It feels like dan dan noodles are different wherever you go. One of my favourite takes (alas, this is not it) is from a restaurant in Vancouver that uses a peanutty sauce that causes us to continually argue about what the secret ingredient is. I’ve seen them saucy, dry, with lots of szechuan peppers, with no heat at all – it’s a dish that most chefs choose to do their own take on. This is mine.
This recipe comes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice cookbook, which has been a great source for more authentic Chinese recipes. I incorporated vegetables to make me feel like this is a complete meal on its own, and I’ve made it over and over because the effort is easy and the payoff is great. It’s also tweakable and made with things you can readily keep in the cupboard, which is a bonus in my book.
The trick is that if you don’t cook a lot of Chinese cuisine, some of these ingredients may be a bit more foreign. They’re all easily found in an Asian grocery store, I promise, and are so worth it! One harder-to-find ingredient is Szechuanese ya cai, which are essentially preserved vegetables of some kind (I think mustard greens, but definitely don’t quote me on that). They lend a crunchiness and umami flavour that make the dish amazing. Just trust me, you can’t skip them. The kind I use looks like this, and believe it or not I managed to find it on Amazon!
I’ve tried out different brands, and this one works well but is very salty, so be careful. They last forever in the cabinet and I’ve definitely kept mine awhile in the fridge, so they’re easy to keep on hand.
I’ve also tried multiple different types of vegetables in this – bok choy, napa cabbage, spinach, chard… my favourites tend to be the lighter ones (such as bok choy and napa) that don’t fight too hard with the other flavours, but certainly none of the others ruined the dish.
Dan Dan Noodles
Serves 2 hungry people. Adapted from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop.
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
- 4 oz (100 grams) ground pork
- 2 tsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 7 oz (200 grams) dried Chinese wheat noodles (I tend to bump this up to 225 if the two of us are hungry)
- 3/4 cup (300 ml) chicken stock (can use noodle cooking water too)
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp salt (if you are using the brand of ya cai I used, halve this, because it’s very salty)
- 1 tsp Chinkiang vinegar (I’ve also just used Chinese black vinegar)
- 2-4 tbsp chili oil, to taste
- 4 tbsp sliced green onions
- 5 tbsp Szechuanese ya cai
- Vegetable of your choice, chopped into bite-sized pieces: I have used bok choy, napa cabbage, spinach, and chard – bok choy and napa are my favourites. I use 3 baby bok choy or 1/3 napa cabbage for two of us, but it’s easy to adjust based on how much you want!
- Prepare meat: put the oil in a wok over a medium flame and swirl it around. Add the pork and stir fry until it changes color.
- Add the Shaoxing wine, stir a few times, then add the hoisin and stir fry until you can smell it.
- Add the soy sauce and stir until the meat is cooked through. Remove the pork and place it on a separate plate or bowl, but keep the oil/juices in the wok, you’ll use it momentarily.
- Bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles, and in a separate small pot, reheat the stock.
- While the pot is coming to boil, prepare your vegetables by stir-frying them over medium heat in the wok where the pork was. The time will vary depending on your vegetable, but generally you want to stir fry them until they are easily pierced by a fork. When they are done, you can just take them off the heat and leave them in the wok for now.
- Put all sauce ingredients except for stock and vegetables in a serving bowl.
- Cook your noodles according to their packaging. When they are done, drain them in a colander. Add stock, noodles, pork and vegetables to the bowl with the sauce. Mix together and serve.