Noodles are eaten at least a couple times a week at my house. Usually they're not eaten with much grandeur—a brothy soup full of rice stick here, a quick veg-heavy sauce atop egg noodles there—but they're still a favorite easy dinner. Fuchsia Dunlop's Zhajiang Noodles from her new cookbook Every Grain of Rice were thus a welcome new dinner. The sauce is a thick, savory concoction of ground pork belly and sweet fermented sauce (tianmianjiang)—almost blindingly salty on its own, but mellowed when tossed with the mild wheat noodles and assorted blanched vegetables.
Why I picked this recipe: Looking for a one-dish noodle meal, I picked this vegetable-heavy dish because it used pork to enhance, rather than dominate the meal.
What worked: A warm bowl of noodles is hard to pass up, and these zhajiang noodles did not disappoint. Both rich from the pork and fresh from the copious vegetables, these noodles disappeared before I had a chance to think twice.
What didn't: My "generous" pour of water into the pork sauce was a bit too generous, so it took longer than 15 minutes to cook down to a thick consistency. 1 cup should be plenty.
Suggested tweaks: Dunlop offers a lot of choice in terms of vegetables. I used most of them, and found the end result a bit busy. Choose three or so from her list, and you'll be plenty happy. Should you want to make the dish totally vegetarian, you could substitute finely chopped mushrooms for the pork. Stir-fry them until they've released their liquid and fully browned before continuing with the sauce. I found sweet fermented sauce in the Asian section of my grocery store labeled simply "bean sauce." It should be dark in color and thick in texture, with wheat as a primary ingredient.
Reprinted from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. Copyright 2012 by Fuchsia Dunlop. Photographs copyright 2012 by Cris Terry. Published by W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
- 2 star anise
- 4 1/4 ounces (125 grams) finely chopped or coarsely ground belly pork
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
- 1 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 5 tablespoons sweet fermented sauce
- Salt, to taste
- 7 ounces (200 grams) dried Chinese wheat flour noodles, or 11 ounces (300 grams) fresh noodles
- To serve, any of the following:
- Small section of cucumber
- 1 celery stick
- 1 small carrot
- Some Chinese cabbage
- 1 small piece of purple-hearted Chinese radish (xin li mei)
- Good handful of bean sprouts
- Handful of cooked green soy beans or peas
- A few slices of red chile (optional)
Add oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Immediately add Sichuan pepper and star anise and stir-fry for a few moments until they smell delicious. Then remove spices with a slotted spoon, leaving fragrant oil in the wok.
Add pork and stir-fry until it has become pale, pressing meat with the back of your ladle or wok scoop to help separate it out into little morsels. Then add ginger and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add Shaoxing wine, stir once or twice, then add sweet fermented sauce. Stir-fry for a few moments more until it smells rich and delicious, then cover pork generously with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer over a low heat for about 15 minutes, until sauce is dark and luxuriantly thick. Season with a scattering of salt (the sauce should be intensely-flavored and seem on its own a little over-salted, because it will be used to flavor the bland noodles).
When you wish to eat, bring a pan of water to a boil. Cut whichever you are using of cucumber, celery, carrot, cabbage, and radish into fine slivers. Blanch beansprouts and all vegetables except for cucumber in boiling water; they should remain a bit crisp. (It is best to blanch each vegetable separately, using a slotted spoon to remove them from water.) Refresh blanched vegetables immediately under a cold tap and drain well.
Reheat pork sauce. Cook noodles, rinse briefly under the tap, shake dry, then divide between two serving bowls.
Add some of each of your vegetables to the bowls. Top with pork sauce. Stir everything together with chopsticks before eating, scattering with chile slices, if you like.