These noodles are essentially what I call Chinese Bolognese or Chinese Ragu, because that’s basically what it is. When I was in kindergarten in China, this was a staple for the lunches they gave the kids, and it was definitely in my top 5 favourite lunches served. For a long time I had completely forgotten what the dish was called and wanted to recreate it so badly, and thankfully with the new rise of Asian fusion cuisine, I was finally able find recipes for it!
Dan Dan noodles seem to be all the hype at the new hip Asian Fusion restaurants in metropolitan areas. I’ve definitely had my fair share of good noodles and noodles that definitely do not taste like what Dan Dan Mian should taste like. To me, the main 3 flavours Dan Dan MUST have is chili bean paste, strong Sichuan peppercorn, and sesame paste. If the noodles are lacking these three flavours, its not real Dan Dan. And lets face it, a lot of those hip restaurants do lack these flavours.
If you’re not sure what Chili Bean Paste is, here’s the brand that I use constantly. I also found that this was the brand whose flavour I liked the most as well:
The reality of this dish is the fact that like the majority of Chinese noodle dishes, it requires a shit ton of various ingredients. Most of which are almost impossible to find at your local Chinese grocers if you can’t read Mandarin (I don’t, there was a lot of trial and error with this). This recipe is basically a cheaters Dan Dan recipe because it doesn’t incorporate all of the ingredients you should have, but keeps the main ingredients so you have a pretty close representation of what it’s supposed to taste like, without taking 6 hours to cook!
Before I start, I want to make a couple notes about this so there isn’t any ruckus about Dan Dan enthusiasts calling me out for in-authenticity of the recipe.
- Dan Dan Mian is usually cooked with minced pork and this effects the fat content of the dish. However, the area I grew up in was a Muslim majority area of China so the minced pork was replaced with minced beef – so this is the protein I will be using for the recipe, you are totally allowed to use pork!
- There are different types of Sichuan peppercorn (Red, Green, dry, fresh, etc). I usually just use dried red because its always available to me (you can even find it at bulk stores like Bulk Barn in Canada), however real Dan Dan Mian uses green peppercorns because they have a more “numbing” flavour. I definitely recommend grinding the peppercorn and doing this as it does add a kick-ass flavour, I just didn’t have any on hand so red worked just fine! (Note that all of my spices are ground!)
- As I mentioned, sesame paste is a very important part of the dish (almost 1/3rd of it if you order the dish in China), however, if you find it difficult to find any in your area, replacing it with all natural peanut butter (the kind you get at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or Farm Boy) works fine too with a couple drops of sesame oil. I’ll be doing this because I don’t have sesame paste on hand!
- Garnishing for the dish really brings all the flavours together, I like to add in some fresh green onions, cilantro, and julienned cucumber for added freshness – you totally should too!
- The noodles for the dish is just as important as the sauce, I really recommend going to Chinatown and picking up some fresh wheat noodles or ramen noodles. If that’s not possible, try to find some sort of thinner Asian dried noodles (not Udon!).
- The 3 main ingredients I mentioned are most likely not going to be at your local grocery store. Take a trip to Chinatown and explore some new flavours!
Okay! Lets get to it.
Cheater’s Dan Dan Noodles
INGREDIENTS & COSTS:
Takes 30 minutes, serves 2.
Total Cost = $4.81!* AKA $2.40 each!
Compared to the $10-13 at restaurants!
*Depending the cost of the ingredients in your area, the cost may be more or less. I live in a fairly inflated part of town, so chances are your cost will be less.
Need the proof? Head down to the bottom of this page!
Prepare your ingredients. Basically you have to mince everything and julienne the cucumber and slice the green onions.
(Don’t worry, the ground beef didn’t touch any other ingredients!)
Bring a pot or dutch oven to medium heat and cook your protein. Once it’s browned after a couple minutes, take out the meat to place in a separate dish and drain the fat.
Next add in the oil, wait for it to heat and add in the chopped onions, ginger, and garlic.
Stir for about a minute and then add in the Sichuan peppercorn and star anise. After a couple seconds the peppercorn aroma should start making your nose feel funny and a little numb, this is how you know the flavour is real getting captured in the oil.
Stir for a bit, then add in your cumin, five spice, and optional pepper flakes. After a couple minutes of stirring, your onions should start to get golden and the spices should be blending together to make a fairly unique aroma. Stir for another 2 minutes and add back the cooked ground beef.
Once the beef is incorporated into the pot, add in the chili bean paste. Stir for about 2 minutes and then add in the warm chicken broth. It should bubble quite a bit at this point. Now add in the peanut butter or sesame paste and the cup of water, stir, and let it boil and thicken for a few minutes.
Once it thickens, give it a quick taste test. Add in more ingredients or chill oil to your liking if you like your dish to be more spicy (I definitely do!). At this point the sauce is basically ready. Close the lid and turn off the stove while you prepare your noodles & garnishes.
The final step is the boil your noodles and prepare your dish.
Once the noodles are ready, quickly rinse them in cold water so cooking process stops.
Pour the sauce over the noodles, and chop up some scallions, chili oil, and some cucumber to garnish.
Now you can enjoy some spicy, numbing, savoury, noodles! That wasn’t too hard was it?
You can always save the sauce if you feel like Dan Dan another day! I know I always make more on purpose for the sake of leftovers.
I’m honestly getting hungry just looking at these pictures… Good thing I have leftovers.
I’m referring to a Loblaws (a generic grocery chain in Canada) weekly flyer, Farmboy weekly flyer, their websites, and a local Chinese grocery store.