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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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 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. Stir and slurp and… BURN!