Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The YM's favourites 3: Tan tan men: Noodles in a vibrant Szechuan pepper sauce

I've mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of ramen, or Japanese noodles in soup. I'm just not that into carbs, and you get very little by way of vegetables.

However, I am partial to tan tan men, the Japanese way with an originally Chinese noodle dish called dan dan mien. It is noodles in a ginger, garlic and spring onion soup whose top note is the eucalyptus-y Szechuan pepper, all topped with (normally spicy mince) and some Chinese greens.

When searching for a recipe online, I found out that the Chinese version is not soupy at all. In fact, I could not find a recipe for the version we know and love in this country, but this one (adapted from this recipe) is very tasty and the Young Man made a special requested, only with MORE SOUP this time!

You'll be doing a bit of fine chopping of garlic and ginger with this one. This is most easily achieved by cutting the garlic (or ginger) into fine slices, then lining them up like a deck of cards spread horizontally on a magician's table (i.e. with the "cards" slightly overlapping each other), and slicing along the row to create fine sticks, then turning the sticks (or the chopping board, even) around and slicing them into fine dice. If the dice are too big, just have at them with the knife again.

In the original recipe, the mince is deep fried to give it a dry finish. You can achieve the same result by frying the meat in a hot, dry pan until the fat has evaporated (this takes around 10 minutes, so be patient (g)). I picked up this technique from the dry Japanese mince dish soboro.

This dish is supposed to be spicy, but I suggest you be careful when you add the chilli oil and Szechuan pepper the first time. You can always add more if you feel it needs it.

Tan Tan Men

For 2

200 g pork mince
1 tbsp soy sauce, dark for preference
1 tsp salt (optional)
300 g egg noodles (2 bundles), fresh or dried
1 1/2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp garlic, finely chopped (around 6-8 cloves)
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped (around 4 cm ginger root)
5 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp sesame paste (tahini is fine)
2 tbsp soy sauce, dark for preference
2 tbsp red chilli oil, or to taste (I use quite a bit less)
2 cups chicken stock (you may need to add more salt if using homemade stock)
1-2 tsp ground Szechuan pepper, or to taste (this has a very distinctive flavour so use a careful hand)
4-5 stems (a very small bunch) of komatsuna or spinach, cooked briefly in boiling water and cut into 4 cm lengths
1 double handful of bean sprouts, washed

1 Combine the pork, soy sauce and salt, if using, in a small bowl and mix well.

2 Heat wok or frying pan until hot and add the pork, breaking up the meat with cooking chopsticks as you go. Once the colour changes, reduce the heat to medium and continue to fry, stirring and breaking up the meat occasionally, until all the moisture has evaporated. When done, remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towel.

3 In the same pan, heat oil until hot and add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the sesame paste, soy sauce, chilli oil, salt (if using) and chicken stock and simmer for 4 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

4 Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the noodles for 2 minutes if fresh, or 5 minutes if dried. Drain well and divide between 2 large noodle bowls.

5 Ladle on the sauce and top with mince mixture, bean sprouts, and cooked komatsuna or spinach.



Angie said...

Have you found that a certain cut of pork is best for the mince? Most of what they sell these days is sooo lean - is that a problem? Also, the noodles. Are we talking spaghetti here?

I just returned from Yokosuka and has this dish at the mall of all places. Amazingly enough, it was the best thing I ate on the entire trip, and that's sayin' somethin' cause I ate some wonderful food!

Saffron said...

Hi Angie,

Thanks for visiting! Here in Japan we don't really have "cuts" of mince as such. I Just bought what was available at the supermarket. In this dish you actually "burn" off the fat, so a leaner cut of mince might be fine, but I think you would want some fat.

As for the noodles, Chinese style noodles (ramen) would be perfect. If you can't get them, you might be able to sub spaghetti, but it won't be the same. If you do try it, I imagine you would want to take the pasta off the heat just before it got al dente, as it will continue to absorb some sauce in the bowl.

Yokosuka's an interesting place. This week they've apparently started a "Navy burger" in local eateries; the recipe came from the US navy base kitchens, apparently!