dan dan mian, two ways

dan dan noodles

It’s always a bit odd to make a new recipe, taste it, then realize that you don’t know whether it turned out or not, since you have no idea of what it’s supposed to taste like. When we made dan dan noodles for the first time, it may or may not have been a success.

dan dan noodles

What I do know is that the noodles were flavorful, the sauce had an interesting sweet/spicy/salty tang, and the Sichuan pepper gave it so much ma that I couldn’t feel my mouth for half an hour afterwards. So perhaps it was a success. We decided to try it again another time.

preserved vegetable

That was our first time using Tianjin preserved vegetable, a fermented cabbage product that we had just recently found at a little Chinese market in Seattle’s International District. According to Fuchsia Dunlop, mistress of all things Sichuan, it’s not quite a perfect stand-in for traditional Sichuanese fermented vegetable, but it comes close. The flavor of it was sweet, a little funky and really, really, really salty. We keep trying to decide if we want to replace it when we use up the jar, or just use cabbage and lots of salt instead.

Chinese vinegar

It was also our first use of Chinkiang vinegar, which we found at the same market. It’s made from glutinous rice, and has a surprisingly sweet, almost plummy aroma. The combination of the vinegar with the salty cabbage produced a really interesting flavor for the noodles.

beef with chiles

Here is the recipe for the version we made the first time. It was pretty good, but seemed to be lacking something.

Dan Dan Mian (version one)

loosely adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

8 oz dried or fresh wheat noodles (preferably not egg noodles)

The sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 4 Tbsp preserved veg
  • 1 1/2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground Sichuan pepper

The meat:

  • oil
  • 4 dried red chiles
  • 4 oz ground beef
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • pinch of salt

Put on a pot of water for the noodles.

In a wok over high heat, add a tablespoon of oil, then add the preserved vegetable and stirfry it for 30 seconds or so. Scrape out into a large bowl. Add the vinegar and Sichuan pepper.

Putting the wok back on the heat, add a bit more oil, then throw in the dried chiles. Stirfry briefly until they begin to brown a little, then add the meat and stirfry until it is cooked through and partially dried out. Add soy sauce and salt. Transfer the meat to the bowl with the sauce ingredients and stir.

Cook the noodles according to directions, drain them and add them directly to the bowl. Toss everything together and serve.

dan dan mian

Just last week we made dan dan noodles again. This time we had thought ahead and made fresh chili oil, and we followed a different version of the recipe that called for fresh ground pork. The difference was astonishing.

dan dan mian

The previous batch had been a little dry, and both spicy and numbing without actually being very savory. This batch was oily, salty, savory, slithery, and completely addictive. We didn’t have to ask ourselves whether it had come out right – we just inhaled it.

Dan Dan Mian (version two)

Also adapted (not as loosely) from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

10 oz somen or other wheat noodles

The sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 4 Tbsp preserved vegetable
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp chili oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp ground Sichuan pepper

The meat topping:

  • peanut oil
  • 6 oz ground pork
  • 1 tsp sherry
  • 2 tsp soy sauce

Heat a spoonful of peanut oil in a wok, toss in the preserved vegetable and stir-fry for thirty seconds. Scrape into a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients to the bowl.

Put the wok back on the heat, add another spoonful of oil, and add the pork. Break up with a spatula, and add the sherry and soy. Cook until done but still wet, and add to the bowl of sauce.

Cook the noodles according to directions (somen take almost no time at all), drain, and add them to the bowl. Toss well and serve.

dan dan mian

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5 thoughts on “dan dan mian, two ways

    1. We’ve started buying preserved mustard tuber and using it in our noodle dishes – it’s similarly salty and stinky and really delicious. I’d like to find a version without msg but it’s so good that I’m willing to put up with a few additives.

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