2016: Year of Asian Noodles

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Dear Readers,
Somehow it is February. And I've been "thinking" about several posts, but have made zero progress getting the words down, so instead here's one from the husband. Enjoy! 

Back in 2012, the wife and I declared a combined new year’s resolution: learn to make Korean food. Although we dug deep into various recipes in books and online (you still inspire me, Maangi), we never quite cracked the culinary code in a truly authentic way. We came close, and to this day our bulgogi, banchan, and kim chi stew are better for it. 

Here in 2016, my sights are set on homemade noodles. I’ve made simple egg noodles sporadically for several years, the process easily worth the extra effort in texture and flavor. I’ve even taught a community course on the subject! But one day recently, hungry and having opened the fridge one too many times thinking I’d find something new to eat, I grasped the container of plain leftover egg noodles I had made for an Italian dinner a few nights back. Too lazy to make a quick red sauce, my pasta thoughts began a trek from Italy, through Marco Polo (who just might share my Croatian ancestry) back to the source of the noodle: China.

4000 years ago, says my cursory research, the Chinese changed food history by mixing flour and water together and boiling it in stretched out ribbons. That great culinary moment in history came alive and crashed down on me as I made a quick sesame and oyster sauce, poured it on the noodles, and topped it with green onions from the garden. This wasn’t exactly traditional Chinese cooking, but I felt like a whole noodle world was opening up to me with each bite. From this very meal, I wanted to start refining my noodle-making abilities and establish legitimate Chinese sauces in my cooking repertoire.

My “cooking repertoire” is a loose term that is only half-defined by me in the kitchen. The other half, and most of the real cooking skills, is usually handled by the blog lady. It’s a common culinary theme between us that I engage in making the unglamorous things—bread, sausage, pasta—from the raw materials of the pantry. The wife then takes these ingredients, elevating them to the level of a satisfying meal. In this case, I mixed the water, flour, and eggs and got the noodles ready. The wife, craving something akin to Dan Dan noodles, got a pan out to create a peanut sesame sauce. My noodles still have more of an Italian pasta feel than an Asian one, but once topped with the Dan Dan sauce, it worked. Spicy, but cooled by matchstick cut cucumbers, earthy, and deeply satisfying, the dish was a success. On to the next noodle challenge.   
Recently, we spent a few hours at Descanso Gardens, trying to tire out the little guy. Instead, he tired us out, running wild, saying "HI!" to all the old ladies, and screaming after ducks. It was a blast, and below is one of my favorite shots from the day. 
Dan-Dan Noodles
loosely based on a recipe from FOOD52

5.3 ounces ground pork
chili oil (apparently you can make your own, but I had some on hand)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 piece of ginger, approximately 1 tablespoon
2 -3 tbsp douban chili paste, depending on saltiness (I didn’t have this or know what it is, so I used Koread pepper paste instead)
3 1/2tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter
1/2 tsp ground red sichuan peppercorn (omitted)
2 tbsp rice wine
2 1/4  cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bunch of Asian noodles
Chopped scallions or cilantro, for garnish (I used both, and added cucumbers as well)

1) Mix the pork evenly with soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside. Purée garlic, ginger, douban paste, and peanut butter in a food processor until smooth. You don’t have to do this if you don’t mind the sometimes chunky texture of douban paste (I didn’t do this!) -- just mince the garlic and ginger, then combine it with douban paste and peanut butter. In a medium heavy-bottom pot, nicely brown the pork in 1 tbsp of oil. 

2) Add the ground red sichuan peppercorn, puréed paste and sauté until fragrant, with some brown bits forming at the bottom of the pot, approximately 2 minutes.

3) Add the rice wine and deglaze the pot, then add the chicken stock and simmer for 5 or so minutes, until the sauce thickens.

4) Meanwhile, bring another big pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package instructions. I would suggest NOT using fresh noodles as they absorb the sauce too quickly once combined (WOOPS, WE USED FRESH NOODLES!). Drain the noodles once cooked, toss with sauce, and divide them into 2 bowls. Divide the sauce into the same bowls, drizzle with chili oil, add cilantro, scallions and cucumbers. 

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