Food has always been a big part of my life.
From as early as I can remember, my mom tried to coax me into helping in the kitchen. Whether it was shredding Swiss chard for soup, carefully measuring out ingredients for a marinade or simply stirring pots to make sure nothing burned, there was always cooking that I could be helping with in our household. “Could” might be the operative word, however. Whether or not I actually helped on a regular basis is a different matter, but my level of participation in the kitchen never diminished my appreciation for the end result. To my mom, serving delicious food was a way of saying “I love you,” and I gladly ate it up.
Dan Dan Mian
No single meal encompassed this sentiment better than when we did dumpling night.
My mom would spend an hour in front of the stove, steaming home-made Cantonese dumplings packed with pork and shrimp filling, while I waited beside her to sneak them off the plate (and inevitably burned my tongue in the process). But my mom couldn’t just leave dumpling night as a single dish. There was always some kind of Asian green vegetable — yu choy, dau miu, gai lan — but more importantly, Dan Dan Mian. My personal favourite, Dan Dan Mian meant a bowl full of chewy noodles, stir-fried pork and spicy peanut sauce. It was rich, flavourful and something I could unabashedly slurp up. It was the dish I easily missed the most when I travelled to Halifax in 2018 to begin my post-secondary education.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to miss the dish. When I tried making it by myself for the first time in 2019, the process was far easier —and way more cost effective — than I expected. It’s filling, it’s quick and most importantly, it’s tasty. When I need a pick me up, I make Dan Dan Mian. And with this recipe, you’ll be able to make it too.
Please note, I’ve labelled some of these as optional. Ideally you’d want to use all of them, but I know the process of stocking a pantry with new ingredients can be a little intimidating as a student with a limited budget. As such, prioritize the non-optional ingredients and then add the optional ones down the line.
What you need:
Eight ounces ground pork (other ground meats can be substituted as you prefer)
Three tbsp soy sauce
Two tbsp Chinese rice cooking wine or dry sherry (optional)
Ground white pepper (optional)
Two tbsp oyster sauce
Four tbsp Asian sesame paste or peanut butter (peanut butter will likely be easier to obtain. I recommend crunchy for this dish since the peanuts add a nice bit of texture to the final sauce)
One tbsp rice vinegar
- ¼ cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
One tbsp peanut oil (optional)
One inch piece fresh ginger, minced (optional)
Three medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (you can adjust to your liking)
¾ tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to your liking)
One tbsp toasted sesame oil
12 ounces of dried Asian noodles or one pound of fresh Asian noodles (you can buy dried Dan Dan noodles at M&Y Asian Grocery Store on Quinpool Road if you’re looking for the best option)
Three medium scallions, sliced thin
Two cups bean sprouts (optional)
One tbsp toasted and ground Sichuan peppercorn (optional)
Combine pork, one tablespoon of soy sauce, rice cooking wine/sherry and pinch of white pepper in small bowl; stir well with fork and set aside while preparing other ingredients. Whisk together oyster sauce, remaining soy sauce, peanut butter/sesame paste, rice vinegar and pinch white pepper in medium bowl. Whisk in chicken stock and set aside.
Bring four quarts (16 cups) of salted water to boil in a large stockpot over high heat.
Meanwhile, heat 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add peanut oil (can be replaced with a neutral oil of your preference) and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add pork and cook, scraping along pan bottom and breaking up pork into small pieces with wide metal or wooden spatula, until pork is in small well-browned bits (about five minutes). Stir in ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant (about one minute). Add peanut butter/chicken stock mixture and bring to a boil, whisking to combine.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer to blend flavours, stirring occasionally (about three minutes). Stir in sesame oil.
While sauce simmers, add noodles to boiling water and cook until tender (refer to package directions). Drain noodles, before dividing into bowls. Ladle portions of the sauce over top.
Garnish with a combination of scallions, bean sprouts, Sichuan peppercorns (and a drizzle of Asian chili oil if you have some). Serve immediately.