I like to think that the title of this post means not that I am unsure about the spelling of Sichuan/Szechuan or whether the food I’ve made this week is either of them; but rather, that I do in fact think.
I spent several hours today trying to avoid going to Chinatown to buy groceries for this week’s dinners. First I went to Katagiri, where I bought shiitake mushrooms. Then I went to H-Mart, where I bought absolutely nothing. Then I gave up and went home. Then I went to Hong Kong Market in Chinatown, where I spent at least one blissful hour (I mean all the time I spent there was blissful; I don’t know how much of it there was) perusing and then buying ingredients that I needed both for these dishes and then just generally for my life. I bought some things I have been needing for like a year. It was great.
And Chinatown wasn’t even stressful. I guess I usually go there at bad times, but today it wasn’t crowded, it was peaceful; maybe Hester Street is just calmer. I was in Little Italy, according to the giant flying signs and flags, but everything was Chinese.
I bought kind of a lot of things.
I had plans to make two dishes but decided to be smart and not try to cook both at once—there would have been some sort of explosion or worse. I started with the dan dan noodles, a Sichuan dish that uses (well, most Sichuan dishes do) Sichuan peppercorns, which are unrelated to black peppercorns and create a spicy numbing effect. I’m experiencing it right now. It’s awesome.
I made the sauce while I waited for the noodle water to boil—chicken stock (in my case, two cubes of frozen chicken stock that I thought would melt quickly but that didn’t), soy sauce, sesame paste (tahini), black vinegar, chili oil (I used less than called for because I got scared, but I wish I had done the full amount; it’s spicy now, but it would have been more exciting with more chili oil), sesame oil, sugar, and Sichuan peppercorns.
I don’t have a mortar and pestle, so I ground the peppercorns by putting them in a sandwich bag and whacking and then rolling them with a rolling pin. Then I took the direct approach and went at them with a hammer. My neighbors rejoiced. Ultimately they became crushed, though not ground.
When the noodles—which I found in the refrigerated fresh section after a not wholly successful sojourn to the dried noodles area, and which are labeled lo mein noodles, and which look exactly like the lo mein noodles of my youth; yay
—were done, to a quite al dente al dente, I drained them and then plopped them on top of the sauce. I thought the chicken stock would melt—I had already whisked together the remainder of the sauce—but it kind of didn’t. It seems fine now, though there is a lot of sauce at the bottom of the bowl.
I then chopped my scallions and preserved mustard greens (which remind me of kimchi, I guess; I don’t really know how to describe them except to say that they smell weird, which is not helpful) and cooked them with garlic and ginger.
Then I added my meat—I used more than the recipe called for because the smallest pack I could find was a pound and I didn’t want four ounces of meat languishing in my freezer in the future—and cooked, etc.
I spooned out quite a lot of oil and put it down the sink because I didn’t have any available yogurt containers. It was gross. I guess this sort of thing happens. I added my rice wine once I was able to get it open (this took a very long time and involved knives and corkscrews. Basically we should be thankful the story ended innocuously), cooked it briefly, and added the meat mixture to the noodle mixture.
Then I put it on top of the toaster and dealt with the rest of the meal.
Once that was done (I yada yada’d an entire recipe just now. I also recently dreamed about that phrase), I scattered scallions on top, then a few handfuls of peanut meal. It’s really good. Add more chile oil, though. Unless you have even less spice tolerance than I do. YUM. (And I’ve only eaten it lukewarm. I have a feeling warm warm is better.) The ingredients are a huge pain in the ass to find, I’ll admit that. But once you actually go to a Chinese supermarket it’s easy. You just have to get yourself to go. And/or fly to a city where they have Chinese supermarkets, I guess.
Dan dan mian
From Appetite for China; not particularly adapted (but doubled)
1/2 c chicken stock
1/4 c soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese sesame paste or tahini (tahini is less toasted, I think)
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1/4 c + 2 tbsp (if you want) chili oil (I omitted the 2 tbsp)
4 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground Sichuan pepper (Not sure if you are meant to grind it before or after measuring; I wouldn’t mind more, but it’s definitely noticeable. I measured before grinding.)
1 lb dried Chinese egg noodles (or lo mein noodles, or whatever)
1 tbsp peanut oil
4 tsp minced garlic (4+ cloves)
2 tsp minced ginger
4 scallions, chopped
4 tbsp chopped Sichuan preserved vegetable
2 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tsp salt, or salt to taste (I forgot to salt and don’t think it needs salt; I did salt my pasta water heavily, though)
2 handfuls dry-roasted peanuts, chopped; or 2 handfuls (or whatever) peanut meal (actually, no, go with the chopped peanuts)
While salted water is boiling for the noodles, prepare the sauce by combining all the ingredients in the first paragraph up there under “sauce.” If your chicken stock is frozen, unfreeze it first. Whisk together.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and then put in a serving dish. Add the sauce (I did this backwards and I think it’s weird now) and stir/toss to combine.
Heat a large skillet and add the oil. Add the garlic, ginger, white parts of the scallions, and preserved vegetable and cook until fragrant (mine were already fragrant), about 30 seconds. Add the meat; cook until no longer pink, and starting to crisp. Remove oil if it is extremely oily.
Add the meat to the noodles and sauce; stir if you want (I did). Top with peanuts and green parts of the scallions. I’ve been eating it on and off while writing this, and I keep getting really excited to eat more of it.