Dan Dan Noodles
My friend Lynne Yao taught me how to make Dan Dan Noodles and I will be forever grateful. The first time I tried Dan Dan Noodles was at Bob’s Shanghai 66 in Rockville, MD. Now let’s not confuse Bob’s Shanghai 66 with Bob’s Noodle because they are not the same restaurant. I’ve never been to Bob’s Noodles but I have been to Bob’s Shanghai 66 many many times and it is the real deal. Great Chinese food at a reasonable price. The Dan Dan Noodles at Bob’s Shanghai are called Szechuan Style Noodles on their menu and they are one of my favorite noodle dishes to order there.
A few months ago, Lynne invited me over for dinner and she made her version of Dan Dan Noodles (or Szechuan Style Noodles). I have to honestly say that Bob’s version can’t hold a candle to Lynne’s version. Lynne has ruined me. I will never be able to eat the noodle dish at Bob’s ever again. Below is Lynne’s recipe. Lynne taught me many things the night we made the noodle dish together and I want to share what I learned with you.
First, you must and I mean “must” make your own chili oil. It really is simple and the instructions are straightforward. I promise you this, if you buy your chili oil, it will not have the same depth of flavor as homemade. It will not be as good.
Second, Szechuan peppercorns are not spicy hot and they do not come from a pepper plant. So although Szechuan style cooking is spicy hot, you can’t blame the spicy hotness of the Szechuan cuisine on the peppercorns. The peppercorns are actually dried berries from a Chinese ash bush. They have a very floral fragrance and I guess I would describe their taste as herbal or flowery. They are not even remotely hot. Do not try to substitute them for something else. Look for them in an Asian market.
Third, Chinese cinnamon sticks are not the same as cinnamon sticks that you buy in the spice section of a regular grocery store. You should also buy your Chinese cinnamon sticks from your local Asian market.
And lastly, Chinese sesame paste tastes slightly different than tahini paste so again, buy your Chinese sesame paste from your local Asian market.
I really love this dish and have officially renamed it "Damn Damn Noodles" because it is just so damn good. Also, the picture I took doesn't really do the dish justice. The next time I make it, I'll try to get a better picture.
Recipe adapted from thewokoflife.com avalilable at http://thewoksoflife.com/2014/11/dan-dan-noodles/
For the Chili Oil:
- 2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
- 1 inch-long piece of Chinese cinnamon
- 2 star anise
- 1 cup oil
- 1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes
For the Meat:
- 3 teaspoons oil
- 1 pound ground pork
- 4 teaspoons sweet bean sauce or hoisin sauce
- 4 teaspoons shaoxing wine
- 2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder
For the Sauce:
- 4 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 teaspoon Sezchuan peppercorn powder (we ground whole Sezchuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle)
- 1/2 cup of your prepared chili oil (scary, but yes!)
- 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
- 1/2 cup hot cooking water from the noodles
For the Noodles and Leafy Greens:
- 1-1/2 pounds fresh or dried white noodles, medium thickness
- 1 small bunch leafy greens (spinach, bok choy, or choy sum)
- chopped peanuts (optional)
- chopped scallion (optional)
Step 1: To make the chili oil: In a small pot, add the Sezchuan peppercorns, cinnamon stick, star anise, and oil. Over medium low heat, slowly heat to 325 degrees, and then turn off the heat. Wait 6 - 7 minutes, then remove the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise with a slotted spoon.
Step 2: Add the crushed red pepper flakes and allow them to steep in the hot oil. It should start smelling fragrant, almost like popcorn. Allow the oil to cool. This makes more chili oil than you’ll need, but you’ll be glad to have it on hand for use in other dishes. Store in a glass jar and keep refrigerated.
Step 3: The crushed red pepper flakes are quite spicy so if you want a milder chili oil, use whole dried red chilies, de-seed them, and then use a food processor to chop them into flakes to make the oil.
Step 4: To make the meat mixture: In a wok, heat a teaspoon of oil over medium heat, and brown the ground pork. Add the sweet bean sauce, shaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, and five spice powder. Cook until all the liquid is evaporated. Set aside.
Step 5: To make the sauce: Mix together all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning if you like. You can loosen it with more hot water, add more Szechuan peppercorn powder, five spice powder, soy sauce or sesame paste.
Step 6: To prepare the noodles and bok choy: Cook the noodles according to package directions and drain. Blanch the greens in the noodle water, and drain.
Step 7: To assemble: add all the sauce to a large bowl, followed by the noodles and the leafy greens. Add the cooked pork over the top. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and scallions and mix everything together.