Learning to cook dishes from another cuisine can leave me either inspired or disappointed, because the result can be as delicious as I'd hoped or totally awful. When the second scenario is the case, it's usually due to one of two things: using the wrong ingredients or not understanding the right technique. Both are unfamiliar when it comes to, say, a dish from Sichuan, China. My pantry isn't stocked properly, and I'm not ready to make a huge investment in ingredients for just one dish.
Thankfully, this version of Dan Dan noodles, adapted from the latest issue of Bon Appetit, is easy to pull off on both fronts: Besides Sichuan peppercorns, there's nothing too difficult to find (they'd be sorely missed, but you could make it without them), and the technique is as simple as using high heat and working quickly. It's a slightly Americanized version, yet the taste is wonderful, deep, and satisfying—and it comes together in less than 20 minutes.
- 12 ounces Shanghai-style noodles or udon
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3/4 pound ground pork
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons chili oil, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
- 1 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, ground in a mortar and pestle
- Pinch of sugar
- 4 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
- 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the noodles. Cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite, then drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to quickly chill. Drain well.
In a large (12-inch) skillet or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Add pork and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until partially cooked but still half pink. Add ginger and continue cooking until pork is cooked through and starting to brown.
Stir in chicken stock, chili oil, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, tahini, and sichuan peppercorns. Season with a little sugar, then bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce thickens, 7-10 minutes.
Add noodles to the skillet and toss well in the sauce. Once noodles are heated through, taste for salt and sugar. Transfer to bowls and top with peanuts and scallions. Serve immediately.