Friday, 24 July 2009

Chilled tan-tan men

I've decided not to continue with my cooking classes at ABC Cooking Studio, despite quite a bit of arm-twisting in March, when they wanted me to sign up for an additional year of their new offerings, without first telling us what those might be. I think I made the right decision, as it turns out that the Japanese dish offerings, which were my main reason for taking the classes to begin with, would be reduced, and those they did present would tend to be of a more basic nature. That's the reason I didn't take a class in June, and why I am taking two this month to finish off the last of my prepaid lessons before they expire at the end of the month.

As it turns out, ABC are doing chilled tan-tan men, something I would really like to have done, NEXT month. Typical, really (g). Never fear. I had a look round the net for a recipe, and found the one I translated below on a fan site for the Japanese TV program Danshi Gohan (meals for men).

If you've been reading along, you'll know that I've already featured one recipe for tan-tan men, that great Japanese take on a spicy mince-topped noodle dish from Sichuan, China, on S&L. This recipe is a totally different beast, and not just because it is chilled (a popular presentation for noodles in the hot and sticky Japanese summer). Unlike the earlier version, sesame is quite predominant in this recipe. In seed, oil and paste form!

Highly nutritious, sesame is used extensively in Japanese cooking. There are white and black versions of both seeds and paste. White ones are used in this recipe. If you can't get Japanese sesame paste (or Chinese zhima jiang), you can always substitute tahini. The taste will be slightly different as, unlike the Japanese version, tahini is made from un-toasted sesame seeds. It will still be delicious, I promise.

Negi (Japanese leeks) and nira (garlic chives) may also be problematic sourcing in other countries. Western leeks are not a good substitute for negi, but at a pinch, you could use the white innermost core (Japanese leeks are only around 2 cm in diameter), or substitute finely sliced spring onions. Nira is not absolutely essential, you could easily garnish with some nice cooked spinach or bok choi, more spring onions or any other green thing you fancy.

The soup in this rendering strikes just the right balance between lightness and flavour for a summer's dish. The flavour comes from a shelfful of lovely condiments. If you don't make a lot of Japanese or Chinese food, you might not have some of these, but they are all pretty much staples in any Japanese kitchen. Just in case, you'll definitely want to read the recipe before attempting this!

Also, the recipe is for two, so don't forget to scale up if you've got more mouths to feed. Oh, and this makes a great lunch the next day. I took the cooked noodles-and-meat topping and soup in separate (leak proof!) containers and supped contentedly, catching up on news of the new Iranian revolution, at my desk at work.

Chilled tan-tan men

Serves 2

2 single-serve packs of fresh Chinese noodles

For the soup
500 ml cold water
3 tbsp white sesame paste (or tahini)
2 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds, roughly ground
1.5 tbsp EACH miso paste, oyster sauce, rice vinegar
1 tbsp EACH sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce
1-2 tsp tobanjan (douban jiang in Chinese) or other chilli-garlic paste, or to taste (optional)

For the meat topping
120 g minced pork
10 cm negi Japanese leek, very finely diced [S: or 2 tbsp finely sliced spring onions]
2 cloves garlic, very finely diced
1 knob fresh ginger, as big as your thumb, very finely diced
0.5 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds, roughly ground
1 tbsp EACH cooking sake, soy sauce and oyster sauce
Salt and pepper

To serve
Nira (garlic chives), snipped
Rayu (layou in Chinese) chilli oil

1. Prepare the soup. Mix white sesame paste, lightly ground sesame seeds, and miso paste in a large bowl, then gradually add the water, stirring until well blended. Add remaining soup ingredients and stir well. Check the seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until needed.

2 Heat sesame oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir-fry the Japanese leek, ginger and garlic until soft. Add the minced pork and break up with a wooden spoon. Once browned all over, add the sake, then the soy sauce, oyster sauce and lightly ground white sesame seeds. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

3 Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions (typically for 1.5-2 minutes), drain and plunge immediately into ice cold water to cool.

4 Once cool, drain the noodles and arrange in two large noodle bowls. Pour half of the soup into each bowl, top with half the meat topping and garnish with garlic chives.


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