Happy Year of the Dog everyone! You know this year is going to be good because when is anything associated with dogs bad? I’m not going to dig too deep into the subject of Chinese New Year because 1. I am not Chinese and 2. Google exists to serve inquiring minds. Instead, I’m going to focus on these Lamb Dan Dan Noodles because damn, I have a new favorite recipe. And, frankly, I refuse to associate it with a special occasion. It’s just not a fair context for such a comforting and satisfying dish.
Special occasion dishes only get made once a year and generally, you can’t enjoy them without other people around. And, I don’t know about you, but when I have company I definitely reign in my preferred eating style. Honestly, when I eat politely and more self-consciously, I find I enjoy my food less. Anyone else suffer from this affliction? But when I’m home with the ones who love me unconditionally (re. the cat and boy) it’s a different story. You can feel sorry for my boyfriend now.
So, yeah, these Lamb Dan Dan Noodles are best enjoyed under slouchy circumstances. These are the kind of noodles you want to shovel into your mouth with wild abandon. And frankly, slouchy is this dish’s birthright. The “Dan Dan” in Dan Dan noodles refers to a pole street vendors would carry. A basket of noodles would be on one end of the pole and a basket of sauce would be on the other. Vendors would balance the pole on their shoulders and dole out the noodles and sauce to whoever was buying. So, you see, Dan Dan noodles are a street food, not a celebration food.
But having said that, I kind of like the idea of serving these Dan Dan Noodles around Chinese New Year. One of my favorite food traditions associated with the holiday is the consumption of uncut noodles. This represents longevity, which is really speaking to me at this point. You see, I’m pretty happy these days and I would really like to have as many of these days as possible, hence the desire for longevity. It means more to me than the spring rolls representing gold bars for prosperity or pomegranate arils representing (gulp!) fertility.
To those of you who’ve encountered Dan Dan Noodles in the past, my Lamb Dan Dan Noodles may look strange. My version is, in fact, different from the native Sichuan version. The Sichuan (original) style of the dish is more of a soup. The sauce is a deeper red color and not nearly as thick. My noodles are more like the Dan Dan noodles served in Taiwan or the US. These varieties of Dan Dan Noodles tend to be sweeter and often include the addition of peanut butter or sesame paste.
As much as I love noodle soups (pho may well be my last-meal-pick at this point), I decided I wanted a creamy, saucy noodle more than a soupy one. So, in order to feed my creepily specific noodle craving, I opted to add tahini to my noodles and a little honey. I did use a lot less sugar than most North American recipes call for. I’m totally down with salty, sweet but my sweet tooth is not the most demanding and can easily become overwhelmed.
Now, I went a little crazy and decided to make my own Sichuan chili oil. You don’t have to do this, it is completely optional. If you have a half-way decent Asian market near your house, you’re liable to find a bottled version there. But if you’re a from-scratch-nutjob like me, give the oil a go. It’s not actually that hard and if you have an instant-read thermometer, it’s very straight-forward.
One more thing. As you can see from the title of this article, these Lamb Dan Dan Noodles contain, well, lamb. This is not traditional. Most Dan Dan noodle dishes use ground pork instead. So, if you are a stickler for authenticity or you’re particularly fond of sheep, feel free to swap the ground lamb for pork. Everything will work out perfectly. Also, if the movie Babe, like, really got to you, you can nix the meat altogether and go for ground tofu. Again, everything will work out perfectly.
Celebrate the arrival of this canine-centric year with a bowl of these Lamb Dan Dan Noodles with Steamed Bok Choy. In fact, celebrate any old day with these noodles. In my experience, noodles are always appropriate and welcome.
Lamb Dan Dan Noodles with Steamed Bok Choy
- 4 star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 1 1/2 inch knob ginger, minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes
Lamb Stir Fry
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 500 g 1 lb ground lamb
- 1/3 cup sui mi ya cai Sichuan preserved mustard greens
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or sherry
- 1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
- 200 g Chinese wheat-based noodles such as lo mein
- 4-5 heads of Shanghai bok choy quartered
- 1/4 cup chili oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons Chinkiang black vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1/4 cup peanuts coarsely chopped
- 3-4 scallions finely chopped
- Crushed red pepper flakes
For the Chili Oil
- Place the star anise pods, cinnamon stick and Sichuan peppercorns in a large, dry skillet. Toast the spices over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute. Pour in the oil and heat to 325°F. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chili flakes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Using a fine mesh strainer, drain the oil into a heat proof jar. Discard the solids and leave the oil to cool until ready to use.
For the Lamb
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the lamb and sauté until well-browned. Spoon off the excess fat.
- Stir in the sui mi ya cai, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and hoisin sauce. Fry until the vegetables are warmed through. Remove the wok from the heat and keep warm until ready to use.
For the Noodles
- Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat. Fit a steaming basket over the top of the pot. Add the bok choy to the steaming basket and cover. Bring the water to a boil.
- Once the water is boiling, briefly remove the steaming basket and add the noodles. Boil the noodles for 2-3 minutes or until tender.
- Remove the steaming basket from the pot and set aside. Do not remove the cover.
- Drain the noodles, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, and rinse them under cold water. Leave them to drain further while you make the sauce.
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, honey, tahini, and 1/4 cup of the reserved chili oil together until smooth and creamy. Stream in the reserved cooking liquid while whisking constantly.
- Transfer the noodles to a large bowl and pour the sauce over top. Toss to coat.
- Divide the noodles amongst four bowls. Top with steamed bok choy quarters and a large spoonful of the stir fried lamb and vegetables. Garnish the bowls with chopped peanuts, scallions and additional chili flakes.
- Serve immediately with cold beer and the remaining Sichuan oil on the side for optional extra spice.