Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Authentic-ish Dan Dan Noodles

When we first made the recipe this dish is based on, it was way too salty, but so addictively delicious that we were afraid to alter the dish in any way. So we kept plugging along, downing gallons of water and sweating blissfully through a chili oil-induced stupor. 

Finally we began to soak the ya cai (salt-preserved mustard greens) and tweak the soy sauce, scaling back the overall amount and substituting some dark soy sauce for light soy sauce, which, contrary to popular belief, is actually the saltier variety. 

Our final version has the ideal balance of heat, richness, and nuttiness that makes Dan Dan noodles one of the most popular Szechuan dishes worldwide and a salt level manageable enough to let you enjoy those delicious flavors in peace.

Bonus points for having ground beef that looks like a brain.

Authentic-ish Dan Dan Noodles
Adapted from Fuschia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Cooking Time
15 minutes

2 people who believe Chinese food is more than soggy General Tso's chicken, dammit

Pot to boil noodles
Small nonstick pan
Chef's knife 
Cutting board
Mixing bowl

3 bundles (225g) Chinese wheat noodles
4 tablespoons (25g) ya cai, rinsed for 30 seconds in cold water, soaked for 5 minutes in more cold water, and drained
1/4 lb (100g) ground beef
3 dried Thai chilies, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon canola oil 
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
4 tablespoons chili oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground + 1/2 teaspoon whole szechuan peppercorns 
3 handfuls of baby spinach 

1. While you are doing the rest of the steps, boil unsalted water and cook the noodles according to the package. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, make the sauce by whisking together tahini, chili oil, dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the light soy sauce, and ground Szechuan peppercorns. You can use chopsticks or a fork to whisk. Plop the spinach in the bowl on top of the sauce.

3. Heat canola oil in a small pan over medium-high. Add Thai chilies and whole Szechuan peppercorns and sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute. Don't let the chilies burn. Add ya cai and sauté until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add ground beef and 1 teaspoon light soy sauce and sauté until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and pick out chilies.

4. Check to make sure your noodles are done. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta water dump it into the mixing bowl with the sauce and spinach. Drain the noodles and dump them in the mixing bowl.

5. Stir contents of the mixing bowl together until the sauce evenly coats the spinach and noodles. Divide into two bowls and top with the beef and ya cai mixture. 

6. Wonder why restaurant Dan Dan Noodles are never this flavorful. Realize it's because restaurants don't bother adding preserved vegetables that people would pick out anyways.

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