I thought the Chinese New Year would be a great time to talk about the chilli condiment that goes into so many of my favourite noodle dishes. What makes the Asian chilli oil so special is you’ve got to roast the dried chillies till they’re fragrant and begin to get into your nose. Then when the oil is added, drizzled rather, the chillies let out this half-sizzle, half-sigh that’s a sign you’ve done it right. This oil, along with the chilli sediment is what imparts that brilliant smoky flavour that shines in wok-tossed food. Once you’ve made it a few times, you’ll see how versatile it is- I’ve stirred it together with Hoisin and toasted sesame oil for an instant late night noodle fix, spooned it with a peanut butter-tahini-soy-rice wine vinegar mix for cold sesame noodles or just added it to fried rice because what doesn’t benefit from a teaspoon of hot chilli?
These dan dan noodles get their name from the shoulder poles carried by Chinese vendors who sell these noodles with sauces- like our bhel puri or chopsuey walas, with secret sauce recipes. This noodle preparation is a tour de force of the chilli oil because the better the chilli oil, the more flavourful your dan dan noodles will be. I want to say that the rest of the ingredients will be a doddle, but this would be a lie. You’ll need a few Sichuan peppercorns- you can buy these off the internet, or pick them up at a Foodhall, and I also add some far-from-traditional chopped kimchi for funk and saltiness- fresh kimchi doesn’t work as well here, so if you’re going to make a batch of kimchi just for this noodle bowl, I say skip it. The sauce will still taste delicious. I also add tahini here for a creamier consistency and that gorgeous sesame flavour that sits well in so many Middle East, as well as Asian sauces. That’s it. Fire up your wok, whisk your sauce and let me show you how it’s done.
You’ll have to start on the chilli oil first obviously. This recipe makes 2 cups of chilli oil.
Take about 100g of dried Kashmiri chilli and dry roast it in a wok over low heat till they begin to release their fragrance. You want to take great care to not burn the chillies. When they are crisp and aromatic enough drizzle in 1 tsp of vegetable oil into the wok and toss the chillies around lightly till they all take on a glossy coat. Take this off the heat and in a mortar and pestle, pound these chillies till they are broken into little pieces- we don’t want a fine powder here, so avoid using the mixer grinder. Now, add the chillies to a heatproof bowl and throw in a small piece of ginger and 1 tsp of sesame seeds. Next step, heat 2 cups of cooking oil over medium heat like you would for deep-frying. Test if the oil is hot enough by throwing in a piece of bread. If it turns golden in 15-20 seconds, the oil is quite hot, but if it takes a bit more time, that’s okay too. Take it off the heat and let the oil rest for 8-10 minutes, before drizzling the hot oil evenly over the chillies and hear them softly sizzle. Let the chillies sit in the oil and cool. Once cooled, decant them into bottles and place in the refrigerator to use in the noodles.
For The Dan Dan Noodles
Udon noodles 200g, cooked as per packet instructions (or regular Egg noodles/ Soba noodles work perfectly too)
Vegetable Oil 1 tbsp
Dried Kashmiri Chillies 2, torn roughly
Scallions 3, chopped, both green and white parts
Sichuan peppercorns 1/2 tsp
Kimchi 2 tbsp, drained and chopped roughly
Pork mince 100g/ One packet of Shiitake mushrooms, refreshed in hot water for 39 minutes (optional)
Dark Soy Sauce 1 tsp
Light Soy Sauce 1 tsp
The Dan Dan Sauce
Tahini 2 tbsp
Light soy sauce 1 1/2 tbsp
Dark Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Chilli Oil with the chilli sediment 4 tbsp (or more)
Salt 1/4 tsp
Egg yolks 2 (optional)
Mix together the ingredients for the dan dan sauce and set aside.
Add the hot oil to a seasoned hot wok and add in the peppercorns and torn Kashmiri chillies and stir-fry these till aromatic. Quickly add in the scallions followed by the kimchi and give it a good stir for a minute taking care not to burn them. If adding the pork mince or the mushrooms, now would be the time you add them.
Add it in, followed by the dark and light soy sauces and increase the heat to high, tossing them around a few times till the pork has browned, but take care to not dry it out. If adding mushrooms, add in the soy sauces and stir-fry till fragrant and the mushrooms are done. Season with salt, add in the noodles and over a low heat, toss everything together a few more times before taking it off the heat.
Serve the noodles hot along with the pre-prepared sauce and give it a good stir. If you’d like, throw in a yolk in there, go for it. Stir vigorously using chopsticks so that the residual heat of the hot noodles cooks the egg yolk.