Dan Dan Your Face Off

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I’m gonna be away for the entire next week…… (walking away from the computer and doing a little touch-down dance…)(wait… wait for it…)(OK I’m back).  Tagging along on her husband’s every single business trip to Hong Kong may not be the idea of a modern woman, but for me it’s as simple as the most basic survival instinct.  I just have to get the hell outta this, this and this whenever I can.

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But before I leave for my sanity-restoration trip, I’m going to make a little face bomb for you.  Yup.  You heard that right.  FACE BOOOOMB.  If this doesn’t sound exciting to you then I will regretfully say that we probably don’t belong in the same demographic in any survey…  It’s a shame.  We could have pushed for real change and burn our taste-buds off while doing it, too.  Listen, forget what you know about most of the Americanized Sichuan foods for softies.  I’m not just talking about “hot” and “spicy” things.  Phhh… please, that’s so one-dimensional (doing a little hair-flip) on the spectrum of “spicism” in the grand cuisine of Sichuan.

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OK… I might have felt too good about myself back there.  Truth is I didn’t have a glimpse into the real Sichuan cuisine before I moved here, but once I did.  There is no turning back.  The spicy dishes in this genre is a meticulously orchestrated affair, a perfect balance between the burn from the heat, fragrance from the spices, floral scent from the red peppercorns but MOST OF ALL, while your taste-buds are wrrriggling in between pain and pleasure, a sweeping numbing sensation from the green peppercorn intercepts it all.  And you can’t decide if your mouth is sensually paralyzed or on fire!  Or BOTH!  AT THE SAME TIME!  It’s a ROLLER-COASTER for your TONGUE!  AND I have a gateway dish for you that’s sooo easy to put together!  How the hell are you not PSYCHED about this!??  Please!  Jump!  Rejoice!  CONVERT!

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Servings: 2~4

The name “dan dan” comes from the old days when these snack-able noodles were sold from mini portable food-stalls carried on vendors’ shoulder – an equipment called “bian-dan”.  It is more traditionally made with sesame paste instead of peanut butter/paste in this recipe.  But since I’m slightly allergic to sesame, I’m sticking with peanuts.

A little note on Sichuan peppercorns.  Not all Sichuan peppercorns are created equal.  The quality and variety of the these mini pods will separate your dish from being bland to great.  There are two major varieties, one green and one red.  The green one delivers a powerful “numbing” sensation on your tongue which is the meaning of the word “ma” in Chinese dishes.  The red one provides an intensely floral and peppery fragrance but with very little of the “numbing” effect.  They are usually used together to produce the perfect balance in Sichuan cuisine.  Detailed pictures in the Sichuan chili oil post.

Psssst… are you still reading?  OK…

The thing about writing a reliable Asian recipe is the difficulty to balance the inconsistency in between all the different seasonings from different companies.  For example, douban paste varies widely in flavor and saltiness and is a major factor in the final success of many dishes.  I’m doing my best to list out the exact brand I am using wherever possible.  Posharp Store is a great online resource for all of your Asian cooking needs if you can’t find anything in grocery shops.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of Sichuan chili oil or make a quick version:
    • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
    • 1 scallion, cut into segments
    • 2 slices of ginger
    • 2 garlic, smashed
    • 2 star anise
    • 1 small piece of cinnamon, approx 1″
    • 3 tsp of sichuan green peppercorn, slightly crushed
    • 1 tsp of sichuan red peppercorn, slightly crushed
    • 2 1/2 tbsp of chili flakes
    • 1/8 tsp of ground coriander
    • 1/8 tsp of ground cumin
  • Dan dan sauce:
    • 150 g of ground pork
    • 1 tsp of soy sauce
    • 1 tsp of sesame oil
    • 4 garlic
    • 1 piece of ginger, approx 1 tbsp
    • 2 ~ 3 tbsp of douban chili bean paste (depends on the saltiness of the brand and the chicken stock used), this is the one I used for 2 1/2 tbsp
    • 3 1/2 tbsp of unsweetened (or very lightly sweetened) peanut butter (try Whole Foods 360 variety)
    • 1/2 tsp of ground sichuan red peppercorn (by using pepper grinder, or wrapping peppercorns in paper towel and pound it with a hammer/meat pounder)
    • 2 tbsp of rice wine
    • 2 1/4 cups of unsalted homemade chicken stock, or very low-sodium chicken stock
    • 1/2 ~ 1 tsp of sugar
    • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
  • Dry Asian noodles
  • A few sprigs of cilantro or scallions

