The first time I tried dan dan noodles was at a little Chinese dumpling and noodle shop in Australia. It had a very dry sauce, made only of meat and spices, and was probably one of the hottest dishes I’ve ever eaten. My husband loved them, but I found the heat to be so overwhelming, I couldn’t concentrate on the other flavors in the dish. Indeed, this dish hails on the Sichuan province of China, one of the spiciest regions in the world.
I decide to research my own dan dan noodle recipe, one I could tailor to both my husband’s and my own heat preferences. According to Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, dan dan mian is a dish that is made differently by every street vendor. Her version includes no sesame paste, and focuses more on the clean flavors from the Sichuan peppers. While Food52’s recipe used douban chili paste, a spicy, salty paste made from fermented broad beans that gives the dish a pungent flavor. The first bowl of dan dan noodles I had were quite dry, but some versions border on soup with noodles, and others are in between. My goal was to create a dish that a nice balance of flavors, some brother and the option to make it as spicy as each diner liked.
More photos and the recipe after the jump.
The recipe I ended up using mainly came from a Chinese cook on youtube called Yeqiang. Feel free to watch her videos (there are two of them for her dan dan noodles) to compare. I made very few changes to her recipe, only a few things that were more my preference than anything else.
Gathering these ingredients may be the most difficult step in the entire recipe, especially if you don’t speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or another Chinese language. Most of these ingredients can be found in a good Asian grocery store, where most if not all employees do not typically speak English. Try to find one near you, or you will be driving EVERYWHERE. If you want to make it fun, try copying down the specific Chinese characters that should be on that bottle of whatever you are hunting down, and try to match it to a bottle in the store.
As much as I love Chinese food, I was only familiar with the light soy sauce, sesame oil and the Chinese black vinegar (also called chinkiang or zhen jiang vinegar). I made the Sichuan chili oil (which you can read about in this post), but had to go to a specialty spice store to find red Sichuan peppercorns (the green ones, the ones that producing that numbing sensation, the best part! could not be sourced in time). The black sesame paste took me around 1 hour of searching the same aisle over and over again. The pickled preserved mustard leaves…I was supposed to use ya cai or Tianjin preserved vegetables, but none of the labels were in English. So I guessed, and figured it would be fine. It was, but I’m sure it would be even better with the proper ingredients.
I’m afraid from there, the photos just get boring. You measure out the ingredients, mix in serving bowl and set aside. Stir fry the pork with the pickled vegetable. Cook the noodles and put it all together.
Top with some sliced scallions and serve! The recipe below is just a guideline for mixing the sauce. Start off with that for everyone, but have more of the main ingredients on the table so people can custom their dish to their liking. My husband likes his with just a splash of vinegar and tons of chili oil. For my daughter, only a tiny amount of chili oil, and a little sugar to balance out the sauce. For me, I have a slight obsession with black vinegar, so I liked a lot. Like, I kept the bottle at my side for multiple last minute adjustments 🙂
But one you have the ingredients for this dish on hand, it is really easy to whip up for a quick weeknight meal. Just grab some ready made Chinese noodles from your local store and your set! I bet this sauce would taste awesome with my pork and chive dumplings too…mmm!
: Influenced by Yiqiang from YouTube. Serves four
- ya cai or Tianjin preserved vegetable to taste, soaked several times to remove salt
- vegetable oil
- Light soy sauce
- Chinese black vinegar
- Black sesame paste diluted with sesame oil 1:1
- Sichuan chili oil
- ground Sichuan peppercorn powder
- minced garlic
- 4 cups of chicken broth, warmed
- 5 oz ground pork
- Heat up the vegetable oil in a large sauce pan, then stir fry the pork and preserved vegetable until cooked. Set aside.
- Heat up a pot of water to boiling and salt it.
- While water is heating up, make the sauce in everyone’s bowl. Start with these measurements, and let guests further customize the flavors at the table: 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp black vinegar, 1 tsp chili oil, 1/3 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn powder, 1/2 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1tsp sesame paste, 1 cup of chicken broth or stock.
- Cook noodles in boiling water for as long as directions say (you can use fresh or dried noodles, whatever you prefer here. I used fresh shanghai noodles). Drain, place in bowl with sauce, top with two tablespoons of ground meat and preserved vegetables, and a scattering of sliced scallions. Enjoy!
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4