If you’re not aware of dan dan noodles, or when you’ve had this fiery, fragrant and addictively savoury snack in a restaurant however by no means made it your self, this column will change your life. Named for the cry of the itinerant distributors who as soon as roamed the streets of Chengdu with the instruments of their commerce slung on a bamboo pole – or dan – throughout their shoulders, dan dan noodles, as Fuchsia Dunlop explains, are historically served in small parts, “just enough to ease the hunger of scholars working late or mahjong players gambling into the night”, and must be eaten shortly, whereas the noodles are nonetheless scorching and the fried topping crisp.
Liberally laced with the smoky chilli oil and numbing pepper for which Sichuan province is known, they’re a superb winter hotter, and the best complement to your Chinese New Year feast, do you have to be celebrating, noodles being a conventional image of longevity. Polish off a few tangerines for luck afterwards, and the Year of the Dog is certain to be a very good 1.
The dish should be made with contemporary flour-and-water noodles, painstakingly pulled by hand, a course of helped alongside by the addition of a robust alkaline resolution – and a whole lot of endurance. Thankfully, not one of the recipes I discover suggests trying to make your individual, although when you do have a yen for an higher physique exercise, chef Andrew Wong has a 12-step information in his wonderful A Wong cookbook, which helpfully additionally consists of directions for what to do when you lose the need to dwell.
Dunlop requires “dried Chinese noodles” on the idea that easy flour-and-water variations aren’t out there contemporary on this nation, advancing contemporary egg noodles as an alternative, however since her guide Sichuan Cookery was first revealed in 2001, we’ve turn into reasonably extra adventurous, and I don’t have a lot hassle monitoring down contemporary, eggless noodles in my native Chinese grocery store. That mentioned, I’m fortunate sufficient to have a neighborhood Chinese grocery store – when you can’t discover the skinny, contemporary sort, Helen and Lise Tse suggest contemporary udon of their A Chinese Street Food Odyssey, and MiMi Aye’s guide Noodle! makes use of Shanghai noodles, which appear to be thicker than the usual kind.
In truth, virtually any contemporary wheat flour and water noodle will do – avoid the dried or egg varieties, which don’t give such good outcomes, and cook dinner them on the final minute, in order that they’re as scorching and slippery as attainable once they hit the bowl. (The New York Times’ rationale in refrigerating the cooked noodles earlier than use is a puzzle, however when you do wish to cook dinner them forward of time for some cause, give them a touch of a little bit sesame oil to cease them clumping collectively.)
Meat performs a fashionably minor half on this recipe – a crunchy, savoury garnish, reasonably than the star attraction. Pork appears to be conventional, however Dunlop, who lived in Chengdu for 2 years and studied cookery there, provides a recreation of a “legendary and unique” beef-based model at a tiny restaurant close to town’s college; BBC Good Food, in the meantime, makes use of turkey, whereas J Kenji López-Alt retains issues vegan with mushrooms, cooked very slowly till “dehydrated, lightly shrivelled, and deeply browned… [with] a flavour that is not really pork-like, but savoury and rich in its own unique way”.
The testing panel favours pork, whose fatty richness works higher with the new, bitter flavours within the sauce, although non-pig eaters could make the swap to beef with a transparent conscience, as a result of each seem like acceptable within the dish’s homeland. However, when you’d want to maintain it completely meat-free, go along with López-Alt’s intelligent fungi repair, which wins plaudits all spherical. As lengthy as you cook dinner no matter it’s in loads of extremely popular oil, so it crisps up (groundnut or vegetable; sesame has too low a smoke level), you’ll obtain the specified impact. To go away the topping off completely, as within the New York Times recipe, is to strip the dish of one among its key parts.
That topping ought to have a little bit of a kick, and tingly Sichuan peppercorns are very important for his or her peculiar, numbing warmth. (If you may’t discover them offered individually, the extra extensively out there Chinese five-spice powder, as utilized by the Tses, will comprise them, together with sweeter spices similar to ginger and cloves, however you’ll battle to get fairly the identical impact.) Roasting earlier than grinding will deliver out the pepper’s full flavour – Dunlop additionally makes use of the corns complete in her tackle Xie Laoban’s model, which most testers discover reasonably overpowering, although pepper fiends might want to give this a attempt; Aye merely makes use of them to infuse the cooking oil, which proves too refined.
The similar goes for chilli warmth: Dunlop prefaces her recipe with the warning that “these noodles are not for the faint-hearted”, and he or she’s the one particular person to name for complete Sichuan chilli peppers – additionally known as “facing heaven chillies” – in her stir-fry. These are simpler to trace down than they as soon as have been; rounder and barely milder than dried Thai chillies, and might be added to the pan concurrently the pepper to impart some further poke.
