Adventures in Szechuan Cuisine
Who wouldn’t want to try Dan Dan Noodles. It has has such an appealing ring to it in name alone and begs for an indulgence in one of the spicy delights of Szechuanese street food. The name dates back to older times when vendors wandered the streets carrying their Dan Dan noodles in hanging baskets balanced on bamboo pole (dan) slung over their shoulders to feed late night revelers.
Fast forward to the present, this is traditional Szechuan food at its very best! You will find yourself making Dan Dan noodles again and again. A quick, hearty, and satisfying taste from Chengdu…anytime.
As mentioned in previous posts on Szechuan Cuisine, once you have gathered all your ingredients together, this famous delight can be fired up and on the table in a flash.
Dan Dan Noodles serves 4
Chili oil: This will make more than you need, but stores well when refrigerated.
- 1 cup/225ml cold pressed peanut oil
- ¼ cup coarsely ground dried chili flakes (or small dried red chilies including seeds, coarsely chopped)
- 1 small piece fresh ginger root, crushed (optional)
- 1 star anise (optional)
- small piece cinnamon bark (otional)
Place the chili flakes, (ginger, anise, and cinnamon if using) in a heatproof preserving jar.
Heat the oil over medium high heat until nearly smoking. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool down and then pour over the chili (ginger, anise, and cinnamon if using) in the jar and set aside to cool completely. Best if allowed to sit for a couple of days to develop the flavors and then refrigerate.
- 8 oz/225g dried Chinese noodles or 12oz/350g fresh udon style noodles
- sea salt
- Optional: bok choy
Heat ample water to a rolling boil. Add a good pinch of salt and the noodles and cook until the noodles are al dente.
If you are using bok choy served with the noodles, blanch the leaves briefly in the noodle water and set aside to add to the Dan Dan noodles when serving.
Drain and set aside.
- 1 tablespoon sesame paste or tahini
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon chili oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons toasted Szechuan pepper, coarsely ground
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang black rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon brown or unrefined sugar
- ½ cup hot stock or water + more as needed
Combine the sesame paste, light soy sauce, chili oil, sesame oil, Szechuan pepper, Chinkiang vinegar, and sugar in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until you are ready to serve the noodles.
Just before serving the noodles add the boiling hot stock or water to the sauce mixture to your liking. Some prefer the sauce fairly thick and intense, but I prefer a slightly thinner sauce. This is entirely up to you.
For the meat topping:
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 9oz/250g ground pork (chicken, or beef)
- 1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic 4 dried red chilies,seeded and sliced across the pod
- ½ cup chopped spring onions, white parts only
- ¼ cup chopped ya cai or tianjin Chinese pickled greens, rinsed (see note)
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine (or dry sherry)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- water or stock as needed
Note: Ya cai is Szechuan pickled mustard greens and not readily available outside of China. Tianjin, pickled sun dried Chinese mustard greens, are more widely available in Asian markets. Japanese pickled greens are a reasonable substitute, or simply omit from the recipe.
Heat the oil in wok over medium high heat. When the oil is nearly smoking add the ground meat and toss and break up the meat until it begins to brown and the juices from the meat have nearly evaporate; 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the ginger, garlic, dried chilies, and onions and toss with the meat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ya cai and toss to combine.
Add the Shaoxing cooking wine, light soy sauce, and dark soy sauce and toss until the and the liquid has reduced and the meat is glazed. Deglaze the wok with a little stock or water and set the wok aside until you are ready to serve. Reheat the mixture briefly just before serving.
- blanched bok choy (if using)
- chopped roasted peanuts
- chopped fresh coriander leaves
- sliced spring onions, green leaves only
Fan the bok choy in the bottom of shallow individual serving bowls. Spoon hot sauce into the bowl and top with noodles. Top the noodles with the stir fried meat mixture and garnish with chopped roasted peanuts, chopped coriander leaves, and green onions.
It is customary to toss everything together and dig in with chopsticks, dredging the noodles and meat topping into the sauce in the bottom of the bowl.