Dan Dan Noodles
Sichuan street food – spicy, satisfying, silky, slippery noodles, meaty flavour, crunchy texture and a floral tingling back note from the Sichuan pepper. Really excellent slurped as a snack on the street in China (take your own chopsticks) and also a superb family supper – economical, quick to prepare and goes down a treat.
The only downside – I guess every recipe has a downside – is that you really do need to use the genuine ingredient – Sichuan pepper. It’s not a pepper, the plant is more related to the ash tree than the pepper corn plant, but the seed husks look a bit like a pink peppercorn. If you have a Chinese grocery near you, buy it there, but if not, you can get it delivered from the usual on-line purchasing sites. They do stay fresh for a long time if you keep them in a sealed container, so it’s worth getting your own supply. There is no substitute for the taste, which is a genuine flavour enhancer, as well as having its own enticing aroma. While you’re in the grocery, do stock up on crispy chilli in oil, you can use it in so many things. It isn’t overly spicy but the crispy dark chilli pieces in the bright red oil are so addictive you’ll be adding it to scrambled eggs, avocado on toast, into stews and curries, and probably to your gin and tonic before you know it.
There are many recipes for this dish from basic street food to elevated high class cuisine. Fuschia Dunlop has both styles of recipe in her book, Every Grain of Rice, which is one of my cooking bibles. I mixed her advice with memories of eating these in China and came up with this.
One reason the recipe is so simple is that the three constituent parts are prepared separately and mixed together in the dish at the end. They can all be made ahead, so you can throw the final dish together for the family in minutes.
I like to serve a simply steamed Chinese green vegetable – pak choi or whatever you can get, alongside, but you wouldn’t get that on a street corner in Chengdu, so it isn’t very genuine.
Serves 4. Timings 30 minutes.
For the meat mixture:
For the sauce:
350g Chinese wheat noodles
First, toast your Sichuan peppercorns for about 3 minutes in a hot frying pan. Tip them onto kitchen paper to cool and then crush roughly in a pestle and mortar. You don’t want a fine powder, but also you don’t want to bite into a whole pepper, so crush into a gravelly texture.
Make the sauce:
In a bowl combine the peanut butter with the sesame oil slowly at first, until you have a loose paste. Add the other liquid ingredients and half the ground Sichuan pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning – I can never resist adding another spoonful of the crispy chilli in oil. This can be done ahead and left in the fridge.
Prepare the meat:
In a frying pan, fry the meat until the oil comes out, then add the spring onions, chilli, ginger and garlic. Continue frying until the meat is browning and even crisping up a little bit. Add the green vegetable if using and fry for a minute or two longer, just to wilt the vegetable and drive off its liquid. Add the other half of the ground Sichuan pepper. This can also be done ahead and left in a covered container in the fridge and just blasted again in a frying pan to warm up while you are cooking the noodles.
Cook the noodles according to instructions – usually in a large pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes.
Combine the three ingredients: noodles, meat, and sauce in a large serving bowl, mix well and let everyone serve themselves, drooling and slurping as you go.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.