IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD? I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF. BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.
WHAT: The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet. An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.
WHY: Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness. And they both want company.
HOW: There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings. I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche). Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).
Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.
Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded? Well, A) I don’t care about authenticity. And B) Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development. Then last and certainly not least C) I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish. Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.
Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have? I dare not say that myself. But you just might.
- 0.75 lb (320 grams) ground beef
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 1/2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 3 cloves of garlics, grated
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/4 packed cup finely mined pickled jalapeño
- 1 cup canola oil
- 3 scallions, smashed and cut into segments
- 4 cloves of garlics, smashed
- 5 tbsp Sichuan chili flakes
- 1/2 star anise
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp curry powder
- 1 1/2 tbsp white sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp medium white sesame paste/tahini (see note *)
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
- 1 1/2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp chicken powder
- 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 8 cloves of garlics, grated
- Store-bought or homemade low sodium chicken stock
- Finely minced pickled jalapeno
- Finely diced scallions
- MAKE BEEF MIXTURE: In a large bowl, mix ground beef, fish sauce, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, ground Sichuan peppercorns, cornstarch, grated ginger, grated garlics and ground white pepper until even, then set aside. In a NON-STICK skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Cook the finely minced jalapeño until shriveled and almost crispy (partially cover the skillet to prevent splattering), about 2 minutes. Drain it through a fine sieve, reserve the crispy jalapeño, and return the oil back into the skillet. Add the ground beef-mixture, breaking it up into small chunks with a wooden spoon, until they are evenly browned and caramelized. Add the crispy jalapeño back in and turn off heat. Set aside.
- MAKE CHILI OIL: In a small pot, cook canola oil, scallions and garlics over medium heat, until the scallions are deeply browned on all edges. Remove the solids with a slotted spoon, drain well, and discard. In a spice-grinder, process Sichuan chili flakes, star anise, ground coriander, ground cumin and curry powder until thoroughly powderized. Transfer the spice-mixture into the oil, along with white sesame seeds, and return the pot to medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the color of the oil turns from a bright red color to a dark maroon color, about 1~2 minutes. Turn off heat, and stir in the ground Sichuan peppercorns. The residual heat will continue to cook the mixture. Set aside for 10 minutes.
- FINAL MIXING: In a large bowl, add the ground beef-mixture, chili oil (do not drain), medium white sesame paste, soy sauce, smooth peanut butter, light brown sugar, chicken powder, balsamic vinegar and grated garlic. Mix with a large fork until evenly mixed. Transfer into an air-tight container and keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks (estimate). Can be divided into smaller portions and stored in the freezer as well. Thaw to room-temperature and mix well before using.
- TO SERVE: By volume, mix equal parts of instant dandan noodle mix with equal parts of low-sodium chicken stock (warm the chicken stock if coming straight from the fridge) to create the dandan noodle sauce. Be quite generous with the sauce:noodle ratio, making it almost semi-soupy!! I like to use ramen noodles for this particular dish, but you can choose any noodles that you prefer. Then garnish with finely minced scallions and more finely mined pickled jalapeño.
* What I mean by "medium" sesame paste/tahini is sesame paste that is darker than the very pale Middle Eastern tahini, but much lighter than the very dark Chinese-style sesame paste. Which means I always go for Japanese-style white sesame paste (such as this one) that is perfectly in the middle. And from the look of it, this Trader Joe's tahini looks about right as well.