This is how obsessed I am with dan dan noodles – when asked which fancy restaurant I'd like to go to for my birthday, I requested lunch at my favourite hole-in-the-wall dan dan noodle joint instead.
Gathered around wobbly metal tables on rickety chairs in a rowdy food court, hunched over a bowl of chewy handmade noodles slick with spicy red chilli oil slapping around my face as I slurped it up, surrounded by my favourite people – that's my happy place! I enjoy fine dining restaurants but I will always choose the food I love over the elite any day of the week, and twice on my birthday.
My Sydney neighbourhood is certainly not known for authentic Sichuan food, so creating a doable dan dan noodle recipe was essential so I can get my fix on demand.
This recipe calls for a trip to an Asian grocer, but once you've gathered the following ingredients, they have a shelf life of months, even years. Make this once, and you'll make it over and over again!
Chinese chilli in oil
My favourite is Fuyun Xiang La Wang (chilli sauce) which is sold at most Chinese grocers, but with all the other flavour going on in this recipe, any Chinese chilli paste in oil will do. If you can't get to an Asian store, use any plain chilli paste or sambal oelek, and add an extra glug of chilli oil.
RecipeTin Eats x Good Food: Dan dan noodles
How to make the spicy Sichuan noodle dish at home.
Sichuan food fiends will notice that this recipe doesn't call for an obscene amount of chilli oil. You still get a nice slick of the fiery red oil on your noodles, but if you need more burn, feel free to add more!
Dry roast peppercorns over medium heat until fragrant, cool, then grind into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Otherwise, use pre-ground peppercorns for convenience. If you can't get your hands on Sichuan pepper, use half a teaspoon of ground white pepper (though it will lack the distinct citrus flavour of Sichuan pepper).
Sui mi ya cai
This is a Chinese pickled vegetable also called mustard greens. It has a crunchy, juicy texture and a fairly strong salty-sour flavour. It's used in Sichuan dishes such as dan dan noodles and spicy pork and bean stir-fry. Use the thick stem of the cabbage-like vegetable and finely chop it. Substitute with kimchi for similar crunch and flavour.
Dan dan noodles
If I was stuck on a desert island and had to choose one dish to live on for the rest of my life, it would be spicy dan dan noodles. There are a few parts to making dan dan noodles, but there's no need to hurry. The sauce and pork don't need to be piping hot because the idea is to toss the hot noodles in the serving bowls with the sauce and pork so the heat from the noodles warms everything up.
Dan dan sauce
1½ tbsp Chinese sesame paste (or tahini)
1 tbsp Chinese chilli paste in oil (see above)
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp white sugar
¼ tsp Chinese five spice powder
¾ tsp Sichuan pepper powder, preferably freshly ground (see note)
3 tbsp chilli oil, preferably Chinese
½ cup low-sodium chicken stock, hot
Pork topping sauce
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese wine (shao hsing; or 60ml chicken stock)
½ tsp five spice powder
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp vegetable oil
250g pork mince, fatty
30g (¼ cup) sui mi ya cai, finely chopped (see above)
500g white fresh noodles, medium thickness
12 choy sum stems, cut into 15cm pieces
finely sliced spring onions
crushed peanuts (optional)
1. Place all the dan dan sauce ingredients, except the chilli oil and stock, in a bowl and mix until incorporated. Add the chilli oil and stock and gently stir until the stock is incorporated – the chilli oil will stay on the surface. Set aside.
2. Mix the pork topping sauce ingredients in another bowl.
3. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a wok, add pork and cook, breaking it up as you go. Add the pork topping sauce and cook for one minute until the liquid evaporates, then transfer into bowl.
4. Return wok to stove and add one teaspoon of oil. Add the sui mi ya cai, stir-fry for 30 seconds until heated through, then remove into separate bowl.
5. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, then use tongs to transfer the noodles to a colander.
6. Blanch the choy sum in the reserved noodle cooking water for one minute, then drain.
7. Divide the dan dan sauce between four bowls. Top with noodles, choy sum, pork and sui mi ya cai. Garnish with peanuts and spring onions. Mix it all up to coat the noodles with the dan dan sauce, then devour!
Serves 4 as a main