ONCE YOU GO BLACK, YOU NEVER GO BACK.
Do you know what it feels to always live under the shadow of someone else?
Well, say heh-lloooo to black sesame.
You see… this poor fella. Somewhere during the evolution of vegetation, as if it was funny as a cruel and practical joke, the universe thought it’d be hilarious to create the all-star white sesame seeds which of course exploded in popularity all over in paste-form, oil-form or even as unnecessary decorations over buns, then, again because it’s funny, to also create something else that’s 100% identical in shape, size and appearance, but only… in black. Now, anyone with a bit of knowledge on sociology can assume the injustice that followed. Sidelined, neglected… keeps getting pulled over on its way into a recipe but rarely makes it…
Black sesame has long been the victim of food-racism.
OK, guilty as charged, but I have been trying to right that wrong. I have been trying to introduce you to this under-appreciated ingredient, especially, looking for possible ways to tell you about a classic dish worthy of being called one of Taiwan’s signature cuisine, and a real catchy name, too – The 3 cups chickens. But obviously, there are three quintessential seasonings for this recipe – Taiwanese rice wine, soy sauce, and of course, the irreplaceable, one and only, black sesame oil.
Right, you don’t know what that is. It’s ok, most people don’t, most people aside from those with an acute Asian background, or perhaps runs a meticulously stocked Chinese supermarket, don’t know that there’s something such as black sesame oil. Different from the common toasted sesame oil made from white sesames, black sesame oil is… well, let’s just say, it’s white on steroid. It’s more pungent, more powerful… deeper and more complex, a best-kept-secret foundation for many gorgeous recipes, the lifeline, the liquid brown gold… But oops… you don’t have it.
So I thought, before we all go nuts trying to extract our own black sesame oil, slip on the grease and crack our heads open on the edge of kitchen counter and literally make a mess of ourselves, we will do an inspired adaption of three cups chicken, with no compromise on flavours, in a – who’s not gonna love this? – black sesame and ginger chicken noodle form.
I know I had you at “sesame noodle”. But now imagine you best-ever, sworn-by and stamped-on sesame noodle (which I believe is this), then douse it with edible diesel then set it on an eternal flame of happiness. That’s just about how much more tasty and robust this black sesame noodle is. It embodies all the soul-elements from its inspiration, the condensed black-label of seseme-ness in a mix of soy sauce and rice wine, the prominent gingery and garlicky bite, the spiciness from red chilis and oil, and last but not least, the unmistakable fragrance from a truckload of Thai basils. Truckloads, guys. Truckloads.
It won’t be pretty. You’ll have “dirt” stuck between your teeth. But don’t say I didn’t warn you that you couldn’t care less. Because for once, not politically incorrect to say, once you go black, you never go back.
Because I ran out of Thai basil, I used Italian sweet basil instead, which I’ll admit, was the kind of thing that drives me crazy if someone else did it. Because thai basil (same as Taiwanese basil) tastes completely different than Italian sweet basil, much more pungent and aromatic, and is essential to the flavour-profile of this dish. So please try your best to find them, but all else fails, fine… a milder/more boring Italian basil will do.
* Toasted sesame oil is made from toasted white sesame, different from black sesame oil.
I didn’t include a chili sauce to go with the noodle because boy, does it go perfectly with this one.
Other black sesame recipes.
- 1 set (2 pieces/13 oz/370 grams) chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
- 3 servings of fresh ramen noodles
- 2 large handful of Thai basil leaves (or Italian basils if unavailable)
- 2 small red chili, finely diced
- 1 tsp chili flakes
- Roasted salted peanuts or pine nuts to serve
- This chili oil to serve
- 1 cup (75 grams) black sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) chicken stock
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) Taiwanese rice wine, or Japanese sake
- 4 tbsp (60 grams) soy sauce
- 1 tsp extra dark soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tbsp (23 grams) smooth peanut butter
- 2 1/2 tbsp (33 grams) toasted sesame oil
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- TO PREPARE THE CHICKEN: Evenly mix the thinly sliced chicken breast-strips with toasted sesame oil, salt, grated ginger, cornstarch, ground white pepper and baking soda. Let marinate for at least 30 min. Bring a large pot of water to a gentle simmer, then stir in the marinated chicken to disperse them evenly in the hot water. Poach until they are just cooked (approx 30 seconds), then remove with a slotted spoon. Set aside and let cool completely.
- TO MAKE THE SAUCE: Toast the black sesame seeds on a flat skillet over medium heat. Constantly stir the seeds which will start to making popping sounds then subside, approx 3 min. To check if they are properly toasted, rub a seed in between your finger, and if it crushes easily and smells nutty, it's ready. Immediately transfer into a blender to prevent burning.
- Simmer chicken stock and rice wine (or sake) in a pot for 5 min until the alcohol has evaporated. Add to the blender with the toasted black sesames, along with soy sauce, extra dark soy sauce, grated ginger, garlic, smooth peanut butter, toasted sesame oil, sugar and ground white pepper. Blend on high for 2 min, scraping down the sides a few time, until the mixture is smoothly ground. Set aside.
- TO PUT THE DISH TOGETHER: Bring a large pot of water to boil, then cook the ramen noodle according to package instruction. Rinse under cold water after cooking to cool complete, drain well then transfer to a large bowl. Add the poached chicken strips, Thai basil leaves, diced red chili and chili flakes, then toss everything together with the black sesame-sauce (you may not need all of it). Sprinkle with toasted peanuts or pine nuts, and drizzle with more toasted sesame oil and chili oil
- The noodle is even better the next day.
3 servings of ramen noodles will feed 4 people with this recipe after it's mixed with the rest of the ingredients.
Thai basil leaf is an essential ingredient for this dish. But if it's absolutely impossible to find for you, substitute with Italian basil for a lighter and milder flavour.