Since I’m a noodle fiend, and Dan Dan Mein is one of my all time favorites, and a lot of my home cooking focuses on pasta (and pizza and gelato) I got it in my head to try making this amazing noodle dish at home — super authentically of course.
So I hunted around for recipes and came across this hard core one to use as my base.
For those of you that don’t know, Dan Dan Mein is the sort of “OG Sesame noodles.” But it’s so much more than the watered down version we get in the states. Ever wonder why sesame noodles are sometimes spicy? It’s because they derive from this dish, which in its true form is always hot. But it’s more than hot. Good dan dan is very complex incredibly aromatic, nutty, spicy, numbing, meaty, and a hefty bowl of chow.
Then before meeting my pal Sebastian out in the SGV for some Szechuan I stopped by the 168 Market and spent about an hour hunting down all the ingredients. I went so far as to make sure even normal items like garlic and peanuts were grown in China! Subtle things like the differences in vegetable breed can influence the flavor of a dish.
We start off making chili oil from scratch. This particular incredibly Szechuan oil is flavored with Szechuan peppercorn, star anise, cinnamon, and “regular” chilis.
Here are the Szechuan Peppercorns, which I learned were also known as Prickly Ash or sometimes Red Ash. They smell amazing (and strong) and have a citrus note and a numbing quality on the tongue.
Dried star anise, which smells like licorice. Oh, and the cinnamon.
Then the chili flakes, and peanut oil.
First try. Let it get too hot. Don’t do this (notice the brown color).
Next try went much better. You basically cook the peppercorns, anise, and cinnamon in the oil slowly to 325.
Then strain out that stuff and dump the regular chilis in and let it sit until it becomes super red and potent.
Next up we brown the meat for the dish. I actually made the noodles twice the first week, once with turkey (above) and another time with lamb (below).
The sauce for cooking the meat involves a mix of shaoxing wine.
The incredibly yummy (and salty) Szechuan sweet bean paste.
And some dark soy sauce (plus a little five spice powder)..
Then in with the browning meat you add sui mi ya cai. This mystery ingredient, which apparently is some kind of preserved mustard green, took me about 30 minutes to possibly locate in the market. None of the employees knew what it was. This “spicy preserved vegetable” was the closest thing I could find. Perhaps it’s the right stuff. Perhaps it’s a variant. It’s certainly preserved and certainly mustard green.
Here they are cooked together with the sauce, then set aside until the noodles are ready. As my friend Bryan, who tried my second batch, commented, the preserved vegetable makes it much more Chinese.
Next up we work on the noodle sauce which is more soy sauce and sesame paste.
And the aforementioned Chinese garlic.
Some more Szechuan peppercorns needed to be crushed to go straight into this part, so I used my killer mortar and pestle.
Then incredibly dump a huge amount of that red chili oil in.
Meanwhile, some peanuts (also from China).
Then the noodles. The recipe called for Lanzhou noodles, which are flat and white. These turned out to be about the same as most of the restaurant dan dans.
Then you put the sauce in the bottle of the bowl, dump in some noodles.
Layer on the meat mix, peanuts, and some chopped scallions.
It looks great above, but you need to mix it up.
Here is the fully mixed version you eat. It might not be a looker, but the dish is incredible and I was very pleased how it turned out. Just like restaurant dan dan, all the good stuff is at the bottom, the rich sauce, the meat chunks etc. The lamb version really kicked ass too (most dan dan uses pork). I also used more meat then most restaurants do and tried to keep the sauce under control so it didn’t get too soupy.