Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Chinese Appetizer Recipe Week: Dan Dan Noodles

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Who doesn't love classic Chinese and Chinese-American appetizers? This week, we'll be featuring a different Chinese appetizer each day, with step-by-step instructions and complete recipes. Throw your own Chinese take-out party at home, without the take-out!

One of the problems with ordering Dan Dan Noodles at a Chinese restaurant is that you never know exactly what you'll get. Are they gonna deliver the hardcore Sichuan version swimming in red-hot chili oil and laced with pickled zha cai (mustard root) and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns? Or can you expect the equally delicious but totally different Chinese-American version with more pork, a vinegary soy-based sauce, perhaps some greens and a sprinkling of peanuts?

The first great thing about making Dan Dan Noodles at home is that you can customize it however you'd like. Personally, I like the chili oil of the Sichuan version, but I also love adding crushed roasted peanuts to the top. Who's to stop me?

The second great thing about making Dan Dan Noodles—it's an exceedingly simple dish to make. Once you've put together your roasted chili vinaigrette (which holds for months in the fridge, by the way), it's just a matter of cooking your noodles, frying your chopped pork, and throwing everything together.

Perhaps the biggest key to making excellent Dan Dan Noodles is to make your own roasted chili oil. When done right, it gets a rich, fruity, smoky flavor that none of the store-bought stuff can touch. It's really quite simple.

To make roasted chili oil: Just toast a handful of whole Chinese chilis (or if you want, red pepper flakes) in a dry skillet until ever-so-slightly smoking. Transfer them to a food processor with a cup of neutral oil, like canola, and whiz the whole thing up. Let it sit in a sealed container in the fridge for a week or so, and you're good to go. You can even top off the jar with more oil and toasted chilis every time you seem to be running low. Make some, have it on hand at all times, and it will revolutionize your mapo tofu, ramen, dumplings, stir-fries, and countless other dishes.

Check out the slideshow for a quick rundown of some of the ingredients that go into great Dan Dan Noodles, or go straight for the recipe here.

More Chinese Appetizers!

Fried Dumplings »
Egg Rolls »
Scallion Pancakes »

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