Though you may add ginger or garlic at this stage, if you want, and plenty of recipes do, the very important vegetable ingredient comes from ya cai, or preserved mustard greens: salty, pungent and barely spiced, they add an unmistakably funky ingredient to the dish. If you may’t discover them, Tianjin preserved greens, offered in squat earthenware jars, make an honest substitute, however they’re not precise counterparts, so it’s value searching down the right stuff in case you have time; it retains virtually indefinitely, so it’s not a foul funding. If each show elusive, I wouldn’t advise utilizing gherkins because the Tses suggest; they’re far too vinegary. Instead, López-Alt reckons that a mixture of kimchi and salted capers is the perfect various (kimchi is on the market in bigger mainstream supermarkets nowadays).
Because the greens are salty, go straightforward on the soy sauce right here: only a sprint is ample, together with some rice wine (use dry sherry, as Aye suggests when you don’t have this).
This crisp, salty topping is paired with a scorching, bitter sauce, fiery with chilli oil and tangy with black vinegar. Many recipes advise making the chilli oil your self, which is a wonderful thought when you’re pondering a few days prematurely; all you want are some Sichuan chillies and groundnut oil. If not, it’s available in specialist Chinese shops; search for the stuff with the chilli flakes in, reasonably than the bottles of clear pink oil. The warmth will fluctuate in response to model, which is why I like to recommend including it to style, reasonably than sticking all of it in in a single go and repenting at leisure.
Sesame paste is a well-liked addition, however don’t use Middle Eastern tahini, as López-Alt suggests: the seeds for that aren’t roasted earlier than use, so it tastes surprisingly completely different. Peanut butter is a greater stand-in for the deep, nutty flavour of the actual factor. That mentioned, scrumptious because the New York Times’ thick, peanutty sauce is, it doesn’t style something like several model of this dish I’ve ever had, and the testers resolve they like the sauce with out both: “It’s punchier.” Vinegar is the opposite should, ideally wealthy, savoury black-rice vinegar, although you would use the lighter selection if that’s all you have got within the pantry. I’m additionally going so as to add a pinch of sugar – not conventional within the dish’s dwelling area, it appears, however virtually all of the recipes I attempt name for it, and with good cause: it rounds out the flavours of the sauce properly, notably within the absence of sesame paste. Feel free to depart it out when you don’t suppose it wants it.
The Tses add hen inventory to their sauce, whereas López-Alt provides a touch of the noodle cooking water to his vegan model, on the idea that, “traditionally, the sauce base gets mixed with some rich chicken stock, which adds some natural gelatin and body to the mix. Plain old water or vegetable stock are lacking in that body, making the sauce a little too thin”, whereas “the extra dissolved starch” within the cooking water thickens the sauce, binding it and serving to it cling higher to the noodles”. I don’t discover another recipes utilizing inventory, however I do discover there’s not sufficient sauce in Dunlop’s recipe to coat her noodles. A barely looser consistency appears fascinating, and a splash of noodle cooking water does the job completely.
Serving and garnish
Dunlop informs the reader that to serve the noodles Sichuan model, “divide all the sauce ingredients into individual bowls, top each with a portion of noodles and scatter with a little cooked meat”. Make positive you serve it instantly, so it may be tossed collectively by the diner earlier than the noodles clump collectively.
Little further garnish is required, however a couple of crisp spring onion greens add a welcome contact of freshness – so the white components don’t go to waste, I’m including them to the stir-fry. Some recipes end the dish with coriander, however the testers aren’t eager on its soapy flavour on this occasion – significantly better, the braver ones reckon, to dribble over a little bit further chilli oil, as Aye suggests. Proceed with warning.
The good dan dan noodles
Prep 10 min
Cook 20 min
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp groundnut oil
100g minced pork
1 tbsp preserved Sichuan ya cai (Tianjin preserved greens), finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally, whites and greens separated
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp mild soy sauce
175g contemporary flour and water noodles – pretty skinny ones, ideally
For the sauce
4 tbsp mild soy sauce
2-4 tbsp Sichuan roasted chilli oil, with sediment (to style)
2 tsp Chianking black rice vinegar
½ tsp white sugar (non-obligatory)
Toast the peppercorns in a dry, scorching wok or frying pan till aromatic, then grind and put aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok over a excessive warmth till shimmering, then add the pork and stir-fry till brown and starting to crisp. Add the preserved greens, the whites of the spring onions and the bottom pepper, and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the wine and soy sauce, and proceed to cook dinner till dryish and crunchy.
Whisk collectively the substances for the sauce in a heatproof bowl, including 2 tablespoons of chilli oil at this level.
Cook the noodles in simply sufficient boiling water to cowl till springy, then scoop out a cupful of cooking water and put aside. Drain the noodles.
Whisk 4 tablespoons of cooking water into the sauce, then style and add extra chilli oil, when you suppose it wants it. Divide between bowls, add the noodles and sprinkle over the pork and spring onion greens. Serve instantly, with further chilli oil on the facet.
• Are dan dan noodles the quickest, best Chinese noodle dish round, or do you have got different ideas for the brand new yr feast?
- Food styling: Iona Blackshaw
Felicity Cloake from theguardian.com