Chili oil:  If you don’t already have homemade and bottled Sichuan chili oil on hand (why the hell don’t you?), you can put together a quick one.  Combine vegetable oil, scallion, ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, green peppercorn and red peppercorn in a small sauce pot.  Set over medium heat and let the ingredients fry in the oil until the garlic and scallion are faintly browned.  Add the chili flakes, ground coriander and cumin.  Evenly stir and keep frying for another minute until the chili flakes slightly darken in color.  Turn off the heat and set it aside (the longer it sits, the better the flavor).

Make dan dan sauce:  Mix the pork evenly with soy sauce and sesame oil.  Set aside.  Puree garlic, ginger, douban paste and peanut butter in a food processor until smooth.  You don’t have to do this if you don’t mind the sometimes chunky texture of douban paste.  Just mince the garlic and ginger, then combine it with douban paste and peanut butter.  In a medium heavy-bottom pot, nicely brown the pork in 1 tbsp of oil.  Add the pureed paste, (updated on 2014/06/23, forgot the peppercorns!) AND ground sichuan red peppercorns and saute until fragrant, with some brown bits forming at the bottom of the pot, approx 2 min.  Add the rice wine and deglaze the pot, then add the chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer then add 1/2~1 tsp of sugar to balance out the saltiness.  Then add ground white pepper and keep simmering for another 5 min.

Meanwhile, bring another big pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package instructions.  I would suggest NOT using fresh noodles as it absorbs the sauce too quickly once combined.  Drain the noodle once cooked and divide it into 2 bowls.

Divide the sauce into the same bowls and add a few sprigs of cilantro or diced scallions.

Add 2 tbsp (… or more) of the chili oil on top through a sieve.  Sprinkle more ground sichuan peppercorn on top like one of the reader suggested!  Stir and slurp and… BURN!

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22 Comments

  • Reply February 21, 2013

    Dom

    Looks hot indeed. If Hong Kong is your breath of fresh air, then whoa! Jokes aside- enjoy it! and thanks for this recipe. Will try it soon. That’s a lot of ingredients for the dandan sauce. Interestink…..

    • Reply February 22, 2013

      Mandy L.

      Dom, unfortunately and pathetically Hong Kong is…life isn’t very pretty here in Beijing. It looks like a lot of ingredients but its really easy to put together! You could omit soy sauce and sesame oil for the ground pork and it would still turn out fine! 2 ingredients less :)

  • Reply February 21, 2013

    Shirley

    Looks really good! Can’t wait to give this recipe a try!!!

  • This is gorgeous. I’m loving the Sichuan chili oil recipe you included too!

  • Reply February 22, 2013

    Sarah

    This look soooooo good! I have to go find some douban chilli paste (which I have never seen before :P) but I think it’ll be worth it!

    I have some szechuan chilli oil I made a while ago but it only has red in it. Never heard of green before. I’m surprised I’ve never read that there were two kinds before.

    • Reply February 22, 2013

      Mandy L.

      Sarah, yes there are 2 kinds! And they are completely different. I have included online-resource links if you are in the US :) The green ones can be difficult to find because it isn’t very common but it’s worth it.

  • Reply February 23, 2013

    Candyce

    This looks SO good! I tried Chinghe Huang’s recipe, which was close to this… but wowza, your pics make me drool!

  • Just popped over from Tastespotting–this looks INCREDIBLE. Definitely face plant worthy! Haha. This definitely makes me want to go on a shopping trip to my local Asian supermarket and stock up on all these ingredients.

  • Reply February 24, 2013

    S. @ The Captivating Life

    Dan dan noodles is one of my favourite Asian dishes – that and Shanghai noodles have to be at the top of the list. This looks so amazing. Thanks for sharing the recipe – I would never have thought to try making it myself but now I totally will!

