FOR THE SHORTCUT DAN DAN SAUCE (makes 2¼cups sauce, enough for 18 servings):
1 ½ cups Ultimate Chili Oil (see below) without optional salt
1/3 cup light soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
5 teaspoons dark soy sauce
4 teaspoons chicken bouillon paste
1 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
FOR EACH SERVING OF NOODLES (multiply as needed for up to 18 servings):
3-4 ounces ground pork or chicken
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon neutral oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Sichuan preserved vegetables (碎米芽菜)
5 ounces fresh white wheat noodles(Shanghai-style thick noodles are ideal)
1 handful of fresh spinach leaves
2 tablespoons Shortcut Dan Dan Sauce
MAKE THE SAUCE: In a sterilized airtight glass jar (large enough to hold 2¼ cups of sauce) or medium bowl, mix the chili oil, light soy sauce, sugar, sesame paste, dark soy sauce, chicken bouillon paste, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and five-spice powder. Stir with a clean spoon until thoroughly combined, then close with a tight-fitting lid.
(Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Use only clean utensils when handling and stir thoroughly prior to each use.)
ASSEMBLE AND SERVE: Marinate the ground pork with the Shaoxing wine and cornstarch for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Heat a wok over high heat. When the wok is just beginning to smoke, add the neutral oil. Add the seasoned pork and brown it, stirring often, until crispy and golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and Sichuan preserved vegetables and cook for 1 minute to take the raw edge off the garlic.
Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Add the spinach to the noodles in the last 30 seconds of cooking. (Be sure to boil the noodles after you cook the pork. You don’t want the noodles sitting around, or they’ll clump.)
Drain the noodles and spinach and divide them among your intended number of serving bowls. Top each bowl with the sauce and the pork mixture.
Serve immediately, stirring the noodles in the bowls to combine the ingredients. (If needed, add a spoonful or two of the noodle-cooking water to loosen the noodles and sauce.)
TO MAKE CHILI OIL:
1 1/2 cups neutral oil (such as peanut oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil)
1 Chinese cassia cinnamon stick, about 3 inches long
4 star anise
3 tablespoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 large dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 black cardamom pod
3 pieces dried sand ginger (about½tablespoon)
2 large garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1 medium shallot, halved
3/4 cup Sichuan chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste (optional)
Add the oil, cinnamon stick, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, black cardamom, dried sand ginger, garlic, and shallot to a small pot or deep saucepan with at least 2 inches of clearance between the top of the oil and the rim of the pot.
Set the pot over medium heat to start, then gradually reduce the heat to medium-low or low as the oil heats up to between 225 ° and 250°F. The heat will cause tiny bubbles to slowly rise from the spices, and it will gently fry the garlic and shallot. If you notice the spices sizzling more vigorously than that or turning dark too quickly, reduce the heat or remove the pot from the heat entirely. Hovering closer to 225°F is the safest way to prevent burning. Infuse the oil with the spices for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour for the best results, removing the garlic and shallot when they are a uniformly deep golden color. The spices should be dark, but not black or burned.
Use a slotted spoon to remove most of the spices from the oil; discard the spices. Increase the heat slightly to raise the temperature of the oil a bit, to around 300°F. The right temperature will depend on how roasted the chili flakes are to begin with! Carefully pour the hot oil through a fine-mesh strainer onto the chili flakes. The flakes should sizzle, but not burn, and you’ll smell a popcorn-like aroma. Stir to evenly distribute the heat of the oil. At this point, stir in the salt (if using).
Allow the chili oil to cool, then store it in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Always use a clean utensil when dipping into it to prevent spoilage.
Reprinted with permission from The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese American Family: A Cookbook. Copyright © 2022 by William Leung, Judy Leung, Sarah Leung, and Kaitlin Leung. Photographs copyright © 2022 Sarah Leung (food), Christine Han (lifestyle). Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
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