Dan Dan Mian, or Dan Dan Noodles (why not go all the way, let’s call it Beijing, and not North Jing right?), is a staple of Sichuan cuisine. It’s usually a medium chewy noodle covered with the richest numb-your-mouth flavorful sauce, marinated ground meat, some veggies, some chicken soup, and an assortment of toppings that often include scallions, chopped peanuts, and preserved vegetables.
We had this for breakfast almost every morning in Chengdu, and when we got back, we craved the flavor, so I decided to give it a try at home.
First, the meat.
I got mutt meat – veal, pork, and beef. It was called the meatloaf mix at the market. I think this makes the flavor more neutral, because each of the meats have their own unique flavors, and I didn’t care for any of that to shine though.
Douse with hoisin sauce, five spice, and just a splash of cooking wine. Let this simmer down.
With the spatula, break the meat into smaller pieces. If you didn’t knead the meat much before, it should break fairly easily. This is like cooking most meats – the lazier you are, the better.
At this step, I added the dark soy sauce to give it salt and the darker color. Simmer until you’re happy with the chewiness of the meat. Some people like this burnt to a crisp, and some people like the bouncy feel of chewing pieces of meat, I left it some place in the middle. I would burn it to a crisp, but I’m too short to reach the fire alarm.
The sauce! This is the key ingredient. All the other stuff just makes it random noodles with meat, but the dan dan mian is all about the dan dan sauce.
Tahini: Sesame, roasted or in paste form forms the base of the sauce. It’s rich in flavor, and it sticks to the noodles. The sauces are always substantial and not liquid so if you decide to eat the noodles dry, it coats every strand of noodle, the sides of your bowl, and your chopsticks.
Hot oil: This is a great way to add heat. Just pure heat.
Garlic Chili sauce: I wanted to add the red color without having to roast chilis and turn my home into a prison of choking and coughing, so I bought a chili sauce that already has garlic, which would have been one of the other ingredients, and it’s bright and red! Very convenient.
Sesame oil: This is the oil base that goes in the sauce. It has a different flavor than the Tahini – it’s more fragrant and smells distinctly Chinese.
Peanut butter: Peanuts is another popular topping in dan dan mian, but I had no peanuts, so I am using peanut butter. Since it’s sweet, I’m also taking out the need for sugar.
And then I needed this. Sichuan peppercorns. They give you the numbing spiciness. I wish I had just the oil, but no I’m stuck with these prickly ash things. Take note friends. Get the Sichuan chili oil if you can. Accidentally biting into these while you eat is like finding oversized sand in your food.
1.5 tablespoons of Tahini
1.5 tablespoons of peanut butter
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
3 teaspoons of hot oil
1 tablespoons of garlic chili paste
1/3 cup of Sichuan peppercorns
I gave it a quick taste at this point, and ended up adding 1 teaspoon of dark vinegar and 1.5 teaspoons of dark soy sauce. Please adjust to your own preference. I probably made it on the spicier side.
I didn’t want to taste the chunks of peppercorn, so I food processed the sauce into paste.
And here is the delicious end result! You can smell the strong aroma.
I didn’t do a great job food processing by the way, and still found chunks. Darn! But it was still so good!
Boil a pot of chicken stock and use it to blanche the vegetables.
Now all that’s left are the noodles! I cooked those in the chicken stock as well.
Mix the noodles with the sauce so that the noodles are evenly coated.
Then assemble the other ingredients.
Looks and tastes authentic!
I even had some sauce left over for another random meal.