  • Reply March 8, 2013

    Camilla

    This is amaaaaazzzzing! I used Chinese sesame paste instead of peanut butter, and added some julienned cucumber and chopped peanuts on top. Wow. Thanks so much– I’ve been looking for a great dan dan noodle recipe for so long. Also I am now putting that oil on everything.

    • Reply March 8, 2013

      Mandy L.

      Camila, it’s totally addictive!

  • Reply September 30, 2013

    Mama Bear

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been looking for the recipe to this dish since I left Calgary in 1989. It looks just like the soup I would eat at my favourite restaurant which they said was called Dum Dum Mi and it was hot. I can hardly wait to make it. I’m drooling already. Cheers!

  • Reply November 6, 2013

    Lan | morestomach

    hello. i just wanted to tell you that i’ve made this twice, once with ground pork and the other time with tofu. i dream about this dish often, and i try to justify wanting to make this every.single.day.

    i’m currently sitting in my office bemoaning the week-long dinner menu that consists of CSA vegs and using up pantry items as we are planning to be away from home for awhile.

    anyway, thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply January 17, 2014

    MissFoodFairy

    OMG! This looks and sounds absolutely amazing! I am so inspired right now to make this (but its 44 degrees Celcius in Melbourne, Australia right now!) So I’ll be saving this for when the weather gets cooler. Thank you for sharing and for a very inspiring recipe. New reader to your blog too :)

  • I cannot wait to try this…unfortunately living in Central LA means traveling far and wide to get the appropriate ingredients. We recently made Zha Jiang Mian (http://pantryno7.com/zha-jiang-mian/) and I’m thinking Dan Dan noodles is going to be our next culinary noodle adventure but it may have to wait until our next hour long drive to Hong Kong supermarket.

    Thanks for sharing!

    PS. I’m from Hong Kong as well (and ex New Yorker) but live in Los Angeles now, and if Hong Kong is all you have to look forward to I feel your pain.

  • Reply April 2, 2014

    Sophie

    I have had some tries at dan dan mien previously, but THIS. This method was my favorite — does it even need to be said or is it obvious? :) — thank you so much for guiding me towards authenticity. My guests loved it and I thought the process was simple and fun and I MAY have awoken before the rest of the house to steal the leftovers for a pre-breakfast. DELICIOUS!

  • Reply April 23, 2014

    Chandelle

    Holy shit, you’re speaking my language here. I live in a small town and have to drive at least 90 minutes in any direction to find Asian ingredients, so frustrating. But it’s all worth it for dishes like this. It’s on the menu for next week. Thanks for the drool-worthy inspiration.

  • Reply June 23, 2014

    Bob

    OMG, best food (blog) in the world!! I love it. I’ve made this 4 times in the last two weeks, at two portions each time that means 8 amazing meals! Thank you so much for enlightening me! Please share more sichuan pepper-based recipes with us in the future. I’m hooked!

    Btw, for anyone in Europe that is having a hard time sourcing green sichuan pepper, I found a friendly and reliable source in France:
    http://www.poivreetepice.com/en/poivres-origines/89-green-sichuan-.html

    I have two questions about your recipe. You mention “4 garlic”. I assume you mean 4 cloves, not 4 whole bulbs, right?

    Also, your ingredients list “1/2 tsp of ground sichuan red peppercorn” for the sauce, but the recipe doesn’t use it. I used 1 tsp of ground sichuan green peppercorn to sprinkle on top of the dish. That probably skews the balance towards ma, but I just love the flavor/sensation of the green kind too much, so I don’t care.

    • Reply June 23, 2014

      mandy@ladyandpups

      BOB: Thank you!!! First, yes 4 garlic means 4 cloves. And oops, I must have left out the peppercorn in the instruction! Thanks for reminding (will fix that right away)! And hey, knock yourself out with the peppercorns man! I also love the “ma/numbing” sensation from the green peppercorn :)

      • Reply June 23, 2014

        mandy@ladyandpups

        By the way, if you enter “sichuan peppercorn” at the searching-box, a lot of recipes will come up ;)

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