Continuing my tour of Sichuan dishes brings me to a traditional Sichuanese noodle dish that used to be a common street food. I love to sample street foods wherever I go — Hong Kong, for example. (Well, not street hot dogs or hamburgers in Britain, but that's self-preservation.) But street foods, in general, are fun and filling and cheap, and I really love the variety and getting to try this or that tidbit.
Dan Dan Noodles are named after the bamboo shoulder pole (dan) that the street vendors used to carry their stoves, noodles, and secret sauces. There's no one original "dan dan noodles," but Dunlop says that the name has come to be associated with the recipe below. Perhaps in Sichuan that's the case, though in U.S. Chinese restaurants you're more likely to find a version that uses a peanut-sesame sauce (perhaps with cucumbers). So if you're familiar with the sesame-peanut version, this one will be quite a contrast.
The ya cai is perhaps the most intimidating ingredient in this recipe for Westerners. Asian grocery stores have shelves full of a dizzying array of pickled vegetables, and it's hard to know which kind is the right one to use. You can't go wrong with mustard greens. Look for air-tight sealed plastic bags of preserved mustard greens. These need to be chopped and then cooked before eating. Or you can get small jars of pickled chopped mustard greens, which are ready-to-eat and can even be served over plain rice as a snack if you're into that kind of thing.
Dan Dan Mian
Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop
12 oz fresh Chinese noodles (or 8 oz dried)
1 Tbs peanut oil
4 Tbs Sichuanese ya cai (preserved vegetables. Look for preserved mustard leaves)
3 scallions, green parts only
1/2 Tbs dark soy sauce
2 - 3 Tbs chili oil or to taste (I used 2, and it was too much! [Too much for her, not for me! -- Joe])
1.5 Tbs Chinkiang vinegar (or black Chinese vinegar)
1/2 - 1 Tbs Sichuan peppercorns
a little peanut oil
4 oz ground pork (I used more and adjusted the soy sauce and wine accordingly)
1 tsp. Shaoxing rice wine (or med. dry sherry)
2 tsp. light soy sauce
salt to taste (I didn't add any extra; the soy sauce and the ya cai are already salty)
Heat 1 Tbs of peanut oil in wok over high flame. Add the ya cai and stir-fry for about 20 seconds, until it is fragrant. Set aside. Add another Tbs of oil to wok and reheat, then add the pork and stir-fry. As the meat separates, splash in the wine. Add the soy sauce and salt to taste, and continue to stir-fry until the meat is well-cooked but not too dry. Remove from the wok and set aside.
Finely slice the scallions.
Put stir-fried ya cai and other sauce ingredients into a serving bowl and mix.
Cook noodles according to the instructions on the package. Then drain and add them to the sauce. Sprinkle with the pork and serve immediately.
If serving from a big bowl, mix sauce and noodles and meat until evenly distributed. Otherwise, assemble each portion in individual serving bowls and allow people to mix their own.