages, hot-and-fast. So, you’ll want to put an attractive, large serving dish into a low oven so each stage of your mie goreng will keep warm once it’s done. That serving dish needs to be big enough to easily hold everything that goes into your mie goreng — except the sambal bajak which you’re going to serve alongside in its pretty bowl.
- The pork gets cooked first, followed by the spring onions (or scallions), garlic, and ginger, and then the shrimp (or prawns) and green beans. Those three elements then get mixed with the sauce and the noodles, and topped by your strips of omelette. Bear in mind that you want to work through these stages pretty smartly, so your mie goreng can be quickly assembled and promptly served.
- Begin with the pork. Once again, set your big pan on a high heat and add 2 tablespoons coconut oil. As soon as the oil starts barely smoking, stir in all the slices of pork. You’re aiming to stir-fry the slices on that high heat for about 3 minutes — until they just start to pick up a little light browning. When that happens, use a slotted spoon to remove the pork and set it aside on the dish in your low — and I mean low — oven. Try to leave as much of the oil in the pan as you can — the spring onions, garlic, and ginger are heading there right now.
- Drop the heat to medium-high and add a tablespoon coconut oil. Add the spring onions, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry the mix for about 2 minutes — until you just get a hint of golden color on the onions. As soon as that happens, stir in the mushrooms and cilantro. Stir-fry the whole lot on that medium-high heat for another 2 minutes, then turn it all into the dish with the pork in your low oven. Time now to flash-fry the shrimp and green beans.
- Add another tablespoon coconut oil to the pan and set the heat to high. As soon as the oil gets to shimmering — but not smoking — add shrimp and green beans. Now focus on letting the shrimp sizzle for 60 seconds on each of their sides, and just give the beans a couple of stirring turns as the shellfish cook. You want the shrimp to turn a dusky pink, and as soon as they do, transfer them with the beans to your warm dish. Time now to cook the noodles and prep the sauce.
Cooking the noodles/prepping the sauce
- For the noodles, simply cover them with boiling water in a medium size saucepan that’s set on a high heat. Let them boil briskly for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover the pan. They’ll stay nice and hot in the pan until you’re ready to drain them once you’ve cooked the omelette and prepped your sauce.
- For the sauce, simply stir together in a bowl the kecap manis, light soy sauce, and the oriental fish sauce – it’s ready.
Making the omelette
- Time now to quickly make and slice your omelette. So, add a tablespoon coconut oil to your big pan and turn the heat to high. Let the pan heat for 30 seconds and pour in the beaten eggs. Swirl the eggs in the pan so they spread over the bottom and let them fry for 30 seconds on that high heat. The eggs will set in that time, so now flip the omelette over, and turn off the heat. There’ll be enough heat in the pan to finish cooking the omelette in about another 30 seconds or so. Set the omelette onto a chopping board and slice it into strips about ½-inch wide. You’re now ready to assemble and serve your mie goreng
Assembling and serving your mie goreng
- Set your big pan back on high heat and add everything from the dish in your low oven — taking care to get all the juices from the dish into the pan. Let the dish stay warm in the low oven
- Now add the sauce and stir the pan so everything gets a good coating of sauce. Keep the heat on high until the sauce starts to bubble. As soon as that happens, drop the heat to low-medium, and — quick as you can — drain the noodles and add them to the pan.
- Now give the pan one final, combining stir so that the noodles get a fair coating of the sauce — not necessarily a thorough coating because it looks grand if some strands of noodles don’t get covered in sauce. Time to serve.
- Turn your mie goreng onto the serving dish and top it with the strips of omelette. Present your mie goreng with the sambal bajak alongside, and let the happy folks serve themselves.